better or for worse — sometimes both, perhaps — the game of basketball
has been a big part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
for the better part of 100 years.
Male Mormons first played in a formal basketball league in 1908, and
church basketball has spawned enormous participation from hundreds of
thousands of people in the 102 years that have followed.
need only mention the words "church basketball" to just about any male
who spent any length of time growing up in the state of Utah, where the
LDS Church is based, to realize the wide scope of influence basketball
has had in the church.
__IMAGE1__ Heading into
the second decade of the 21st century, this much seems clear — church
ball continues to be a behemoth in the LDS Church.
true that the state of Utah may have shifted from being a "basketball
state" to being a "football state" in the past decade or so, and it's
also true that basketball — and sports in general — are less important
to the rising generations, who instead immerse themselves in the
plethora of entertainment options available to them.
participation in church basketball among men, women and young adults
remains extremely high — Harold Turley, the Utah Area sports director
for the LDS Church, estimates that there were "at least 180,000
participants" in church ball in the state of Utah in 2009 — and the
church is busily overhauling the way its sports program is run in the
state of Utah to ensure it remains in a position to continue to sponsor
To that end, Turley is a
key figure. A lifelong participant in a variety of sports, Turley was
called last October to be the church's Utah Area sports director by
Elder Steven Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy.
than have its sports program, in which basketball is the biggest sport,
run by what Turley calls "the staff officers of the church," Turley
says the church wants its sports program run instead by local
"We're making a
major transition with the sports program for the church because in the
past it's kind of been the stepchild, or it's been on the fringe, and
has not been run by the line leadership of the church, the priesthood
leaders," says Turley. "In the fall of last year, the leaders of the
church indicated that we're gonna change that and we're gonna have the
priesthood leaders now responsible for the sports program."
to Turley, the church is approximately a third of the way through that
process and hopes to be finished by June of this year.
Turley oversees 547 stakes that play 42 different sports in his current capacity, which is a massive, massive undertaking.
"It's a huge effort," says Turley.
But no sport is bigger in the church than basketball.
standards hang from the "cultural halls" of virtually every LDS
meetinghouse up and down the Wasatch Front, and generations of church
members have grown up playing basketball. Until 1971, when it became
impractical because of the church's growth, the church sponsored a
yearly churchwide basketball tournament, and inter-stake tournaments
continue to this day.
When asked to
summarize the current state of church basketball, Turley immediately
pointed to the things that have made it such an interesting phenomenon
over the years — ugly incidents.
many of the people who have been a part of church basketball all have
their own story: So-and-so lost control of their emotions, and
such-and-such incident resulted.
are doing everything we can to, what we call, disarm anger," says
Turley. "I'll give you an example. I was a bank president at one time.
We made hundreds and hundreds of loans, (but) the only loans that the
board of directors remembered were the ones that weren't good loans.
There had been less than a dozen of those, but that's all they remember.
the same thing happens with people. They may have played basketball for
15-20 years, and they remember that there was one altercation seven
years ago. There's less than one-tenth of one percent where we've had
problems, but yet they are magnified."
church basketball to fulfill its two stated purposes — promote
community togetherness and inspire physical fitness — Turley is working
with others to minimize the occurrence of such incidents, realizing the
ultimate future of church basketball is perhaps on the line.
doing everything we can to disarm anger, and we have a two-prong attack
for that," says Turley. "We're just moving on this. One is that we will
have a priesthood leader responsible in every basketball game. ...
Secondly, we are spending a lot more time and effort to train officials
who will be officiating the games, much more so than we've ever done."