In the 1980’s, a young shooting guard from North Carolina was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. At the beginning of every game, he would pull his team together, and shout the question to them “What time is it?” Their response was always “Game time.” The admonition from Brother Jordan continues to reverberate throughout LDS churches every year, as some coaches are called, and others are chosen to lead the masses of church ball.
Having recently received the clarion call to play once again this year, I reflected upon the categories of players who proudly don (more accurately painfully squeeze into) the colors of their respective wards and march like the sons of Helaman forward to conquer foes from other ward units. I’ve tried to enjoy my “retired” status from church ball the past couple of years. My high council calling came with the assignment of stake sports and activities, which I soon found entailed speaking with those who had been assessed technical fouls. This loud, proud, and seldom remorseful group validated the pleading message my sprained ankles, bruised thighs, and floor burned knees had been begging for some time, that it was time to stop.
Due to prohibited participation from high school coaches I was a latecomer to the church ball scene. Brimming with good will and athletic fitness carefully honed through BYU intermural championships, I entered the church ball realm later in life, lacking the proper expectations of those I would be interacting with. Lest others naively venture into church ball, please let me share the categories of those you can expect to see.
- Sweaters. Veritably bursting with liters of liquid, these guys need only the slightest physical activity to open the floodgates within their sweat glands. A climate controlled gym, shiny hardwood floors, and plenty of absorbing jerseys provides the optimum outlet for these irrigative individuals. An unsuspecting encounter boxing out or rebounding with one of these men provides a second baptism by immersion, yet devoid of covenants or blessings. Sight and smell are most important senses in identification, yet avoid touch at all cost.
- Good Soldiers. Feeling compelled to do their duty, these stalwarts come from the same pool as scout leaders and elders quorum presidencies. These good brethren will selflessly take any assignment, whether it be a Friends of Scouting drive, moving a piano, or chaperoning a Klondike Derby. Some of these guys have some tremendous upside developed from the fine motor skills resulting from capture the flag games, or avoiding angry dogs on fast offering routes. Don’t underestimate the athleticism of the good soldier.
- Dream Chasers. Perhaps the most dangerous of the bunch. An angry smoldering rage has been building from deep within them for years since they were cut from the _______ (insert Jr. High, High School, etc.) team. The fury has been fed through years of combined activities when 20 points were scored against miamaids, complete dominance over third world children in the mission field, or acrobatic dunks were achieved in the driveway on the 8 foot adjustable basket. They are out to prove to the world of what they could have been, and firmly believe they’re never too late to the greatness game.
- Recaptured glory. Be wary of this group because unlike the dream chasers, this group has some skill. They made a team at some point, and tasted the sweet glory of victory. It may have been a city, region, or state championship, and the thrill of that has made other pursuits seem quite mundane. Many of these have forgone academic ambitions, career developments, or other forms of civic engagement while coasting on the coattails of their high school glory. They are easily spotted, as they will show up in faded letterman jackets, way to tight high school jerseys, and the especially dangerous class ring. Another giveaway will be the pregame music from a foregone era that propelled them to greatness, Vince Neil or Axel Rose being among the most popular.
- Fountain of Youth-ers. This group uses church ball as a measuring stick of their vitality. They enjoy the exercise, and figure as long as they can get up and down the court with the brethren (especially the priests and prospective elders), they are full life and vigor. These sinewy and wiry warriors can run all day, and can be detected by the odor of kale, tofu, and seeds upon them. Don’t let them get going on their testimonies of Melaluca oils or Noni juice.
- Innocent Assumers– Familiar with family search, the music of David Archuleta, and Jimmer, this group anticipates all church sponsored activities to be virtuous, lovely, and of good report. They come to deepen friendships with eager priesthood brethren who are so nice on Sundays. Make sure if you’re driving the key, one of these wide eyed flowers doesn’t get in your way! They are not trying to take a charge or block your shot, just finding the area of most dense population and not have to yell to communicate.
- Competition Hunters. Due to the fact that most animals are in hibernation and unable to be hunted at this time of year, the competition hunters come down from their tree stands and sniping lairs. Camping and four wheeling can’t be done, so these camo-covered heroes come looking for prey. Be very careful with your vernacular when in their company. Terms like “shoot,” “run,” and “hit it” may have unintended consequences.
- Desperate Leaders. With very vague ties to priesthood responsibilities, expectations to field a full team keep dedicated leaders up at night. If unable to “delegate” the responsibility of playing, good leaders will suit up to avoid the chastisement that comes from the high council at the next stake meeting. Be most aware of the velocity of your passes with these men. With welfare needs to worry about, perplexities regarding lost scout paperwork, and middle of the night “concerns” from ward members to balance, the leaders attention span is short. A crisp pass can be expected to knock off glasses or bloody a nose if thrown at these distracted dignitaries.
- Timid Inactive Explorers. Putting on a white shirt and tie, and venturing out into a gospel class with returned missionaries and polished priesthood holders is beyond their bravery. These good men are a bit unsure, but exploring the waters of acceptance. A gym without ties and collars seems safe enough. Bad habits are overlooked as the exultation of another warm body to give the out of shape brethren a breathing break is exciting. This population are most popular and can benefit greatly if not scared by previously mentioned populations. Look closely, and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of a hidden tat. There are usually great spirits and great people beneath these exteriors, by far the best part of church ball.
- Pride of the Ward. This is the royal army marching forth to conquer on life’s great battle field. Other wards are viewed as competitors for the 11am schedule, use of the kitchen on activity nights, and leavers of smelly diapers in restrooms. Unable to punish them in other ways, the honor of the ward can be settled on the basketball court. Now the foe’s advancing, that valiant host assails, these men never falter, their courage never fails. These are the men of a royal army, beware of basketball battle with them. Weapons of choice include elbows, knees, hips, and biting.