“More Than a Trophy,” Ensign, Apr. 1992, 50–51
Many years ago, Lynn* and I decided to join our ward sisters’ basketball team. At our first practice, we tried to talk in the cultural hall about children and school over the noise of the bouncing balls. Suddenly, a hush fell over the room, and we looked up to see Jane coming onto the court to join our practice. A few of the older women went over to Jane and told her how glad they were to see her, but the younger women stared in disbelief.
Jane suffered from a mental illness. She usually sat on the front row in Relief Society bouncing her knees up and down in a quick, steady rhythm. Sometimes she placed her hands on top of her knees as if she were trying to stop them from bobbing. Despite the fact that Jane did not seem able to sit still, she walked like someone in slow motion. And her clothes were always dull, mismatched, ill-fitting, and wrinkled.
Now Jane stood on the basketball court wearing work shoes, brown stretch pants, an army-green shirt, and her coat. She smiled vaguely as she caught a stray rebound from a sister who stopped dead in her tracks.
When Jane threw the ball toward the basket, she missed it by yards. Two sisters on the court shot unkind glances at each other.
During practice, it became obvious that Jane didn’t understand how to dribble the basketball. Watching her run while trying to bounce the ball was amusing—especially since she kept her coat on. Our coach tried to teach Jane how to dribble, but soon even she grew frustrated with Jane’s lack of coordination.
Jane was at our first game without her coat, but still in work shoes, stretch pants, and a team shirt that was too small. Our coach assigned positions; Jane’s was on the bench. Through the whole game, Jane stayed on the bench, watching intently with a vacant smile.
After several games, Lynn said to me, “The coach isn’t going to let her play.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Jane. The coach isn’t ever going to put her in a game. I’ve noticed she’s even starting to shun Jane at practice.”
I knew Lynn was right, but I hadn’t done anything about it.
“It just makes me sick,” Lynn continued. “Everyone acts as though the purpose of Church basketball is to win a trophy for the ward. I thought Church activities were supposed to mean more than that. Seems to me that we’ve lost sight of the real purpose.”
I felt humbled. Contrary to the main purpose of the Church sports program, we had been caught up in the thirst for winning. It was silly because everyone knew we didn’t have a chance to win any trophies since we had an ineligible player on our team. We had allowed a sister from another ward to play on our team because her ward didn’t have a basketball team, but we wouldn’t let Jane play. It didn’t seem right.
Finally Lynn said defiantly, “I’m going to do something about it.”
“You’re not the coach,” I said. “How are you going to do that?”
Lynn smiled and said, “You’ll see.”
The next week, Jane came to the game wearing some old tennis shoes that were too big for her, along with her stretch pants and her snug team shirt. She took her place on the bench without hesitation.
Lynn played just a few minutes, grabbed her ankle, then hobbled over to the bench where Jane sat. I heard Lynn tell Jane, “I hurt my ankle. Will you go in for me?”
Our coach was horrified, but all she could do was look at Lynn. Jane smiled, jumped up, and ran onto the court. Jane caught several rebounds because she was tall, but she always passed the ball to another sister because she knew she couldn’t dribble. Once, Jane was close enough that she made a basket. Even so, the coach took Jane out of the game the first chance she got.
At church, Jane said hello to me in the hall. I marveled at her warm and mellow voice. She smiled but didn’t say anything else, so I complimented her on her flowered dress.
Over the next few weeks, most of the sisters lost interest in basketball since we had won only one game, but Jane continued to come. Lynn feigned an injury a few more times, but before long enough sisters had dropped out that Jane got to play anyway.
I noticed that Jane walked faster in the halls at church. She wore brighter colors, smiled more, and spoke to the sisters from the basketball team.
One day the Relief Society president said to me, “You’re playing basketball, aren’t you?”
“Well,” she said, “you’re really doing something great out there.”
Bewildered, I said, “But we’ve won only one game.”
“I mean with Jane. Haven’t you noticed that when she feels good about herself she wears bright colors? These last few weeks she’s practically gone through the rainbow.”
I remembered noticing Jane’s bright, flowered dress.
“Whenever I talk to Jane,” the Relief Society president continued, “all she talks about is basketball. She even asked to borrow some tennis shoes.”
“Really?” I said, finally fitting the pieces together.
“Yes, Jane was taken off her medication and told to become more active. I suggested she join the basketball team,” said the president. “Jane was scared, but I assured her that we were all sisters in the gospel, and that she’d be welcome.”
After I left the room, I saw Jane sitting in the chapel wearing a bright yellow dress and a bow in her hair. I realized that it had been a while since I had seen her knees bouncing. Lynn’s words penetrated my heart. For Jane, ward basketball had nothing to do with trophies or winning games—it had to do with survival. To this day I thank Lynn and that courageous woman in borrowed tennis shoes for teaching me that what happens on the basketball court is supposed to be much, much more than winning games.