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Book review: 'Mormon Yankees' tells history of LDS missionary basketball teams in Australia

By Geoff Griffin

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 9 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

"MORMON YANKEES: Giants On and Off the Court," by Fred E. Woods, Cedar Fort, $24.99, 292 pages (nf)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the game of basketball are intertwined to the point that almost every ward building has a basketball court, and any “cultural” event must take place on the hoops' hardwood (or carpet as the case may be). Basketball has even played a role as a missionary tool at various times and places. "Mormon Yankees: Giants On and Off the Court," by Brigham Young University professor Fred E. Woods, recounts how the game helped 1937-61 proselyting efforts in Australia.

LDS missionaries known as "the Mormon Yankees” played in Australian leagues, and were successful since many missionaries had high school and college experience in the U.S., while Aussies were at the time still fairly new to the game. When national teams were looking for warm-up games before the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, they turned to the Yanks, who beat many of the national teams and held their own against a Soviet Union squad that won the silver medal.

Players were interviewed in the newspapers. Missionaries were often invited into homes because people recognized them from games. Aussies got to see Mormons as normal people who liked sports like they did.

Woods gives an overview of the history of the Mormon Yankees, and the bulk of the book is individual interviews with dozens of players, opponents and fans, which can also be viewed on the accompanying 120-minute DVD. The advantage to this approach is that we get to hear emotions, details and memories that remain vivid decades later. The disadvantage is this strategy makes it difficult to create a narrative flow, and it also leaves questions, like the long-term effect of basketball on the LDS Church population, unanswered.

"Mormon Yankees" does an nice job of introducing an interesting story, and left me wanting to know more about the subject.

Related story: 'Mormon Yankees' is story of hoops and missionary work in Australia

Geoff Griffin's email is TravelBrigade@gmail.com and he blogs at TravelBrigade.com.

Twitter: TravelBrigade

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