Talking about athletic competition in the Church during more than an hourlong Church News interview, Ron Gerber never mentioned words such as "winning" or "champions" or "statistics" at all, and only acknowledged "physical fitness" when prompted.

Rather, the longtime director of Church sports in Utah repeated terms such as "priesthood purpose," "sportsmanship," "fellowship" and "sharing the gospel."

He spoke with great satisfaction of a volleyball tournament match he attended at which one team stood poised to win the first game until a member of the team admitted that, though it wasn't seen by the officials, he had touched the ball before it went out of bounds. Following the "honor call," the other team went on to win the game. But, Brother Gerber said, it got better. With the best-of-three match tied a game apiece, the same team appeared to have won the match on a ball hit out of bounds. However, a different member of the team again admitted touching the ball, leading moments later to the other team winning the game and match.

Such honesty and other Christlike behavior should always be demonstrated in Church sports said Brother Gerber, 74, who for more than 25 years has been directing Church sports in Utah.

He said he was originally called by Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi of the Seventy as the Utah Salt Lake City Area sports director. When the three Utah areas were combined under the leadership of a single member of the Presidency of the Seventy, he was asked to be the director for the entire state, currently serving under Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy.

Brother Gerber's hair is now white, but he talks with youthful enthusiasm about the potential of Church sports to fulfill two purposes: "... invite all men to come unto Christ" (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:59), and "be perfected in Him" (see Moroni 10:32).

Run properly, he said, Church sports can be a powerful influence for good among young men and women, and adults. Brother Gerber said among those groups, more than 200,000 participated in basketball in Utah during the past season. Other Church sports in the state include softball, volleyball, golf, flag football, dodgeball and futsal, a form of indoor soccer.

Helping keep the Church's sports programs true to their purposes is a dedicated force of 278 men and women who have callings to help with the 68 regions in Utah's three areas, Brother Gerber said. Those brothers and sisters provide resources to assist stakes in running spiritually appropriate and uplifting sports programs.

He said one of the most useful tools that has come out of statewide leadership are four Christ-centered posters, approved by General Authorities. Their two purposes are, he said, "First, to set the environment, invite the Spirit. Second, we have a lot of less-active members and those who are not members involved with us. This gives us a tremendous teaching moment." Each poster includes a painting of the Savior and the scriptural purposes mentioned above.

The Young Women poster also includes the Young Women Theme while the Young Men poster includes a statement on the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood and the Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. The poster for adult women includes the Relief Society Declaration and the poster for adult men includes statements about the Melchizedek Priesthood.

It is suggested that the posters be reviewed by teams, officials and spectators just prior to the prayer offered before each game and then be prominently displayed at the venue throughout competition.

Brother Gerber said he is confident the posters set a tone that influences everyone involved to try to act according to Church standards even in sometimes heated competition. The posters are available to every stake and he said those that use it indicate it does lead to a much better environment.

He told of a report he received from northern Utah about the effectiveness of one poster.

A woman who was less active but who was interested in sports was invited to play on the ward team. She was so impressed with the pregame review of the poster that she told the Relief Society president that Relief Society Declaration was "a really impressive statement. Can you tell me more about it?"

Ultimately, Brother Gerber reported, she became active and her family has been sealed in the temple.

"Those are the kinds of things that keep us going," he said. "When we receive information about people's lives being influenced, it makes it all worthwhile."

He longs to see all stakes effectively run their sports programs under strong priesthood leadership with an understanding of their potential for good in spiritually strengthening members and sharing the gospel with others.

Highlights during his years of service, he said, include the development of a comprehensive sports program for women so all who want to participate have the opportunity, and resources for better training of officials, coaches and players.

Growing up in the Salt Lake Valley's Granger Ward, Brother Gerber had to help out in his family and didn't have time to participate in sports at Cyprus High School. But his love for sports was nurtured playing Church softball and basketball, he said. He enjoyed the thrill of playing and coaching in the All-Church tournaments of those days.

Though he had a career in manufacturing and operations management, he stayed involved in Church sports as an adult, with a particular interest in officiating. That interest evolved into extra income as he became a well-respected trainer of officials.

Meanwhile, he and his wife, Marquita, raised four daughters and three sons and now have 25 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. In the middle of an interview about sports, he made it a point to rave about his wife's musical talents.

Back to Church sports, he insisted that they aren't about one person, or a group of people. "It is the Lord's program." He added, "Sports really is a priesthood program. If it wasn't, we wouldn't have it."

E-mail to: ghill@desnews.com