LU alumnus Rashad Jennings wins 'Dancing with the Stars'
Former Liberty University star football player and NFL free agent Rashad Jennings ('09) took home the Mirror Ball trophy with partner Emma Slater as the two were declared winners of ABC’S ‘Dancing with the Stars’ season 24 on Tuesday night.
Though the finale was taking place thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, more than 400 members of the Lynchburg community, along with Liberty faculty and staff, came out to show their support for the Liberty alumnus during a watch party sponsored by the university in the LaHaye Event Space.
The crowd, dressed in Liberty red, held "Liberty Loves Rashad" signs and cheered when Jennings and Slater took the floor. The live broadcast even cut to a few scenes from the party during the episode.
Members of the Liberty Flames Cheerleading team and Flames mascot, Sparky, kept the crowd cheering throughout the night with dance competitions. Liberty provided free drinks and refreshments and gave out T-shirts.
President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki, sat alongside Jennings’ parents, Albert and Deborah, and the rest of the Jennings family as the DWTS hosts announced the results. The Jennings family is from the Lynchburg area.
The Falwells had just returned from a trip to Miami and came straight from the airport.
"We got back just in time for this,” said President Falwell. “It worked out perfectly. This was such a great event. I had a lot of people come up and thank us for having this watch party.”
When #TeamShadSquad won, the room erupted.
“We’re so proud, everyone is,” Deborah Jennings said, while holding a "Shad Squad" sign she made. “You guys deserved it!”
During the finale, clips were shown from Jennings’ emotional Week 4 "Most Memorable Year" performance, which he dedicated to his father. Liberty flew Jennings’ parents and a brother and sister-in-law from Lynchburg in a private jet for the special performance. Jennings’ father, Albert, is a double amputee and due to health issues was unable to fly commercial to L.A. President Falwell saw them off, and his wife, Becki, and daughter, Caroline, joined the Jennings family and also attended the live television event and met with Rashad Jennings afterward.
“It was full circle,” Becki Falwell said Tuesday night. “It was just great to be with the Jennings family when Rashad started out, in the middle, and then at the end to see him finish strong. They’re the sweetest people. We are thrilled. We are so proud of him for representing Liberty, Lynchburg, his hometown.”
Though Dayle and Raymond Mayberry of Forest, Va., had to be up early on Wednesday morning, it didn’t stop the couple from coming to the watch party. Dayle said the night was especially meaningful because her daughter went to Jefferson Forest High School with Jennings.
“This was so great to be part of this,” she said. “This was good for Liberty and Lynchburg to see him win.”
College of General Studies Instructor Alison Pettit brought along the youngest Shad Squad fan, her 9-month-old daughter, Emma, who was dressed in a pink tutu and onesie that read, “Rashad and Emma, I hope you win the Mirror Ball Trophy.”
Pettit, who also heads Liberty’s Habitat for Humanity club, said Jennings raised money through a children’s football camp and meet-and-greet for the organization.
“Our whole family are fans of the show,” Pettit said. “Watching Rashad on this season has been great to see, especially with his connection to the community and to Liberty.”
The show announced that Jennings will be joining many of the cast members on the 47-city Dancing with the Stars: Live! – Hot Summer Nights tour, which starts on June 16.