Carroll College is an unlikely athletic juggernaut. The tiny Catholic liberal arts college known for its academic excellence has dominated NAIA football for the past six years, winning four national championships in a row between 2002 and 2005 and then taking a year off in 2006 before returning to the championship game this year. And while it’s fair to say that speech and debate holds little of the social intrigue and glamour that football does, Carroll’s Talking Saints can’t be denied: the debaters have won 17 straight regional tournament championships.
The Talking Saints haven’t lost a West Coast championship tournament since 1990, beating large Division I schools year in and year out. No matter what form of competition you participate in, a streak like that is a wild success. Meanwhile on the football field, the Fighting Saints – a name that raises a number of interesting questions – have not only garnered attention on the small college level, but they have sent players to the NFL, including tight end Casey FitzSimmons, who is currently playing for the Detroit Lions. For a school of about 1,500, such achievements are extremely rare.
The name “Talking Saints” conjures up images of St. Francis of Assisi, sandaled and robed in brown, spewing rhetoric and arguing with a startled college student from Boise State about the changing dynamics of church hierarchy. The judge in this literal interpretation of the Talking Saint event would have to be worthy of criticizing saints and have a definitive voice on the spirit of competition, perhaps Saint Christopher – the patron saint of safe travel and sports – or Al Michaels. Bob Costas seems like he would buckle in the face of saints, though maybe the little guy would prove me wrong. For now, I’m going with Michaels.
But if such an event can’t be organized, fans of the small Montana school should embrace what they do have: one of the best small liberal arts colleges in the nation for both athletics and academics, right in the state’s capital. And on Dec. 15, fans can cheer for the Fighting Saints as they take on Sioux Falls in the NAIA national championship in search of their fifth national title in six years.
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