It’s five minutes before sacrament meeting starts, and the bishop approaches you to ask if you’ll give a talk.
It would never happen, you might say, but Kelli Pay of Glendale, Arizona, knows better. When she was on her mission in Ecuador, she really did have only five minutes to get ready to give a sacrament meeting talk.
“My heart pounded and my mind raced, but I was calmed with the fact that I had done this before,” says Kelli.
Before? Doesn’t something like that happen only once in a lifetime? Not if you live in Glendale.
Brook Harward wanted to buy nursery accessories for her brother and sister-in-law’s new baby, but alas, her teenage budget didn’t stretch to fit the $200 total for the things she wanted to buy. No problem.
“I decided I could do it much cheaper myself,” says Brook.
Brook, with the help of her mom, went to the store, guestimated how much material she would need, and made it herself.
Pulling patterns for complex decorations out of thin air, tracing them onto newspaper, and then whipping them up in time for a new addition to the family? For most, it wouldn’t be possible, but in Glendale, it’s just par for the course.
Speaking of courses, the youth in Glendale are familiar with all kinds. Bike race courses, track courses, and even difficult courses of study. Are they all just overachievers? Gluttons for punishment? Not exactly. The Glendale stake youth started a tradition 25 years ago—seven years before the oldest youth in the stake now participating were even born—of having an annual youth competition. What started out as an afternoon of track-and-field events for the Explorer Scouts has gradually become a major talent showcase for youth, and a way for them to make new friends and discover new ideas.
One thing that makes this competition fun for everyone is the variety of events entrants can compete in. In addition to traditional sporting events like track, volleyball, and racquetball, competition also includes some not-so-traditional events like cooking, chess, Ping-Pong, and many others.
Remember Kelli and Brook? Kelli excelled in the public speaking competition—something that came in handy on her mission. Brook sews something for the competition every year, making things both she and her family can use and enjoy. All of the youth here take the parable of the talents seriously and are on the lookout for things that will help them improve themselves.
Many people acquire skills for the competition that they might never learn otherwise. These are all things that will come in handy in the mission field, in college, and in raising families of their own. Girls learn woodworking, everyone cooks, and boys sew and quilt.
“My mom likes to sew a lot, so I decided to make a quilt to see how I would like it,” says 16-year-old David Rowse. “I’ll use it on my bed after the competition is over.”
A 16-year-old boy tying a quilt of his own free will and choice? Isn’t that just a little strange?
Not in Glendale. In fact, he faces stiff competition from the other boys who have sewn throw pillows and other useful household items.
Even more important than learning how to bake a perfect cake, run faster, or play a piano piece, are the relationships that are formed through participation in the competition. In addition to individual events, each ward earns points for every event a member participates or places in.
“Even if you don’t ever win anything,” says Natalie Garrard, “every entry is important and counts for something.”
Every person is important as well. The competition is a vital part of what makes the Glendale youth such good friends. Friendships formed at the competition are often the springboard that strengthens testimonies, gets the less-active coming to church again, and makes everyone feel that they are an important part of the stake.
Adrian Juchau says, “The competition is so much fun because everyone shows so much support. I was a little afraid to compete, until I actually tried it and found out that people are really having a good time.” In fact, Adrian had so much fun that he decided he would be at every event whether he was participating or not.
“At the Ping-Pong tournament, I was more nervous than the people who were playing,” he admits.
Because the competition takes place over a three-week period, the youth spend a lot of time together, working out, rehearsing, competing, and just “hanging out” waiting for the next event.
“My friends and I wanted to enter the group vocal-music competition. We just couldn’t find a song we liked, so we spent five hours looking together. Finally, we turned on the radio and heard the perfect song. We joked that it must be true inspiration,” says Mia Maid Marlowe Ziegler.
Cheering on your competitors in other wards, spending five hours to find the perfect piece of music, or traveling back and forth to different church buildings for three weeks every year, might seem like a lot of effort, and it is. But in Glendale, most everyone says, “It’s all worth it.”
When the contest finally ends for another year, ribbons and medals are given in every competition, with separate categories for boys and girls. Nearly everyone wins at least one award, and lots of people have several. Yet no one really seems to notice. Everyone has won other things that seem much more important: friendship built on a gospel foundation, love for fellow competitors, and an appreciation for the talents of others.
“I wanted to learn how to play the piano blindfolded, and now I can,” says Adrian, a skill that, by all accounts, is a new one in the stake.
“I would never have learned how to build that cabinet without the competition as a goal,” adds Jared Hall.
Paul Jenkins competed with a good friend. “There aren’t any bad feelings,” he says. “We both knew we’d do well, and we did.”
Those sentiments are echoed by many other participants and can be seen in the way everyone gets along throughout the various competitions. On performing and fine arts night, while one girl is being congratulated on an exemplary piano performance, another is being cheered up by friends who realize she wanted to do better on her vocal solo. Boys good-naturedly tease each other about who is going to win the art competition, but then wish each other good luck. On track-and-field day, several girls laugh about deciding to cross the finish line together in a race so they can all come in first. The list goes on.
And although the competition has been going on for longer than any of these participants can remember, no one really remembers past winners.
Jessica Forsberg, a 16-year-old whose talents shine brightest on track-and-field events, sums it up best. Still breathless from a race, she says, “When you cross that finish line, even if you didn’t win, you feel like you’ve succeeded. Winning isn’t everything; it’s just for fun.”
Competing just for fun? Focusing on people rather than achievements? Using competition as an incentive to excel without hurting people’s feelings? Some might think those things are too good to be true. But if you live in the Glendale Arizona Stake, it’s just how things are done.
Here are some tips, gathered from youth and leaders in Glendale, on holding your own competition:
Start small. The Glendale competition started as a one-afternoon event and has grown over a period of 25 years. Give your stake the time to find out what works and what is comfortable for everyone.
Plan, plan, plan. Try to anticipate every challenge in planning your event. Think of all the things you will need to buy, borrow, or reserve to make your competition a success.
Ask for help. In Glendale, the stake’s Young Adult ward helps with judging and organizational tasks. Ask for help from people outside the stake’s youth program if you think you will need more manpower.
Encourage everyone to participate. The Glendale youth agree that meeting and making new friends is what makes the competition fun. Encourage everyone to come—even if it’s just to watch.
What do the Glendale youth do at their competition? Here’s a complete list:
Cooking—Bread and Rolls
Track and Field—Various Events
Performing Arts—Vocal Music
Performing Arts—Instrumental Music