Sunday games mean “time out” for these soccer players—even if it means losing a chance at a title.
Coach Ken Jenks has some good news and some bad news for the boys on his soccer team. As members of a recreation-league soccer team, they’ve had incredible success. The LDS boys, who have teamed up with nonmember friends, are some of the best soccer players in the area.
The coach starts with the good news. “Well, boys, we’ve got a great team, and the Southern California Soccer League championship is in the bag,” he says. Then his face clouds a bit, and he delivers the bad news. “But we’ll be playing three games, and one of them is on a Sunday. How do you feel about that?”
Five hands reluctantly but firmly go up. Eric Miller, 14, Jeff Jenks, 14, Justin Bonsey, 14, and twins Trent and Travis Weaver, 15, stand up and tell the group, “We can’t play on Sunday.” The boys, who are members of the Cypress First Ward, Cypress California Stake, aren’t happy about the idea of missing out on the biggest game of the season, but they are sure about their decision.
They’re following a precedent set five years earlier by a basketball team of mostly Primary-aged Mormon boys (some of whom now play on the soccer team) from the Cypress Stake. The team, the Cypress Bulldogs, chose to play basketball with the Orange County youth league because games were not held on Sunday.
The Bulldogs won every game and were set for the championship final game play-off. But unlike regular-season play, the championship game was scheduled on a Sunday. When the coach (who is also a member of the Church) found out about the Sunday game, he called the team together. He explained to them his belief that they shouldn’t play on Sunday, but he left the decision of whether or not they should play to the boys. He suggested that they take a vote to see if the team wanted to play on Sunday or not. The team voted unanimously to support their coach, meaning they would forfeit the game.
Richard Wynder, who is now 15, says, “Even though we had won every game during the whole season, nobody had second thoughts about not playing the championship game on Sunday. It was something we all felt we had to do.”
John Harris, one of the members of the basketball team who was not LDS, has since joined the Church because of the examples of his LDS teammates. Also, some of the other basketball teams from the area are now refusing to play on Sunday. This has also influenced several of the soccer teams and football teams who have taken the same stand.
One of the non-LDS coaches said, “I don’t want the league to schedule games on Sunday because some of my best players are Mormons.”
Although the controversy of the games on Sunday still continues in Orange County sports leagues, the boys’ stand is beginning to make a difference. Many local sports organizations are holding Sunday games less often.
So, as expected, the soccer team plays well on Saturday and wins easily. Then the Mormon boys wish their team the best and go to church on Sunday. The non-LDS members of the team play the championship game and lose. The team takes third place.
Eric shrugs his shoulders, “This game is a temporary thing. I really would have liked to play that championship game if it hadn’t been on Sunday, but I know that keeping the Sabbath will help me return to my Father in Heaven.”
Justin echoes Eric, “It was an individual decision for me, too. I know that it is right and so it didn’t bother me either. The next day some of the kids at school were a little upset, but I think they respected me for staying with my standards.”
And respect from peers, parents, coaches, and other players is a valuable by-product of the sacrifice these boys have made. But perhaps even more important than that is the fact that their example does not go unnoticed by the younger boys waiting for their turn to play the game—but not on Sunday.
Editor’s note: Because of the stand these and other LDS boys have made, regular-season soccer games are no longer held on Sunday in Orange County, California.