To the members of the Stake Aaronic Priesthood Committee:
I propose that at our next meeting (7am, Sun 22 March 1998) we invite The Stake Athletic Director to come and report his stewardship with regard to the young men and young women basketball program. He has done a fine job organizing the activity this year, amidst sometimes unhappy circumstances. Nevertheless, over one hundred youth in our Stake have had a great experience, to which much of the credit goes to the Stake Athletic Director. I believe our committee could benefit from hearing from him what he believes his successes were, and where he believes the program could be improved.
Our committee has the stewardship for the youth of this Stake. The Stake Activities Committee assists us in this effort by running a sports program for the youth. I believe our committee was remiss this year in its responsibility to give guidance to the Stake Activities Committee. We should have told them what objectives we were trying to meet with the sports program and what principles we expected to guide the execution of the program. In not giving guidance, we have--in essence--thrown the ball at the Activities Committee and absolved ourselves of any responsibility. It is now time to hold ourselves accountable. If we believe there were problems with the sports program this year, we are not innocent, myself included.
After the Stake Athletic Director gives his report (about 15 minutes), I would like to have a discussion about the guidance we should give the Stake Activities Committee for next year's program. I believe the guidance should take two forms: objectives and principles. Both of these should be grounded in doctrine.
Over the next week I'd like you all to think about the objectives and principles (and their doctrinal underpinnings) we should give to the Activities Committee as we commission them to organize a sports program for our youth next year. Specifically, I would like each of you to come prepared to identify a doctrine that leads to an objective or principle for a youth sports program. By the end of the meeting, I would like to hand a list of approved objectives and principles to the High Council Advisor to The Stake Activities Committee.
I firmly believe that if we have a solid doctrinal foundation and our behavior is guided by the principles of righteousness, the youth will achieve the spiritual goals we believe are important for them to attain through a sports program.
Here is one thought about the context in which the Stake Youth Sport Program exits. I believe that the Youth Basketball program should be run as a bait and switch, just like scouts. In scouting, we take the boys on camp outs because they will come--they like camping. Camping is the bait. Once on the camp out we do a switch. We try to teach them something about life and the eternities. On cold camp outs, there is a captive audience standing around the fire. I never lost the opportunity to teach a life or gospel lesson as we stood around the fire. Map and compass is a bait and switch. As you have heard me tell on a number of occasions--at the end of a map and compass course, if the scout leader does not draw the analogy of the map to the scriptures and the compass to the Holy Ghost, then the leader has just wasted everyone's time, and "micro-fied" his calling.
The High Adventure this coming summer is a bait and switch. The beach is the bait. Once we get them there we will teach them gospel and life lessons.
The youth basketball program should be run similarly. Basketball is the bait. The question is, what life and gospel lessons will we teach the girls and boys? This is what I mean by having a set of doctrinally-based objectives. Every basketball game (or the car-trip to and from) should be designed to evoke a spiritual experience for the kids in this stake. If not, then we are wasting everyone's time. We are not in the "fun" business, we are in the "soul-saving" business. If we can use "fun" to "save-souls" then we are on the right track. If, however, at the end of the day we have only provided fun, we have wasted our time. We should leave the "fun" business to the professionals (Kings Dominion, etc.).
I view the basketball coaches as playing the same role as the YCLs at girls camp--or as the Ma's and Pa's at Trek. The Young Women spend quite a bit of time preparing the YCLs to be able to transform the experiences at camp into gospel lessons. The youth conference leaders spent quite a bit if time teaching the Ma's and Pa's how to turn the trek experience into a gospel lesson. We should spend at much time teaching our coaches how to turn basketball into a gospel lesson. Remember, they are not coaching basketball, they are coaching kids. The game is not important. The kids are important. Who wins or loses has no meaning. Whether these kids have testimonies has meaning. The rules of life are not suspended during basketball games. Coaches must understand, behave, and teach the gospel through their coaching.
I believe that the basketball coach should be considered a calling in the Youth program. They should be charged and held accountable for the spiritual growth of the kids in the program. They should be trained how to be a spiritual leader. The Stake needs to prepare training materials and teach the coaches.
We normally think about individuals as being eligible, or maybe even teams as being eligible. I want to expand our notion of eligibility. Because those kids that are interested in basketball, playing on a team is motivation enough for them to behave in ways as to become eligible. I believe we have an opportunity to use that motivation to play basketball to get the young men and young women to magnify their own callings in their quorums and classes. I will take as my example the church's use of sacrament meeting attendance as a criteria for allocating funds. Stakes and Ward want money. Salt Lake wants salvation for its members. To the extent that Stakes and Wards show Salt Lake they are working on salvation for its members, Salt Lake dispenses funds.
So, too, must we dispense eligibility to the extent Wards engage in behaviors the Stake wants them to pursue.
In addition to individual eligibility (based on a Bishop's interview), I would like to see quorum and class eligibility. For example, a quorum or class is only eligible to field a team, if they held a quorum or class presidency meeting during the previous week. I just hate to see all the effort put into basketball, while ignoring the weightier matters. I would like to see at least as much effort into having quorum and class presidency meetings, as in fielding a basketball team. If we can use basketball as the bait, we can switch them into the righteousness of magnifying their callings. If a team is a joint Teacher Quorum/Priests Quorum team, then both quorums must have help presidency meetings. The team must produce a signed statement by a member of the Bishopric attesting to the presidency meetings every week before play. If they don't have it, then the team forfeits, but can go ahead and scrimmage with the other team.
I also believe there should be ward eligibility. Coaches must be certified has having gone through Stake sponsored training. Referees must be certified has having gone through Stake sponsored training. Wards who fail to supply certified referees, are not eligible to play their teams in competition. The teams forfeit, and can then scrimmage. I might even go so far as to say if a ward did not have its own ward Aaronic Priesthood Committee Meeting during the previous month all of its teams are ineligible.
Bottom line. I believe we need to create a very tight relationship between the basketball program and the spiritual goals we are trying to get the wards to pursue.
SEEKING THE ONE
I have a serious concern about what happens at the young mens' weekday activities throughout this stake. There is an awful lot of basketball being played, instead of pursuing a Varsity or Explorer program. I believe that a young men's basketball team should not be eligible to play on Saturday, if they played basketball for their young men's activity during the previous week. I would like to have each team present a signed statement by a member of the Bishopric attesting that neither the Teacher's nor Priest's quorum played basketball for their weekday activity.
Indeed, I have a fear that the Stake basketball program encourages disregard for Varsity and Explorer activities. I have heard boys (and leaders) say their weekday activity is practicing for Saturday's game. We must remove the temptation to use the Stake Basketball program as an excuse to not execute the Varsity and Explorer programs. The fact that some wards do use Stake Basketball to justify not engaging in Varsity and Explorer programs is in my mind justification enough--in and of itself--not to have a Stake Basketball program.
And now for my most serious reservation about the Stake Basketball program. I estimate that less than half of the boys or girls from any ward participate in the Stake Basketball program. In some wards I would guess it is around 25 percent. Consider the young man who does not like to play basketball. Week after week his quorum plays basketball on Tuesday night. The only extracurricular activity his quorum has is playing in the Stake basketball program. How much apart of his quorum does that young man feel? Zero. We wonder why so many men drop out of the church between ages 14-18. I can tell you why some young me do. There is nothing going on in his quorum that engages his attention. The "basketball boys" seem to do OK. But what about the "non-basketball boys?" Right now the quorums are doing very little to nothing to bring these boys into full fellowship in their quorums. And we at the stake aren't helping much.
We are commanded to seek after the lost sheep. I fear for myself at the judgment day, because I do not keep this commandment like I should. When we are held accountable for our Stake stewardships, which will count for more--implementing a program that gives the already active boys something else to do on Saturday, or implementing a program the reaches out to the inactives. I would like to see the Stake Activities committee seek after the lost sheep, rather than provide the active part of our youth a second opportunity to play basketball each week. Frankly, this is much, much harder to do. That is why we satisfy ourselves at having at least done something with the Stake Basketball program. I am afraid, however, it won't count for much at the judgment bar.
Quorum and Class Presidencies have been commanded to seek after their own lost sheep. It is clear from DC 15 and DC 16 that we can to nothing more important for our own salvation than to bring souls unto the Father. The same is true for Quorum and Class presidents. The most important thing they can do is get the estranged members of their quorums and classes back into fellowship with their quorums and classes. I think we have our priorities mixed up when we at the Stake encourage young men and young women to spend up to three hours on Saturday (travel time plus game time) playing basketball, yet encourage them to spend no time at all seeking after the lost sheep. This is inexcusable.
For these reasons, I strongly favor quorum and class eligibility requirements. Quorums and Classes must show evidence of having presidency meetings and efforts to include their non-basketball playing members in non-basketball activities.
Let me know what you think. Thank you for your patience.