Judas

As in many places along the Wasatch Front, basketball was an important part of being a young man in an LDS Ward. For the vast majority of my youth, I was a member of the Preston 9th Ward of the Preston, Idaho North Stake of Zion in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church ball was particularly important in Preston, because our high school was just large enough that many excellent players and athletes couldn’t quite make the high school team, but small enough that everyone still knew each other–the perfect recipe for rivalries. Wednesdays in wintertime were intense–Game Night. I even remember some teams who, in making fun of the high school teams’ traditions, wore their Sunday clothes to school on Wednesdays.

When I turned 14, I became aware of an interesting fact about our ward: We were terrible in basketball. We had apparently been terrible for decades, too. Being a marginal basketball player at best, this was actually a good thing for me: most of the older guys didn’t bother showing up and so, despite my youth and lack of skill, I got plenty of playing time. Over the course of the season, we improved a little bit, won a few games, and I had a lot of fun. The Preston 9th Ward just didn’t really have the horses to compete with the better teams in the Stake, so we lost early in the Stake Tournament. We had improved, though, and prospects for the next season were quite good.

Then he showed up. Kevin. Or, as everyone else in the Stake referred to him, Pat Riley.

Kevin moved into our ward from Los Angeles and was asked to be the basketball coach for the ward. He didn’t seem to understand our ward’s culture of losing with pride, or of just playing for fun. After a first practice (Practice? For church ball?) in which he made us run drills, do calisthenics, and run wind sprints, Kevin informed us that, quite simply, he didn’t like to lose. He told us that we were going to win.

Over the next few weeks, Kevin obtained (Hired? Called?) an assistant coach (I’m not making this up.), and together they designed and created a playbook with at least 20 different offensive set plays based on various lineups, numerous sets of defensive schematics, and (wait for it…) hand signals for the point guard to flash to the rest of the team so we knew what play he would be running.

Our ward’s “image” also changed. We got actual matching blue jerseys. To go along with these, Kevin insisted on everyone buying matching blue gym shorts. The baggy kind that (presumably) cool people would wear when they played (presumably on a court with a chain net). On game night, Kevin would arrive at the Stake Center, clipboard in hand, wearing a black suit, solid-colored shirt (usually red or gold), spit-shined shoes, and a power tie. His hair was greased and combed straight back. Pat Riley.

During the games, Kevin’s full competitive spirit was unleashed upon all comers from the other wards. He ran aggressive game plans that had as the primary design, beating the living daylights out of other teams and running up the score on them. His plays worked well, his defensive schemes were solid, and we had a couple of players who were lights-out 3-point shooters. Each time one of these guys got on a roll, Kevin would yell “ALL DAY!” over and over, gloating and reveling in the ensuing blowout. He yelled at officials. He was offensive, rude, and a poor sport, basically. Everyone hated us–and everyone hated our Coach, too.[1] And we loved him for it, because we were winning. He coached us. He called timeouts. He made us work. He helped us win.

But he also benched me.

By the end of the season, our 12-player team had turned into a 6-man rotation, and I was not included in that group. My time on the basketball court was shrinking week after week, and by the Stake Tournament, it was non-existent. The group of us who no longer got to play sat on the end of the stage in the gymnasium and waited. We talked amongst ourselves about how this was “church athletics” and “winning wasn’t everything” and so on. Mostly, we got bitter.

After five players received no playing time at all during the Stake semifinals, and as the Preston 9th Ward advanced to the Stake championship game against the Preston 7th Ward, the bitterness of the benchwarmers was channeled into a strategem. We agreed to boycott the championship game, by wearing purple jerseys we snatched from the 7th Ward gym and sitting at the other end of the stage. We would cheer and root publicly for the team we were supposed to be playing against. We knew that, as a practical matter, our team would not be playing against the 7th Ward anyway–only Kevin’s team would be.

At some point before the game, I realized that our boycott of Kevin’s team would also be a boycott of my friends who did get playing time–Jason, Kris, Brandon–especially my neighbor Steve, who I had always looked up to and admired. Despite my anger and frustration toward Kevin, I chickened out, and told the other guys I was not participating. As far as I recall, no one boycotted the game.

During the championship game, I played innocent; I cheered for my team, acting as if no betrayal had ever been considered, and with Preston 9th clinging to a slim lead with only a few seconds remaining, I had the gall to ask Kevin if I could go in for the last few seconds. He replied firmly without even looking at me: “Not a chance!” We won the game and the Stake Championship, and I went home, angrier than ever about having not played a single minute in any of the tournament games, and determined never to play Church sports again as long as Kevin was involved.

One minor detail. Kevin was not active in the Church–he never came to anything. The Sunday after our championship, however–fast and testimony meeting–Kevin showed up in Sacrament meeting–Pat Riley suit and tie to boot, and sat near the front of the chapel. I was honestly a bit angry to see him there, because he was my enemy. He seemed agitated when he saw me, and I was glad. Kevin stared straight ahead during the entire meeting and made a fairly quick exit when it ended. On my way out, I saw him in the foyer talking with some guys from the team, who came over to talk with me after he left the building.

Kevin had told the Bishop before the championship game that he wanted to come to Church for the first time in years, with the intent of standing up in testimony meeting to talk about the character and quality of the young men in the Preston 9th Ward, and how proud he was to have been their coach in basketball, and the example they set for him. But when the moment arrived, he chickened out couldn’t do it, because it wasn’t true.

Just before the championship game had started, somewhere, somehow, a lip slipped, and Kevin discovered that half of his team–half of his “quality” young men of high “character”–had planned on boycotting him, as well as the other half of the team. They had planned to cheer against him, their own teammates, and their Ward. He was heartbroken. He had known that all of my cheering during that game was false–just a kiss from Judas. I sat with him on the bench, and I wore the right colored uniform, but I had stabbed him in the back.

___________________________________________________________________________________

[1] My friend Steve, after reading the post, said the following:”You left out a couple awesome details, however: a) we full-court pressed opposing teams the ENTIRE game, and since several of the starting guards were also on the cross country team we could do it all game and still have plenty of steam left; and b) the night of the championship game coincided with a high school basketball game. Because we had become every opposing team’s common enemy, and because, as you mentioned, everybody knew everybody in Preston, most of the students who had planned to go to the HS game came to ours first, then left to attend the HS game. In my (possibly embellished) memory, the stage and sidelines were packed with probably around 1-200 spectators.

________________________

Judas

Comments

  1. If there’s a part of me that still feels like Kevin deserved a blade between the ribs, does that make me a bad person?

    Excellent post.

  2. Wow. That’s an amazing story.

  3. Fletcher says:

    If only you had known as a young lad that cartels are inherently unstable, unless there is an enforcement mechanism . . .

    Nevertheless, excellent reflection.

  4. Overheard in my stake center:

    “I see they’re playing basketball in the gym, so I guess the church is still true.”

    This is a great story, Scott. I really don’t like Kevin–and like Rick H, I kind of want him stabbed in the back–but there’s no escaping that “Doh!” moment at the end. Doh!

  5. Take it from someone who was there: Kevin was awesome. If anyone ever starts a Preston North Stake Athletics Hall of Fame, he’s a first-round inductee.

    Unfortunately, nobody loves a dynasty unless you’re part of that dynasty. Especially when that dynasty is full-court pressing the opposing churchball team for the entire game.

  6. I added a footnote to help explain a little bit more about the team’s reputation.

  7. Really good post. I love the perspective twist. Makes you think.

  8. What a story! This is what the bloggernacle was built for.

  9. Latter-day Guy says:

    Great post! (However, I’m afraid that I really don’t feel any sympathy whatsoever for Kevin.)

  10. I admit… I was kinda hoping that Kevin would realise that, while he had six outstanding young men of character who had really learned how to work together as a team, he also had six young men that he had completely neglected. Scott and his team of benchwarmers were like the girls in the back of the class.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    Scott, nope, you didn’t stab him in the back, and you weren’t a Judas. The boycott might have alerted him to the obvious fact that he was in need of repentance.

    Kevin was an out-of-control megalomaniac, and it is typical of such people to put the blame for their actions on others. Shame on him for blaming teenage boys for his lack of testimony.

  12. Mark,
    I failed to explain Kevin’s situation very well in the post–he never had anything resembling a testimony, and didn’t blame the boys for not having one. Rather, he had wanted to give a thank-you-mony, but felt betrayed.

    I know it looks bad on the outside, and I don’t excuse some of it, but 15 years have passed, and I still don’t know where I sit on the whole episode.

  13. Also, I should have noted in the OP that this was only part 1. Softball season is still to come…

  14. Mark Brown says:

    Boz, the only thing you should regret is not carrying out the boycott. That is what would have showed real character, and Kevin is a grade-A weasel if he didn’t/couldn’t recognize that. An adult really ought to be able to understand when adolescent people don’t get completely on board for one of his ego trips.

  15. I disagree, Mark. I think that in the final analysis, Kevin’s approach was classless. I also think that showing up and rooting against my friends would have been classless.

  16. Mark Brown says:

    Scott, you bring up a good point about your friends which I hadn’t considered.

    However, we are talking about church ball and full-court pressing opponents for the entire game. I think anything approaching classy went out the window long ago.

  17. I disagree that going through the boycott would have showed real character. You could easily argue that Kevin deserved it, but as Scott said, it wasn’t just Kevin he would have been rooting against.

  18. Never mind. Scott can speak for himself.

  19. Anyway, shouldn’t we strive to be classy in the face of great classlessness? Isn’t that what class is?

    My experience has been that classiness is not particularly satisfying emotionally, but it does tend to result in fewer regrets down the road.

  20. Mark Brown says:

    It’s a conundrum, mhw.

    On one hand, it’s classless root against your friends. On the other hand, it’s classless to actually cheer on something that is low-down and mean.

    I blame Kevin.

  21. The only mistake Kevin made was not asking up each boy up front why he were there. If he was there just for fun, then that boy gets the bench time, or moves on.
    Six guys were there to win and willing to pay the price Kevin asked and did. (See the movie Hoosiers).

  22. Mark Brown says:

    LOL!

  23. Bob,
    You actually got it right–except that he DID tell every one of us, as I noted in the OP, that this team “was going to win.”

    Mark, the important thing to keep in mind here is that we were all classless from the getgo: I was part of the full-court press, the blow outs, and the jeering. I didn’t turn Judas because I realized that Kevin was overly competitive; I turned traitor because I lost my spot in the rotation.

    I was, and still am, a wretch.

  24. I will also note that for the most part, the planners of the boycott were freshmen and sophomores, and the guys on the court were juniors and seniors who had already spent years waiting. Although it went extreme in the end, the pecking order for playing time was not abnormal.

    The problem was that I had gotten to play a lot the previous year, and I was jealous.

  25. Mark Brown says:

    I understand, Scott. I did a lot of the same things at that age.

    I guess part of the reason I react so strongly to Kevin is that it was my very good fortune to have outstanding coaches who helped me develop good character as well as athletic skills. He had a real opportunity with you guys and he blew it.

  26. Everything about that team was completely over the top – and that was the point. Holding practices, running plays, wearing shirts & ties on game days, etc. – it was all part of our identity. And every boy on that team (until the playoffs) loved it. We had several inactive kids coming to ever game, every practice, and even occasionally to church. We definitely bonded, and had a ton of fun doing it.

    Say what you will about Kevin’s approach, but nobody in the stake (the entire church??) put more effort into his calling as Church Ball coach.

  27. #22: Mark, I watched John Wooden win ten straight National championship with his full court press. No one called him classless.
    IMO, the Church league and teams fell apart when the game started to be played just for fun. Sports are about work, satisfaction, some joy when you win or have done your best__ but not fun.

  28. You’re no Judas, Scott. You didn’t betray someone who entrusted you with his confidence. Besides which, you never even committed the act you conspired to commit. That that makes Kevin rethink coming back to activity doesn’t have much to do with you at all. It’s all on him.

  29. Boz, I’m impressed.

    Seriously–I love stories driven by this sort of complexity and ambiguity, and you told it very well. You gots talent.

  30. Mark Brown says:

    Bob, # 27:

    Hoookay.

    Also, LOL.

  31. Was there even the pretense of a scouting program?

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Loved the story, Scott!

  33. Aaron Brown says:

    This just goes to show that church basketball is evil, and should be banned.

  34. I don’t think Basketball as it is played in the Church today is evil or should be banned. (Nor do I believe Aaron does).
    Nor do I think Kevin was evil in what he did.

  35. Is this a memoir? If so, what is the thesis?

    Just kidding. I’m just seeing if I’m still banned. Loved the story, Scott.

  36. Mommie Dearest says:

    Sounds like Boy Scouts only lots of fun.

  37. Sterling Fluharty says:

    That was a great story. I respect your willingness to look inside yourself and ask hard questions. Your empathy for Kevin speaks volumes. I think you and #12 recognized that Kevin, for all his roughness and shortcomings, was trying to love you and the other boys. And it really does feel like you broke his heart. I can’t wait for the rest of the story.

  38. Thanks Sterling. It is so funny the regrets that we carry with us in life. By almost any measurement, this experience was a not a big deal. Yet it took place at a formative point in my life and I have never forgotten the feeling of shame that washed over me in the moment I discovered Kevin had known about my plan to boycott the team.

    Certainly there were many other experiences which exerted a greater influence than this, but this was neverthless part of an adolescence which produced an adult Scott who strongly values loyalty to his friends.

  39. Loved this story! I’m always happy to see a paradigm shift like the one at the end of this story. One little detail is added and you suddenly realize there was more to the situation than met the eye.

  40. Cool story, exceptionally well told. And I hate church basketball, but I love a great sports story.

    The thing for me is that though you contemplated a betrayal, you did not in the end enact it, and, in fact, your walking away also led your friends to abandon it, as well.

    Kevin’s immature response is magnified because he is an adult, while you were an adolescent.

    What a great story. Thanks.

  41. Then there are those of us who played in the men’s BBall games run by the Stake and our experiences were just as bitter.
    I remember some years ago being in a ward where our Bishop was 6’5″ or so (he’s now a GA) and he ran our men’s Bball team. Everything seemed to be played for the fun and comradity rather than “winning” until the one night when one of our better players forgot his jersey and the Bishop asked me to give mine to the other brother. I had driven to the game with the jersey on, nothing else to wear for a shirt. And so, found myself sitting on the bench shirtless. I left about ten minutes into the game, embarrassed and angry.
    Never went back to bball and the Bishop never asked me why….
    Probably explains why I cycle these days since no-one can ask for my jersey (which is strange because after my mission in So. Germany some 36 years ago, I swore I would never ride a bike again…..)…

  42. I had forgotten about Pat Riley. I will admit that it struck fear in me as an opponent when I saw your team calling organized plays in church ball. I can’t really remember who our coach was for much of my church ball career, but I will never forget Pat Riley. Thanks for the story.

  43. Scott, I love Preston! I have been there many times {I consistered a retirement there}. My wife spent summers there with her extended family, the Hales.

  44. #42: Pat Riley {the real one}, was working in the Lakers broadcasting booth {never coached}, when the then coach was in a bad accident. He agreed to the team’s request to be their coach until a new one was named___he never looked back.

  45. My dad coached basketball at Preston High when I was a baby and disgruntled guys who didn’t make the team had a tendency to blow out his tires.

  46. queuno (#31) – I assume that yes, there was a scouting program. You always send someone out to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team.

  47. The neatest thing about this post is knowing that 3/4 of the permas at BCC won’t read beyond the first paragraph since it involves sports.

  48. Cynthia L. says:

    Hm… thanks for sharing this, Scott. I was thinking of doing a post someday where I enumerate all the dumb things I’ve done over the years that probably pushed people away from the gospel. I think we’ve all been there at least a couple times.

  49. Mommie Dearest says:

    I don’t see that you committed such an egregious error here Scott. You were provoked by your coach’s rather inappropriate approach to running the team. (This is LDS YM basketball after all, not the NBA. Not even the high school level, which is prone to overdoing it too.) You were tempted to respond in a childish way, but when it came down to actually executing your mean-spirited idea, you made a better decision. Your memory of your overwhelming guilt notwithstanding, you were not responsible for anything coach Kevin lacked in his testimony.
    So you carry a load of guilt about it to this day and still feel like a jerk. Welcome to the world of sinners. (Honest sinners)

    Plus the way you constructed the story of it works really well.

  50. I read it because I CARE.

  51. You’re in the Top 25%, KLS.

  52. Interesting story. It is true that every dynasty has it’s disgruntled scrubs, but it is CHURCH ball. I wonder if someone was trying to activate the coach by getting him in the building if they could have told the players that and perhaps reigned him in.

    My husband played volleyball with a church team and they practice before seminary. That same leader was very concerned about all of the boys and very loving.

  53. #52: I have coached. There is no bigger problem than playing time. Every coach has faced it. It’s a no win situation. If you play the bench and loss, there’s hell to pay. Pull your best players, and their parents yell at you. If it’s not a game worth winning, then it is only for fun. Then your good players will move on to another place where they can prove themselves.

  54. You grew up in Preston? Lucky!!!

  55. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Your story grabbed me and I read it through to the end. I am not sure that I buy Kevin’s reluctance to bear his testimony or should I say his all-starimony. If he was so absorbed in the young men who were getting all the minutes to the point of forgetting altogether about the ones on the bench, then why would he have any concern about those other than his stars during his testimony?

    My ward young men’s basketball story was much less interesting. I was not good at basketball and didn’t see a point to committing time and practice to church basketball when I had trumpet practice for all-state, tennis, scouting, and academics to work on. Our young men’s group was small and none of the others seemed to find basketball important either. That seemed to be ok with the bishop and I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn’t going to be forced to face humiliation in front of my friends in other wards who could actually play basketball and who would have enjoyed to no end laughing at their trumpet playing classmate.

    Enter my “Kevin”. A relatively newcomer in the ward who stood in the opening exercises of priesthood meeting to question why our ward did not have a young men’s basketball team. When it was explained that it wasn’t among the young men’s interests, he commented in front of the whole body, “what do we have in this ward, a bunch of sissy’s?” He then talked about how in his past he had coached a bunch of youth who ended up learning a lot about basketball and had a successful season. Nevertheless, he lost me from the “sissy” comment.

  56. Kevin had told the Bishop before the championship game that he wanted to come to Church for the first time in years, with the intent of standing up in testimony meeting to talk…

    This is testimony enough from Kevin. To misquote John Milton: they also give testimony who only sit and listen. This whole episode is definitely a teachable moment, but Kevin was not the one to teach it.

    But thanks to Scott, I was here to learn it. Scott, with all this sports talk, you’ll make a man of me yet!

  57. #56: Dan, what was the teachable moment Kevin failed to teach or missed?

  58. Bob, I much prefer to hear your opinion on the matter. I am currently in listening mode.

  59. Thanks, Dan Weston.

  60. Funny, I just watched the end of Hoosiers. I guess that movie sums it up for me.
    I don’t care if Scott or anyone else wants to play a game for recreation only. But if the game means a championship, then the coach’s job is to get his best players in the game.
    So for Kevin, I don’t think he was wrong, or missed a teaching moment. But then, I wasn’t there.

  61. Ah! Church ball in Preston! Definitely an institution. I remember having long discussions among the band geeks as to how many could miss the HS b-ball games to play church ball without compromising the ear-drum bursting volume of the band. :)
    As for the situation with Kevin, I have this hope in the back of my head that we will not be held accountable of things done in high school. Also, on the scale of things not to be held accountable for in high school, yours rates pretty low. The point is that although a childish response was planned, it was not carried out because of you. The rest is on Kevin.
    I don’t know though. Can we really call ourselves Mormons without a good dose of guilt?

  62. Can we really call ourselves Mormons without a good dose of guilt?

    Sigh. Good point.

  63. I really enjoyed the story, and I am impressed with all the comments on a sports story. I had to chuckle when Scott said “3/4 of the permas at BCC won’t read beyond the first paragraph since it involves sports.”

  64. MH, it’s funny because it’s true!

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