Chris Mecham has helped organize dozens of basketball, softball and volleyball tournaments, as well as officiating in countless games during his 14 years of involvement with LDS Church sports including as a stake athletic director, regional director and most recently as one of the Utah Salt Lake City Area directors.
"I loved being in sports – could have been there all my life," said Mecham, who has recently been released. "I’m a gym rat and love being in that environment. I’m a little jealous of those of you who still get to work in the program. Church sports was the funnest thing I’ve ever done and therefore the easiest calling I’ve ever served in. What do I like about church sports? I appreciate good athletes, a well run program and great sportsmanship. I’ve seen all of that in my years of service.”
Long before that, he participated as a competitor, starting as a youth. Through it all he’s been a patient leader who has given enormous amounts of time to help the program achieve its potential in changing people’s lives for the better.
The following are his answers to questions about how to keep the church sports program effective.
Q: Some people get aggravated at church sports because of poor sportsmanship issues, as well as the time and trouble involved in organizing schedules. Is it worth the effort?
"Definitely. Some of my best friendships have come from church sports. For example, 18 years ago the group of men I played with was extremely competitive, as was another ward in our stake. It was win-at-all-costs, and our sportsmanship wasn’t the best. But then one night after a church basketball game a player on the opposing team, Dee Berrett, said to our team, 'Hey, we’re going to stop at McDonald's after the game – you guys want to come along?' It was kind of shocking, but some of us went with them. After getting some food, we joked, visited and gave each other a hard time. It was a lot of fun, and it started a friendship among those guys. While we didn’t all become best friends, Dee and I did. Even now I talk to him frequently, even though his assignment in the Church Educational System took him to Logan a number of years ago. I know I can count on Dee for anything — he's just that great a friend."
Q: So did this evening at McDonald's have an impact on your two teams' sportsmanship?
"It did. We still played hard to win, but the difference was that no one did anything to hurt anybody. We played like crazy but with respect. It’s hard to get as uptight when you know the personalities of the people you’re competing with because you know them in a context outside of the game."
Q: That sounds interesting. Can it be applied to sportsmanship in general?
"I really think it can. My view of people has broadened considerably since officiating in church sports. I used to view all sports through the lens of a player, and all that mattered was that our team was successful. The people I played with were important to me, but I wasn’t concerned about the strangers we played. Then I got called to serve as the stake sports specialist, and pretty soon I was having meetings with other ward directors and coaches, and I found that they were really just like the guys on my team; they liked each other and just wanted to have a good experience. So, I became interested in their success as well. Then I was called to the area position, and pretty soon I had friends all up and down the Wasatch Front. Somehow the Lord expands your heart to accept a much broader group of friends, and I was concerned for all of them. It was really a great experience."
Q: How can this insight help those who still serve in church sports?
"Attend stake and council meetings. As ward coaches and specialists get together with their stake sports specialist, they form friendships outside the ward that make the whole stake feel like one big team. The same is true for those who go on to tournament play — by attending the meetings, or officiating for games other than your own ward, you get to know and appreciate a lot more people — and sports will be even better for you."
Q: What advice do you have for those who continue to work in church sports?
"Serve with the right attitude. Don’t do it to just to get it out of the way, but immerse yourself in the calling, and soon it will become a joy to serve.
"Second, read the handbook until you know it inside and out! When I started as a sports director, I figured that because I am an athlete I already knew everything about sports. But that wasn’t true of church sports. There are rules and regulations that are unique to our program, and when I read the handbook to the point that I nearly had it memorized, I could answer questions with confidence, even if the answer was, 'That’s just the way the Brethren want us to do it.'
"One of the interesting things to come out of this is that when I first started studying the handbook I had trouble understanding the logic behind some of the rules. But as I got more experience, I could see the inspiration in the handbook and why it made things work better in a church setting. I now have full confidence in the rules and recognize that those stakes who really get the training to organize things the right way are the ones that have a successful program. By knowing the job inside and out, it becomes much easier to organize the seasons and tournaments and to provide effective leadership to officials and coaches.
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"Church sports adds a vital element to integrating new members into the church and keeping current members active. It's about friendship. Outside of sports, there's not a lot of opportunity to socialize — to laugh and joke and just enjoy each other’s company. But church sports offers that opportunity, and it means the world to those of us who enjoy these activities.
"As one who spent a lot of time in the trenches, I acknowledge that this is a challenging job, but the challenges are well worth the effort."
Jerry Borrowman is Utah Area Sports communications director. He is also a best-selling author of World War I and II fiction and co-authored biography. His website is www.jerryborrowman.com.