One Minute to Greatness


I have always felt that the opportunities for true greatness march in upon us when we are least prepared or expectant of them. The lives of great men have been a constant source of strength to me, not because of what they accomplished when they knew the world was watching, but rather what they did when there was no time for contemplation, no time to weigh carefully all the facts, no time to seek the advice of experts, no time for fasting and prayer, no time for anything but an automatic response to life. To be a first-hand observer of such an event has been my privilege more than once, especially as I have had opportunities to work with the youth of this Church.

In 1973 I was the seminary teacher for our ward. Since we did not live in a heavily church-populated area, we had early morning seminary, beginning at 6:10 A.M. Every morning 35 to 40 choice young people would get up and come to the church in order to attend our New Testament class, and every morning it was like a small miracle to me. To study the gospel that early in the morning took a special dedication, and I admired my students as they daily appeared for more gospel instruction.

For several years it had been the policy of our stake to have a scripture chase tournament in which teams from the eight wards competed, and the two top teams would then go to a regional competition with four other stakes.

That year we had a great team of seven people, five girls and two young men. They had worked hard all year, spending a great deal of their own time outside of class studying for the competition, and the excitement began to increase as the day for the stake play-off approached. Of course, our team had scouted the other wards and knew that the team to beat was our neighboring Fourteenth Ward.

The night of the stake competition came, and after several closely contested matches, we completed the contest in second place, losing to Fourteenth Ward. Our team had done well, and I was satisfied that the real purpose of the competition, to learn the scriptures, had been accomplished. And we had qualified for the regional contest coming up the next weekend.

During that week the team worked even harder studying and reciting the scriptures back to each other. They also set their goal of beating the first-place team from our stake, feeling sure that we would be matched with them during the regionals.

Regional competition was a total day where the ten top teams from the five stakes competed in a double elimination tournament, and as the day progressed, so did the excitement and pressure. As in all competition, elation for one team meant great disappointment for another, and as our team competed, we too experienced high and low moments. We lost our first round, which meant we had only one more chance. However, we rallied and won the next two games, which put us in an excellent position. Four of the ten teams had already been eliminated, and we felt that we could at least take a second or third. Of course, each of us nurtured a hope of first place, although it was never openly talked about.

As we sat and talked about our next game, Steve got up and ambled over to the board to see who our next game would be with. He was back in a minute with an excited look on his face.

“Hey, Fourteenth Ward lost to North Third Ward! It’s their first loss, and guess who they play next!”

Well, here it was. I could feel the excitement go up a notch, and every member of the team was thinking the same thing when Steve voiced it aloud:

“We can beat those guys! If we beat them in regionals, that’ll show we’re really the best in our stake. The pressure’s greater here, but I know we can beat those guys! And that’s really why we came here.”

We had about two minutes before the game, and we hurriedly discussed last-minute strategy. As we were about to get up, I said something I hadn’t said all year, because I knew l didn’t have to. Still, it came out.

“Okay, just one more thing. Whatever happens, remember that the most important thing is to be fair. If the judge makes a bad call, don’t argue. Be honest in everything you do.” I could tell from the seven looks I got back that l had insulted their integrity, and I wished I could stuff the words back in my mouth.

“Seattle Ninth and Seattle Fourteenth Wards, would you please take your places?” Both teams moved into place, and l grabbed an empty seat on the front row of spectator seats. The cultural hall was about three-fourths full, complete with parents and friends to cheer each team.

I slumped in my chair and said funny things to myself like, “Remember, you’re the teacher. Don’t get excited. Present a good image. You’re not supposed to be nervous. It’s only a game. No matter what happens, they’ve done a great job.” Brother Stock reached over and slapped me on the back. “This is it! We’ve got to win this one.” Thanks, I needed that.

In our scripture chase, we had three types of questions. The first was an individual question, where the first person on either team to find the correct scripture from the clue given received a point for his or her team. The second was a team-help question, where all members of the team had to have the same scripture, but they could help each other. The first team to get it received two points. The third type was a team-no-help, where all the team had to have the scripture, but they couldn’t help each other. The first team to get it received three points. There was a total of seven clues given, and the team with the most points won that game. The loser of this match would be eliminated from the tournament.

I don’t remember the sequence of events or questions, but at the end of six questions, the score was tied six to six. I was no longer able to pretend I was not excited but was sitting on the very edge of my chair, cheering for our team with the rest of the parents and friends.

Now! Now was the time for a home run, a hole in one, a 50-yard field goal, a 30-foot jump shot, a 4-minute mile, a whatever is great in any sport—now was the time when a competitor put full dedication into one last supreme effort, knowing there would be no more chances.

“Okay, teams, here we go for the final question. A team-help, worth two points, and everybody on the team must have it. Remember, you can help each other, and the judge for each team will check your Bible to make sure you have it right. When you get the correct scripture, put your finger in the page, close your Bible, and turn on your switch. Ready? Situation: Where does it say that a man cannot take the priesthood upon himself? Chase!”

Hands and books flew, and I knew they were going to have to be fast. Hebrews 5:4—it was so easy; they’ve got to have it by now! There! The lights came on almost at the same time, but our team was first! I could tell from the looks on their faces that they all had the right scripture.

“Okay, Ninth Ward, does everyone have Hebrews 5:4?” [Heb. 5:4] Everybody nodded. “Judge, would you check each Bible to make sure they have the correct page?” Everyone opened their books as the judge passed slowly down the row to make sure everything was right. He looked at the moderator, nodded, and said, “Everybody has it.”

Explosion behind me and all around. Parents and friends were cheering, and the team was grinning from ear to ear—all except Steve. He quietly motioned to the judge and pointed to something in his Bible. After a few seconds of whispering, the judge returned to the moderator and explained the situation. I knew immediately what had happened. In his haste, Steve had gotten one page off when he marked his Bible with his finger. As sometimes happened, the judge didn’t catch it since it was only one page away from the correct answer.

I didn’t need to listen to know that the other team’s members all had the correct scripture and that we had lost. I didn’t care, because all I could think about was an 18-year-old priest who taught me more in less than a minute about honor and integrity than I had ever read or heard. To say nothing would have been the easy thing to do. No one knew, no one questioned, and our team had already been declared the winner. I quickly reviewed in my mind the quiet manner in which Steve had corrected the mistake, with no expectation of recognition or honor, just the sure knowledge that there was only one right thing to do. And through the misty eyes and the lump in my throat, I silently thanked my Father in Heaven for allowing me to associate with spirits as choice as Steve.

[photo] Photo by Jed Clark