Good sports program strengthens members

From time to time the Church News receives correspondence that is suitable for publication. The following was submitted by Don Springer of the Oak Hills Ward, Cedar Mill Oregon Stake.

Spring is just around the corner, and with it comes the resumption of Church softball programs in many areas.This brings to my mind many fond memories of playing Church softball going back to the 1950s. At that time, two wards that consistently fielded strong sports teams were the Fairmont and Edgehill wards in Salt Lake City.

I grew up in the Fairmont Ward and can remember the excellent, exciting competition we always received from Edgehill, whether we were playing a practice game or in tournament play.

For the past 17 years, I have been involved with the same type of sports program in the Oak Hills Ward in Beaverton, Ore. Each spring, excitement is generated in the ward about the upcoming softball season, often reflecting the successes of a season the year before.

The ward's softball program has been so successful that for the past several years, the ward has had two equally balanced adult softball teams. The teams were put together by a random drawing selection process to avoid hurt feelings or the "stacking" of one team or the other. One team could very well win the stake tournament and the other team finish second or third. In region play, the third-place team in the stake could easily end up as region champion.

Oak Hills' teams have had consistent support from ward members, who attend most of their games in sizable numbers. The ongoing tradition of success has resulted in much positive fellowshipping of both less-active and non-members. The results off the diamond in the way of conversions, activity, missionary calls and so on are the payoff to the effort put in.

There are a couple of other wards in our stake - Five Oaks and Mountain View among them - that also have established ongoing positive sports efforts, while some other units struggle to field teams.

What leads to the success found consistently in some wards? I believe it goes back to traditional established standards of excellence. The basics of a sound program must be in place: strong support from stake and ward leaders, a schedule and a good place to play.

A hidden ingredient is a mature, level-headed "sports enthusiast," someone in the ward who has an infectious love of sports and recognizes they can be used as a tool to accomplish things more important than winning.

This person would likely be the ward sports director and would perhaps be called as a coach. This person needs to be properly called, and then given the challenge of spreading his enthusiasm throughout the ward, without being overbearing. Simply sending a "sign-up" list around the ward doesn't work in and of itself. People need to be invited to participate, with special attention given to inviting several less-active members - who often are just waiting to be asked to play. One or two non-members who are friends of members could also be included.

Armed with a team roster, the "sports enthusiast" then goes to work. Phone calls are made a day or two before each practice or game to ensure a team will be in place and ready to play. As regular play continues, friendships are strengthened; less-active members are rejuvenated; friends are introduced to the gospel. The enthusiasm is kindled throughout the season, year after year. A tradition of excellence is established and maintained, and lives are blessed through participation in a positive Church sports program.

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