“All Things Are Spiritual” Even Softball!
A few years ago the text for a lesson in our priests quorum priesthood class read:
“Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal” (D&C 29:34).
If all things are spiritual unto the Lord, our priests quorum concluded, then softball could also be a spiritual activity. Since the essence of spirituality is service to others, then a major purpose of church softball could be to serve, we reasoned.
We decided there were many to serve: team members, the umpires, friends and family who come to cheer us on, the other spectators who know who we are and what we stand for—and especially the other team.
Since the notion of “serving” the opposing team was fairly new, we discussed it in some detail. Psyching out the other team obviously wasn’t serving them; instead, we decided to encourage them to do their best. This, we felt, would help them feel good about their participation, regardless of the outcome. As a result, one particular game that we lost six to five was one of the most enjoyable to the team. Afterward our team talked excitedly about two things: first, how much fun the game was because it was close; and second, the noticeable impact our style of play had on the other team. During one play, when one of our players hit a fly to deep left field, their left fielder ran back, caught the ball, then fell over backwards with the ball popping out of his mitt. When the ball came back down he caught it again, this time lying fiat on his back. Our team, almost in unison, yelled out: “Good catch, left field!”
Obviously, unconditional support of our own team members is imperative. This past season I never saw our team lose anything in morale and brotherhood, even if we lost a game. Since being and feeling part of a team includes playing, in a five-inning game, all attending played at least two full innings. But that wasn’t the only way we served one another. Bruce is a good example.
Bruce was an electrical genius who had built his own color TV. He didn’t have the same athletic ability as some of the others, but he enjoyed participating. When he was placed in the lineup, there was always encouragement from his team members; and when he hit one of his several line drives just over the head of the third baseman the team would erupt with enthusiasm. The payoff came at the multiregional tournament in Denver, Colorado. Bruce had been made to feel so good about his part that he had elected to purchase a new mitt. Upon seeing the mitt and realizing what it meant, I knew that there was no longer any doubt about what kind of team this was—they were winners in the truest sense of the word and in the most important game—brotherhood. Bruce is now a missionary in Japan.
Robert is another example of the effect our philosophy had on each of us. Robert struggled seriously with our playing philosophy. We lost several games simply because everyone played in all games. Robert was competitive, and each week I wondered whether he would continue. As the season ended he had begun to adjust, but the change was not significant. The basketball and volleyball seasons came and went, with coaches who taught good techniques, effective play, and brotherhood as the reigning principle.
At the beginning of this past softball season, Robert was made team captain and was also called as an assistant to the bishop. He knew that developing brotherhood was his primary purpose in both callings, and he had now matured. He became one of the strongest proponents of service and brotherhood. Tears flowed from my eyes as I heard him encourage his counterpart shortstop regarding some good play that had been made. When it was his turn to sit the bench, he was up shouting encouragement to his teammates. That year we won the multiregional tournament, and after the game, amid all the excitement, he came up to me; we looked at each other deeply and then hugged each other. Among tender moments, that particular embrace ranks second only to those by my wife and children.
Robert’s character is standing the test of time. He didn’t play volleyball for us because he was wrestling for his school. During a priests’ testimony meeting the Sunday after we won the multiregional sportsmanship trophy in volleyball, Robert complimented the team on their style of play and then said: “I know most people don’t believe there’s any room in wrestling for brotherhood, but they’re wrong. I want you guys to know that I try to apply the same principles in wrestling that you’ve done with volleyball. Robert placed sixth in Colorado for his weight class.
Our style of play had an even more remarkable effect on Mike, a seventeen-year-old deacon who joined our quorum when our wards were divided. All our efforts to get this young man to join us yielded little until softball season began. But the spirit and brotherhood of our team is contagious, and he responded. After playing with us for six weeks he was beginning to show signs of activity, but had to drop out to work in another town. Upon returning for a weekend, he was encouraged to play in one of our games and was overwhelmed with how glad all the team members were to see him.
He flew to Denver to play in the multiregional tournament. During our testimony meeting prior to the championship game, he stood up and told us with tears in his eyes how the love of the team had changed his life. Mike is now the secretary of the priests quorum and the best missionary in the quorum. He has two nonmember friends participating with us.
These changes in the lives of young men are not due to luck or accident; rather, they are the result of a consistent program. Those in our ward who are called as coaches in all Church sports must have not only the required athletic expertise but also a love of the boys and dedication to brotherhood as the guiding principle of their leadership. These coaches are invited monthly to a joint priest/teacher presidency meeting to discuss how to meet the individual needs of each quorum member. This meeting also provides an opportunity for the Young Men’s president to assess the program. The coach is invited to give a lesson in the priests quorum so that the team members can hear his testimony. Love and brotherhood in the quorum are continually reinforced. The quorum is taught that softball is part of life and that we must be able to apply in life what we learn in the priesthood classroom. The young men have grasped these principles so well that the teaching of the younger team members is now done by their older peers.
As I continue to be involved with Church sports, my heart goes out to those teams who haven’t learned the value of brotherhood. Every opportunity should be sought to teach brotherhood to our youth and to imprint it firmly in their hearts. For what they learn on the softball diamond may help determine how they act in the larger, more important processes of life.