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Lions grapple with religion, sports

NEW YORK CITY — As sons, daughters, and students, we constantly

feel like we're being pulled in one hundred different directions.

Everyone wants us to be something, and more often than we'd like, those

visions of our future tend to conflict. Sometimes we try so hard to

reconcile those conflicting images of who we are expected to be, with

who we want to be.

For religious athletes, this conflict happens in Division I

proportions. In the Mormon faith, there's a social norm that young men

will go on a mission for the LDS Church during college. It's a two-year

commitment to missionary work, service and very little physical

activity. These athletes suddenly become a recruiting liability, and

understandably so — coaches have limited resources and time to spend on

their athletes, and their jobs depend on getting athletes that they can

count on to perform and win.

"It's definitely something we need to think deeply about — as a coach,

nobody wants anyone to take a two-year break — so a lot of it depends on

what our needs are," said Columbia wrestling head coach Brendan

Buckley. "Sometimes it can influence how much we recruit that person,

because we may need that weight class really bad and may not have

people in that weight class waiting in the wings to step up."

For Kevin Lester, a sophomore wrestler at Columbia and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,

there was another layer of conflicting interests — he was a multi-sport

athlete in high school, and was even recruited to Boise State to play

football, but his dad was his high school wrestling coach.