The signs all over the campus say EXPECT A MIRACLE. At Oral Roberts University on the south edge of Tulsa, miracles are a part of everyday life. Founded only five years ago by its president, Oral Roberts, the faith-healing evangelist, ORU now has 1,033 well-scrubbed students, a devout faculty, a glittering $40 million campus that is a cross between the Houston Space Center and a Bible Belt Xanadu, and a hard-driving small-college basketball team that, if Roberts has his way, is on its way to becoming major. "Mr. Roberts is a winner," exults Ken Trickey, the basketball coach and athletic director. "He's one of those guys who comes out of a door running."
The truth is that Roberts is crazy about basketball. In between sermonettes, he has been known to lace his conversations with such terms as zone press and pick and roll. He tries to attend every home game, where he claps his hands in time as the Pep Band plays Let the Sun Shine In. On occasion he will even accompany Trickey to a high school game to scout a prospect. "Athletics is part of our Christian witness," says Roberts with enthusiasm. "Nearly every man in America reads the sports pages, and a Christian school cannot ignore these people. If we can field a basketball team that can compete successfully with NCAA colleges, and we can conduct ourselves in a sportsmanlike way, that's a fine thing."
Tulsa has a touch of Dixie, so one of the surprises at ORU, at least to a stranger, is that four of the starting five are black. "We're treated with a .Christian attitude," says Haywood Hill, a junior-college transfer from New York who is the captain and second-leading scorer. Carl Hardaway, last year's captain and a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, says, "You get a real fair shake here. You're not forgotten when you're through playing. They stick by you until you get your degree." And Roberts himself says, "Our black students are a part of us. They are not an adjunct. We are all treated as human beings."
Roberts' intense interest in religion began, in a sense, on a basketball court. Now 52, he was born in Ada, Okla., the son of a Pentecostal Holiness minister. His boyhood ambition was to be governor of Oklahoma, but then came the incident that started his call to evangelism. He was 16 and playing forward on his high school team. One day he collapsed in the middle of a game. His illness was diagnosed as tuberculosis, and while he was resting at home he promised God that if he were cured he would preach the Gospel. Shortly thereafter, his parents took him to a revival meeting where, Roberts says, God spoke to him, saying, "My son, I am going to heal you, and you are going to take My healing power to your generation." Eventually, Roberts started a faith-healing mission in Tulsa and it mushroomed. Today his evangelistic association claims he has won more than five million souls to Christ.
November 30, 1970
Roberts says he long had "a vision of educating the whole man—body, intellect and spirit"—and he founded ORU with the aim of combining "academic excellence with a climate and atmosphere in which students may have a personal association with the Master, Jesus Christ."
The students, who come from all 50 states and 22 foreign countries and who belong to 33 different denominations, do not smoke, drink or swear. Dancing on campus is prohibited. The focal point of the university is the 200-foot-tall Prayer Tower (right), a sort of space needle arising from a four-acre sunken garden and capped by a flame. Like most other buildings on campus, it is built in three sections to symbolize the Trinity. The flattened middle section houses a 100,000-watt FM radio station and the Abundant Life Prayer Group, a gathering of evangelists who are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to take calls from people throughout the world phoning in with a prayer request.
Any number of the faculty have been drawn to ORU by what is sometimes called its charismatic Christian atmosphere. Trickey, for four years the basketball coach at Middle Tennessee State, his alma mater, was so taken by the facilities and enthusiasm the year his team beat ORU that he applied for the coaching job when he heard there was an opening. He brought along Haywood Hill, from the Paducah Junior College national championship team; Milton Vaughn, the most valuable player at Southeastern Illinois Junior College and brother of Chico Vaughn of the ABA Pipers; and Larry Baker, Jesse Trayler and Richard Fuqua from the same championship Tennessee high school team of 1968 and 1969. Fuqua was an All-Everything.
Above all, Trickey had the support of Oral Roberts. "It makes the job easier when your president is enthusiastic," says Trickey. "He wants a national championship. The one big change I've made in my coaching is to quiet down. When we get a bad call, the players smile and raise their hand. They've got to represent the university, and a lot of people are going to be looking at us all around the country." A lot of small people—and a lot of big people, too.