And I Know That Church Sports Are True

Rusty - June 5, 2007

I didn’t play high school sports, largely because I had church sports. Why would I go to practice for three hours a day, running lines/miles killing myself off to maybe get a chance to play a couple minutes in a game a few days a year all in the knowledge that there’s no chance that I’ll be able to take it to the next level or even think about becoming a professional athlete? In church sports our practices consisted of scrimmages, I played the majority of time in the majority of our games, and I was considered one of the better athletes. Plus I had my everyday afternoons to tool around with friends and avoid homework. Easy choice.

I think church sports was one of the best programs the Church could have for teenagers like me (“like me” meaning “a teenager interested in sports”). Hanging out with friends in a non-churchy atmosphere, impressing the chicks with our skillz, playing sports is always fun, and it was a great missionary tool. If only we had a softball field and indoor basketball court at all of our church buildings here in Brooklyn…THEN we’d get some serious baptisms!

The following are a few random memories and thoughts:

Basketball

- When I was a high school junior our ward had three basketball teams (roughly divided between high school seniors (23rd A), juniors (my team, 23rd B) and everyone else (23rd C)). Both the A and B teams were quite good, as we met in the lead-up game to the stake championship. There’s nothing like playing against some of you closest friends in such an important game. We (the B team) sealed the win when Todd S. nailed two three pointers, propelling us to the championship game.

- In that same game two of my friends on the opposing team pulled a stunt not to be replicated (due to its illegality). During play, one of them knelt in the middle of the key hunching over and the other ran in with the ball and stepped on his back, leaping into the air to dunk it. I don’t even remember if it went in but the audacity of such a move was genius.

- The championship game was a hard-fought match against 4th Ward. We won, of course, but the victory against 23rd A was much sweeter.

- Lamont W. was the best defender I’ve ever played against. He stunk when he had the ball, but boy could he take it away from you.

Softball

- 2nd base, shortstop, 3rd base and pitcher were my positions. And I loved that I was considered a power hitter.

- My senior year, first practice of the season, without even warming up I went to fill the hole at right field. First pitch of the practice the dude hits it in my direction. As I’m running toward the ball I realize I’ll need to dive to catch it. The timing of my dive was a hair off, the ball ricochets off the butt of my glove into my eye and all the sudden I’m bleeding like crazy all over the ground. I drove myself to the hospital (holding a towel over one eye) and got 7 stitches in my eyebrow. The remaining scar is so manly that I give it full credit for my wife falling in love with me.

- Sunflower seeds rule. Especially the BBQ and nacho flavors.

- I seem to remember getting to the championship game but I’m pretty sure be blew it in the final inning. It was the same feeling I get when I play Halo online, that someone is surely cheating because there is no reason that they should have won. Frustrating.

- Summer weekday evenings at the stake center ballparks are what it’s all about. Nearer my God to Thee indeed. Even though there is a temple over one of them now, I still consider it sacred ground :)

Anyone else have memories of church sports?

15 Comments »

  1. 1. Exclusion
    2. Derision
    3. Exclusion
    4. Humiliation
    5. Exclusion

    Sorry- but that was my experience with church sports. Rather than being willing to actually help me learn the games, the “coaches” and other teen players just laughed at me and made me feel like a clutz such that I did not learn to appreciate sports (or think I could even really participate) until college.

    I’m happy to hear that not all stakes are like that. Or maybe they are, but Rusty didn’t notice because he was “one of the better players.”

    Comment by Jordan — June 5, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  2. As far as it being a missionary opportunity- I would never have subjected my friends to such cruelty. However, I do know the church is true in spite of church sports… :)

    Comment by Jordan — June 5, 2007 @ 1:26 pm

  3. I think there is a Bret / Rusty story about softball that should be told!

    Comment by Don Clifton — June 5, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  4. And I still participated willingly…

    Comment by Jordan — June 5, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  5. Jordan,
    That sucks you had a bad experience. I know many people who had similar experiences.

    Don said: I think there is a Bret/Rusty story about softball that should be told!

    What are you talking about?

    Comment by Rusty — June 5, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  6. I didn’t know the church had organized sports for teens. There’s no way if they did around here I’d let my youngest son participate. He’s extremely competitive and is the worst loser, ever. He often complains about YM’s because the boys are all into sports and he’s not.

    Comment by Susan M — June 5, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  7. I have a few fun memories from church sports.

    Volleyball – Men’s volleyball was not offered at my high school so I had to rely on church volleyball. I had been on the Jr High team for 1 year and really enjoyed playing (I still enjoy it, actually). My sophomore year, we had a really great team. After breezing through the region tourney, we found ourselves competing in the Utah North Area championship tournament, where we wound up placing 3rd (IIRC, it was the last year they held the tourney). Not too bad, especially considering our “coach” didn’t really know anything about volleyball, making me the effective coach. In one game of that tourney, our team started to unravel a little and we started to get frustrated as small mistakes (many of them made by me) cost us point after point. As I was fuming, an errant pass came lilting toward me at the net. I jumped as high as I could and let out all my frustration in an incredibly powerful spike and sent the ball right back in the direction it came from (only moving much faster). I didn’t even bother watching the ball land, but immediately turned around to try to get my team fired up. By their reactions, I knew something was wrong (I can only describe their reactions as if something simultaneously good and bad had happened). I turned toward the opposing team to see one of their players bent over and holding his face in his hands. He had taken the full force of my spike right off his face. I felt kinda bad (but not too bad, honestly). We lost that game, but rallied to win the match.

    Softball – I was not that big on playing softball, but I usually would go because all my friends were playing. Generally I would play 2nd or 3rd base. My finest moment was an unassisted double play. I was manning 3rd base with a runner on 3rd and 1 out in the inning. The batter sent a line drive right down the 3rd-base line and the runner took off. I reached across my body with my left hand and snagged the line drive. Much to my confusion, my teammates started trotting in from the field. I thought, “that was only the 2nd out, what’s going on?” Then I looked down and realized that in the process of catching the line drive, my left foot had landed right on 3rd base, getting both the batter and the runner out in one smooth motion. I smiled and jogged over to the bench, all the while pretending that the double play was completely intentional.

    My worst memory of church sports was getting punched in the mouth while trying to break up a fight after a volleyball game (this is another long story that perhaps I’ll tell later).

    Comment by Capt. Obsidian — June 5, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  8. Rusty,

    You might be right that we would get some baptisms from church sports.

    But we also have to consider the ill will and fighting they often engendered. I’ve seen people become interested in the church because of church ball, but I’ve also seen people leave the church because of it, and I think those who leave outnumber those who get baptized.

    One of the funniest (and saddest) things I have ever seen in my life was at a church softball game. One of the counselors in the stake presidency was the plate umpire, and the other counselor came up to bat. He didn’t agree with the way balls and strikes were called and they got into it, argueing and shoving. The fight eventually went horizontal, both guys yelling profanity and rolling around on the ground trying to give each other a black eye before they could be separated. The stake president made them visit all the wards together the next Sunday and apologize to everybody and say how much they loved each other. It was pathetic.

    Comment by Mark IV — June 5, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  9. I almost got thrown out of a Tri-stake Volleyball game where my ward was playing for the championship (or was it the semi-finals?) because I was “cheering for our team too loudly and it was making the other girls feel bad because they don’t have much support on their side”. I wasn’t even saying bad things about our opponents…I was yelling “Yay 13th ward! You’re the best! You can do it!” and stuff like that. The equality that they wanted for everyone was so disgusting that we couldn’t even cheer for our teams.

    Other than that, I loved church volleyball. I was HORRIBLE at softball, though.

    Comment by Cheryl — June 5, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

  10. You’re right about being out in the fields behind the stake center on a summer eve… absolute heaven.

    But I don’t recall ever playing or even watching a sporting event there… unless you call Pioneer Day a sporting event.

    : )

    Ward sports are what the other kids did… then, at least. Now, every Wednesday night, you’ll find me at the chapel keeping score for the EQ basketball games.

    Comment by Silus Grok — June 5, 2007 @ 7:53 pm

  11. My memories:

    The 23B softball team was all teachers, so we lost every game not forfieted to us, BUT we got to play a lot and were way good once on the A team, which of course no one else had two teams so they had crappy teachers on their teams and we won the championship, naturally.

    I’m no power hitter like my brother (more of a place-hitter, I place it were I want it) but I’m quite fast and rarely got thrown out even if I hit it near an infielder. The problem was I was often hitting behind 280 pound Brad Burgess. I think I’m the all time stake triples leader!

    The best throw I ever made was from 2B (the Clifton position) to home plate with the guy sliding and my throw right into the catcher’s glove at the runner’s foot but what the does the catcher do? He stands up with the ball thinking it was a force out!! (which of course, it wasn’t)

    Rusty,
    I think dad is referring to when the A and B teams played each other and I caught a fly ball you hit right to me. I’ve never heard people cheer louder at a softball game then for that one play>:)

    Comment by Bret — June 5, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

  12. Rusty – I agree that the church sports program is good in many aspects.

    1. It gives players a chance to see some real action who might otherwise not have an opportunity in a large public school program where the level of play is higher.

    2. It’s a great way to get some exercise in our otherwise sedate world of video games and MTV.
    3. It couild be a great missionary tool but…..

    Some of the WORST sportsmanship I have ever seen has been displayed in church sports. Just two incidents I recall from my younger years:

    1. Our stake athletic director was one of my team mates on our ward softball team. He was the catcher and there was a long ball hit into the outfield allowing an easy score by the opposing team who had a man on third at the time. Instead of simply acknowledging that the team would score on the play, our catcher stood on the plate covering it with his size 12 feet. The opposing player saw what he was doing and simply took one last high step and landed on the catcher’s feet – with his spikes. The catcher vowed to return the favor. A few innings later the catcher was on first and was thrown out in a force play at second after an easy ground ball was hit to the shortstop (who happened to be the runner who stepped on the catcher’s feet in the earlier inning.) As the shortstop walked back to his position after throwing to the second baseman, our catcher bypassed second base and made a beeline directly at the shortstop, knocking him down to the ground. This started a shoving match and eventually out catcher got his shirt ripped off (but not his garments!!) I could only imagine what the impression would have been had someone brought an investigator to the game.

    2. When I was a young married elder (under 29) we had a basketball league for the 18-29 year-olds. Our team was the worst in the stake and in the final game of the season we played the best – and the biggest – team in the stake. We decided to played it loose and not worry about winning because we didn’t expect to win. Just have fun! Late in the game one of the opposing players broke away for a fast break basket but was challenged by one of our players (the smallest man on the court.) There was contact near the basket and it was one of those plays that could have gone either way. The ref called an offensive foul. The other team was winning by 6 or 8 points at this point and the game was nearly over so it seems the call was insignificant. But the opposing player went ballistic. He threw the ball at the clock on the wall which earned him a technical foul. This caused a reaction from the coach who also got T’d up and then the entire bech went off – Technical foul #3. The ref warned that one more word would create a forfeit for the game. And then the original perpetrator said something else. The ref called the game over and declared our team the winner. That was just the beginning. This argument continued into the parking lot and lasted for at least another 30 minutes. The really disappointing part of this story (as if the actions of the other team aren’t disappointing enough) is that at the beginning of the season the stake athletic director (not the idiot catcher mentioned above) had declared that any forfeits would auotmatically disqualify a team from playing in the stake tournament at the end of the season. Of course he was thinking about teams that just didn’t show up, trying to encourage responsible participation. But when this team “forfeited” the game in question, the stake AD did not enforce the rule. Afterall, they were “the best” team in the stake.

    Anyway, it has all left a bad taste in my mouth. I have participated in church sports in subsequent years in other wards and stakes but now I’m too old and fat. My sons have grown up and gone and so I don’t even attend the games anymore.

    What a lost missionary opportunity for all of us.

    Comment by Lamonte — June 6, 2007 @ 4:41 am

  13. The Spokane Valley stake you grew up in had the best church sports I’ve been involved in.

    I’ve never ever seen anything in church sports escalate beyond some chippy words, though.

    I find it funny when people say church sports are too competative. I dislike them because they aren’t competative enough. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

    Comment by KyleM — June 6, 2007 @ 9:58 am

  14. I hated church sports as a teenager because of how violent and angry people seemed to become over a meaningless game. I quit playing when I was fifteen and haven’t been interested enough to go back.

    Comment by jjohnsen — June 7, 2007 @ 8:51 pm

  15. I have to say (as another member of the 23rd B team) that memories of Church sports are truly “sweet” memories to me, even though I was one of the “not as good” players on the team. (Maybe they were just afraid of me spraining my ankles …. again!) The comradely and friendships that were built during church sports was invaluable as a teenager.

    Fun memories for me of the same season:
    -The win against 23rd A was even more sweet since my 2-year-older brother was on the opposing team.
    -Myself and 1 other was the least played people on the team, but I still felt pride (righteous pride …) in being a part of the team.
    -I posted a picture of what I am pretty sure is the infamous team.
    http://spencert.com/23rd_b.jpg Order: (backrow – l to r) Rusty C, (can’t remember, I believe he wasn’t a member – Rusty help me out here.), Todd S, myself, Nate U, Jesse F. (front row) Barry W. (the other guy who didn’t play much) and Coach S. Note: there were some of us that thought we were cool by making our biceps look larger by putting our fists behind them. I remember that being intentional.

    Rusty — did you get an entire one of those games on tape? I thought I remember watching that on tape later …

    I moved a couple years (maybe only 1 year — can’t remember when exactly this was) to Austin, TX and got to play ball there and they thought I was suddenly the “good” player on the team for having played with these other guys who were a lot better then I was.

    So I also have to 2nd what KyleM said in his comments: “The Spokane Valley stake you grew up in had the best church sports I’ve been involved in.”

    Church softball and basketball never left me with any desire to play any of the public school sports. We used to get some of the guys from the public schools out to play because they always said our leagues were way more “fun”.

    It really is unfortunate that there have been those hot-heads in church sports that have ruined it for all of us. There was even one in Spokane that had been banned for over 10 years from even coming to watch games because he got mad and decked the ref during a game. I can’t remember his name now…

    I currently live in Mesa, AZ and due to aforementioned type of experiences they have had a pretty long shortage of church sports, which I find truly a shame, but am forced to understand by SO many stories like Lamonte’s.

    However, due to so many our age (late 20s early 30s) that had such great memories, we are slowly trying to resurrect some church leagues down here.

    23rd B rocked!

    Comment by Spencer Thomason — July 5, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

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