Ladies and gentlemen, you are reading the words of a person who accomplished something very, very important in an LDS man's life. Unfortunately it does not have anything to do with impressive spiritual milestones, such as achieving 100% home teaching for 12 consecutive months, baptizing your oldest child, or giving up watching the NFL on Sundays. While this accomplishment will not help my spiritual progression in any way, it is still something church-related that I am incredibly proud of:
WE WON STAKE!
That's right, baby, the Lakefield Ward Lakers are your 2008 men's basketball stake champions! (Our team name is not officially the "Lakers", but come on, it's the perfect name. I know many of my teammates will take umbrage at the name since they hate the Lakers as passionately as I support them, but what else could we have been? The Lakefield Cougars? The Lakefield Devil Rays? The Lakefield Out-of-Shapers? For the purposes of this blog, I'm sticking with Lakers.) The victory was especially sweet this year because we could have won the tournament last season but two of our starters missed our game because their flights got delayed returning home from business trips. (We think that a member of the opposing ward had an inside connection with the FAA and targeted those specific flights. We asked the Stake to investigate, but the findings were "inconclusive".)
I could not have asked to play with a better group of guys this year. We had a great time and worked together as a team to accomplish something that may seem trivial, but we are proud of. It tends to be easier to enjoy your season when you win your last five games by at least 15 points each, which we did. Our coach was a big part of our success by setting the tone in our first practices back in October when he made us run 5 laps and do calisthenics before we picked up a ball. (I was having flashbacks of Normal Dale from Hoosiers at that point.) We appreciate Coach Bob and his wonderfully supportive wife for all of their service this year. They even made sure that our jerseys smelled like Downy instead of sweat-related biology experiments after every game.
I look forward to church basketball more than any other activity each year. It has become my adult version of Stake Lagoon Day as a kid (sorry to the non-Utah born people who may not get the reference.) Between work, family, and church responsibilities there is precious little time for hanging out with my buddies, playing sports, and just enjoying myself. Church basketball gives me and thousands of men just like me this opportunity every year. I thought that I should share my perspective on church ball and identify some of the general categories that we as weekend warriors fall into. I am not saying that every person on the Lakefield team fits into one of these categories, nor did any of my current teammates inspire any of these passages. So Lakers, please do not read too deeply into this or feel that you are being singled out because you are not. In my 12 years of adult church basketball, I have probably had 150-200 different teammates and played against upward of 1,000 opponents due to repeated moves in my 20's. This is a collection of my entire church ball experience (career?) and not an attempt to pigeon-hole any of my Lakefield buddies.
Guys, please comment on which of the groups you would place yourselves into. Ladies, please also feel free to comment about where your husband/boyfriend falls. (I think a future post involving the different types of wives/girlfriends who go watch their men play basketball will be coming out shortly....)
-The Dominator: Usually is in his twenties and played Junior College ball at Snow, SLCC, or somewhere similar. He has somehow managed to stay in great shape, never gets tired, and can score at will. He is two steps faster, jumps a foot higher, and has better body control than anybody else in the gym. If he wanted to score 40 points in a 32-minute running-clock game, he could do it. When he strolls into the gym five minutes before tip-off, everybody on the other ward's team sighs and says, "Awwwwww crud! He showed up."
-The Fat Lip Waiting To Happen: Every team has at least one FLWTH. He is usually a really nice guy who would never intentionally hurt a soul, but blood and carnage seem to follow him when he checks into the game. His feet are usually size 12+ and he accidentally trips at least one person per possession. The FLWTH is normally about thirty pounds overweight and is a step slower than his brain thinks he is. When he sees a guy going up for a layup, his brain tells him, "You can totally swat this shot and look like a stud!", but when he tries to get his body to respond, everything happens just a fraction of a second slower than it needed to. Instead of rejecting the shot, his elbow manages to split a lip or bloody a nose. The FLWTH never means to hurt anybody, but his abuse of others is as inevitable as a Primary child forgetting he was supposed to give the talk in Sharing Time.
-The Oliver Grangers: Thanks to Brother Sherwood for a recent spiritual thought from D&C 117 acquainting me with Brother Granger. In a talk called "No Less Serviceable", President Howard Hunter said that while Oliver was not a famous, high-profile leader during the restoration, he was a "quiet, supportive individual" who played a key role in early Church history. He served three missions, helped build the Kirtland Temple, and successfully settled the Church's debts in Kirtland after the Saints were driven from the area. On a ward basketball team, the Oliver Grangers are the guys who consistently score 8-12 points per game and shoot over 50% from the floor. They play smart help-side defense, set clean picks, get key offensive rebounds, and rarely turn the ball over. Good church ball teams have at least two Oliver Grangers - and we salute every one of them!
-The Powder Keg: He perpetuates the stereotype that, "Church basketball is the only fight that starts with a prayer." For some unknown reason, he thinks every pick is dirty, every call against him his cheap, and he gets murdered on every shot but never gets the call. His personal life is usually very busy and stressful. He tends to have a job that requires cellphone calls at home at all hours of the day (e.g. production supervisor, call center manager) and his children range in age from his difficult teen-aged daughter to the infant twins who are still not sleeping through the night. Unfortunately for everybody on the court, he figures church ball is his only opportunity to "blow off some steam". Once he feels the refs are against him and the other team is playing dirty, his solution to the perceived injustice is to elbow, shove, slap, bite, noogey, and crane-kick everybody not wearing his color of jersey until one of three things happen:
1) His teammates see the warning signs of the imminent explosion, substitute him out of the game, and never let him come back in.
2) He gets a technical and is forced "cool down" for 10 minutes. While sitting on the bench, his wife gives him daggers from the stands and he wisely does not check back into the game.
3) Punches are thrown and the Stake cancels its men's basketball program for six years.
In my vast experience, I truly believe the Powder Keg is much less prevalent than most church basketball legends would have you believe. Every ward seems to have stories of church ball fights that get past on from one generation to the next that begin with, "We were killing the 2nd Ward 68-35 with two minutes left when Nephi Johanson undercut Alma Wells and both benches just cleared....." But when you do the research, there never was a Nephi Johanson in the 2nd Ward and the "fight" was actually Alma Wells blowing out his ACL going in for a layup during warm-ups. While church basketball brawls happen on occasion, I think most of us who play are just average guys trying to stay in shape by doing something we enjoy. But when the rare exception of the Powder Keg signs up to play on the Elder's Quorum team, you may have been safer giving the roster spot to Ron Artest.
-The Break Glass In Case of Emergency: Most wards have one guy who is friends with everybody on the team who says, "If you are going to forfeit, give me a call and I'll show up. Just don't pass me the ball." They want the ward to do well, but have no interest in getting bloodied by the FLWTH or punched out by the Powder Keg, but in case of emergency, they will be the fifth name on the roster. These are truly unselfish, service-oriented men. They loved their missions, set up chairs for funerals without being asked, serve in the cannery, and happily give blessings at 10:30 p.m. when their neighbor's child swallows a large piece of his Bionicle. Oh, and by the way, they tend to have some of the happiest wives in the ward.
-The Uncle Rico: I love the scene from Napoleon Dynamite when Uncle Rico and Kip are talking on the porch and Rico says (paraphrasing), "In '82, if coach would have put me in, we would have taken state! I would have gone on to play in the pros, made millions of dollars. How much do you bet I could throw a football over them mountains?" He then nails Napoleon in the face with a huge piece of steak as he rides by on his bike and Kip mumbles, "That's what I'm talkin' about." (That scene made me laugh harder the first time I saw it than any other scene in movie history.)
Uncle Ricos are usually in their early thirties and played varsity basketball in high school. When asked if they played ball in college they usually tell a story that begins with, "I could have played in college, but....." Uncle Ricos still have good instincts and can dominate a game on occasion, but are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that their bodies are starting to break down on them. They try to make two or three plays every game that would have ended up drawing "ooh's" and "aah's" from the crowd five years ago, but now end up with a turnover. While they like playing church ball, the enjoyment is tempered by their frustration of not being a Dominator anymore.
The Gunner: Follows the mantra, "When a shooter is hot, he keeps shooting. When a shooter is cold, he keeps shooting until he gets hot." He almost never goes inside the three-point line yet manages to launch 15 shots a game. His usual box score line is something like this: "4-13 shooting, 12 points, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 8 angry teammates."
The Ringer: Easily identifiable. The Ringer is obviously not a member of the ward, is normally at least 6'4", wears a warm-up consisting of a matching top and bottom, has a $150 pair of shoes, and a barbed-wire tattoo circling his sculpted biceps. He tends to be the "friend-of-a-friend" of one of a ward member who rarely shows up for the games but told him he could come play. Once in the game, The Ringer turns into The Dominator. But while he is dropping his 30 points, everybody on the floor keeps thinking, "I've never seen this guy at Stake Priesthood Conference before...."
As for myself, I am definitely an Uncle Rico. At 33 years old it's hard to get up and down the court on a surgically-repaired ankle, bulging disks in my back, and dealing with other random body parts that decided to hurt when I rolled out of bed in the morning. But man, you should have seen me back in 1992! Have you ever heard the story of why I didn't end up playing at Ricks College.......