MANATEE -- A faith-based presentation designed to keep teens from making bad choices is wrapping up a monthlong run in Bradenton.
The presentation, called "The99," depends on shock value. The walk-through theater graphically re-enacts leading causes of death in teenagers and young adults. Open since Feb. 15, the show's final performances in Bradenton, are 7-11 p.m. Friday-Sunday, at 4536 53rd St. E., before heading to Tampa.
"'The99' represents 99 kids who die every day from avoidable choices, ages 13-24," said production assistant Stephen King. Different scenarios are presented as the audience walks through different sections of a huge inflatable tent. The first room depicts a drive-by shooting. Other re-enactments include drug and alcohol issues and traffic accidents. "Every day people will die from drinking and driving," King said. "In the end ... it plays out a scene where teens are tex
ting and driving, and it kills a family."
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Pastor McArthur Sellars of New Life General Baptist Church saw the presentations and invited his congregation to attend.
As a former law enforcement officer with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, Sellars said the presentation has real impact. "They are making it realistic to the kids. At the end, they gave the opportunity for everyone who wanted to do so to share the opportunity to accept Christ."
Developed out of Victory Christian Center, near Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., "The99" distributed its advertisements through local churches and schools in Manatee County.
However, its publicity fails to mention the nonprofit organization's religious emphasis or affiliation. Some public school administrators removed the flyers from distribution until they were advised otherwise by school board attorney John Bowen.
"I don't know that anybody complained about it, so much as it was just reported that this program is religious-based, and therefore they were afraid it was going to look like we were fostering religion," Bowen said.
Bowen's opinion "with respect to the current state of the law" was that the schools must continue to distribute flyers from nonprofit organizations without regard for religion unless the school board makes a specific policy against promoting any religious activity. To single out a specific religion would restrict freedom of speech, Bowen said.
Bradenton attorney and "The99" supporter Tom Whittaker said he sent a memo to the school board asserting the faith-based organization's right to reach out to students.
"We've got a great school board. It was not a big deal," Whittaker said. "I first went to see 'The99' over three years ago in Lakeland."
Based on what he saw, he set out to get it for Manatee County kids. "I was basically the 'dot-connector' " to get them here, he said.
This weekend, several thousand young people are expected to join the musical performances outside and the theater inside the tent from 7-11 p.m., King said.
Amber Halfhill Moore of Bradenton saw "The99" last weekend. "The counselors at the end invite you to sit with them and share your feelings about what you saw and pray with you," she said. "The points were don't drink and do drugs, texting while driving. Are you living on the right path? Are you saved and know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior? It shows what Hell is like. Also we follow the Grim Reeper the whole time."
Local churches contributing more than 200 volunteers and other support to "The99" include Bayside Community Church; Grace Place; First Baptist, Sarasota; Harvent Tabernacle; The Tabernacle; First Methodist of Bradenton; First Baptist, Palmetto; Church on the Rock, Palmetto; First Assembly of God, Bradenton; Journey Assembly of God, Bradenton; The Front; Youth for Christ; and the Christian Retreat Center.