Saturday, June 16, 2012
The Celestial Sport is ...
By Lynn Arave
WHAT is the celestial sport? If there is one, it would probably be basketball. Yes, hoops.
Why? Because almost every chapel in North America and even some outside contain basketball courts. There are some meetinghouse facilities with softball/baseball fields, but these are minimal, compared to basketball court numbers.
Go to any LDS Sacrament meeting where an overflow into the gymnasium area is being used, look up and you will likely see a retracted basketball hoop. They are standard and they are everywhere.
First-time visitors to ward chapels, who notice the hoops, might be somewhat bewildered.
According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Basketball was originally a women's sport. In 1900 at Brigham Young Academy, the Y's women's team had won a championship and there was no men's team.
Perhaps men of that era thought basketball wasn't rugged enough. (Too bad they couldn't forsee how rough church basketball would become by the late 20th Century!)
Basketball as a men's sport in Utah didn't begin until 1906, when the Salt Lake 20th Ward formed two teams of young men, according to a Deseret News article on Oct. 4, 2008.
A city basketball league in S.L. began in 1908 and that's when all the Ensign Stake also fielded boys basketball teams. A 1908 article in the Improvement Era emphasized basketball participation and having ward facilities to do so.
However, a 1911 Church conference for activity leaders focused on volleyball, wrestling, fencing, swimming. Gymnastics, running, jumping, vaulting and baseball, — but no basketball.
From 1929 to 1971 an all-church basketball competition brought the best church-wide to a tournament. Church growth world-wide made it impractical to continue the tourney any longer.
Some regional church events continued and virtually all young men have a chance to play basketball in wards today.
Fred A. Baker, who was in charge of LDS Church Physical Facilities from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, said his recollections of church basketball were that it really took off in the mid-1930s, at least in the Ogden area, though facilities were still limited.
Gymnasiums were often built then in stand-alone buildings, next to chapels.
He said by the 1970s, such separate buildings had become too expensive and chapels began including gymnasiums — complete with basketball courts — at the rear of their chapels.
A few stand-alone gymnasiums still exist. There's at in the Ogden East Stake and also the Hooper Utah Stake, still in use.
Why did the church so completely adopt basketball? It was a good, compact indoor sport for the Mountain West, where winter and cool weather can preclude the regularity of many sports.
Basketball also wasn't as rough as football or rugby and was also a good spectator sport.
The sport of basketball is popular, in and outside the church.
There are a few perennial problems with church basketball.
First problem involves a lack of proper sportsmanship by some players.
For example, some years ago, one of my brothers suffered a broken wrist while playing basketball in a Clinton, Ut. Ward. He said he was karate chopped on purpose while taking a shot in a church game. When I asked if he had told his stake sports direction about the incident, he said it was he who broke his wrist.
Another problem: Some players are simply not in proper physical condition to play it all out, without a high risk of injury. I can't count how many times I've seem a man limping to church and been right in guessing it came from a church basketball game.
Next, is a lack of physical conditioning. You can't play the game all-out if you only play it once or twice a week. Men age 30-plus are particularly prone to such hoop injuries.
I can't count how many times I've seen a man limp to church and been correct in guessing he got injured in a church basketball game. You have to be in shape to play the game.
-If you are not a church member, the carpeted floor on some Ward gymnasiums must seem like a pretty strange surface to play a basketball game on ....
Lastly, young men still sneak into the chapel at times to play basketball without any adults or leaders around to supervise them.
In conclusion: Mormons don't worship basketball, but it certainly is their sport of choice.
(Note: the accompanying photo shows a typical basketball hoop in a typical Utah ward chapel cultural hall, in the retracted to the ceiling position.)