Coach calls team meeting

Forty years is a long time for members of a little league football team to stay in touch. It's even less likely that those kids would still be in touch with the coach of that team. A group of ten "50-something" members of the Church not only kept in touch, but we recently came together at the Jordan River Temple, 40 years later, as our little league football coach, Wally France, received his temple endowment and he and his wife, LaDonna, were sealed.

Alan Tingey, our team's quarterback and now a stake president in the Salt Lake area, said this about the special occasion: "I received an e-mail from Scott Howell (another member of the team) letting us know that Coach France was calling another 'team meeting,' and that it would be held in the Celestial Room of the Jordan River Temple. As a 14-year-old boy, I never dreamed I would one day witness Coach France receive sacred temple ordinances. And to see nearly half the team in the Celestial Room was a real thrill."

The unique bond that this group of "boys" has with each other and the coach had its beginning in 1968 when our team of 14-year-olds and Coach France traveled 12 hours by bus from Salt Lake to Long Beach, Calif., to play a football game that forged unforgettable memories.

Bruce McDonough, also a stake president in Salt Lake, recalls his first impression of Wally: "I thought he was huge, and we nicknamed him 'Bullet' because he had no neck. He was very soft-spoken and nice, or so we thought until at the end of our first practice when he pulled his truck onto the field and shined the headlights while we ran laps in the dark. Wally really did care about each of us individually."

Years passed and the team all went our separate ways, but several players kept in touch with Coach France. Though he was inactive in the Church most of his adult life and was a bit rough around the edges, we always knew he was a man of integrity with a big heart, and we all felt that this day would come eventually.

Wally's wife, LaDonna, never gave up on him, just as he never gave up on the players he coached. He would always drive LaDonna to the temple, drop her off at the front door, then return two hours later to pick her up. Many times she would ask him if he wanted to come inside with her, and he'd simply respond, "Someday, maybe."

"I've coached thousands of kids," explained Brother France. "This group is special. I can still remember each of their names and the positions they played. It means a great deal to me that they all wanted to be a part of this special day in my life.

"It was incredible to look around the sealing room and see those young boys who had grown into such wonderful husbands and fathers. I love each of them and am so grateful for the examples they have been to me."

For a group of young boys, the idea of taking a trip to Southern California and winning our own "Super Bowl" was about as good as it gets. On Sept. 3, 2008, almost 40 years to the day since that memorable trip, 10 members of that team added special memories we won't soon forget.

• Todd Morris is a member of the Hillcrest 2nd Ward, Sandy Utah Hillcrest Stake.

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