How 5 LDS basketball stars from Lone Peak model success amid America's 'war on boys'

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2 2014 6:20 a.m. MST

Nick Emery signs a basketball as he and his teammates from the Lone Peak High School basketball team visit the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 8, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Editor’s note: Following is the second of two stories on the 2012-13 Lone Peak High School boys basketball team. Part 1 focused on the influence of faith on the young men and their development outside of basketball. Today's story focuses on how these players have thrived, even though young men in the broader culture face significant personal, educational and economic challenges.

PEÑITAS, Texas — Inside Marisol Castillo's trailer home, the light dims as the sun sets along the Rio Grande River. Bald lightbulbs reveal that sheets are all that separate the trailer's rooms.

Outside, a car crunches over the long dirt road leading through the dusty plain and past other widespread trailers. This is the poorest area of this rural speck of a border town, where 98 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino. Now and then, a goat bleats.

In the cramped kitchen, Elder Talon Shumway sits with his back to an aging stove. At 19, he's tall and still appears lean, despite putting on 20 pounds in the year since he started at forward for the best high school basketball team in America. He had scholarship offers to play major college football or basketball this school year. Instead, he is here, speaking nothing but Spanish, a language he didn't know at all seven months ago.

There is a lot to talk about. Across from Shumway and his missionary companion, whose back is to a battered white refrigerator, Castillo sits next to Esteban Fernandez, whom she married the previous night. Four hours ago, Shumway baptized Castillo.

The couple and the two missionaries laugh together as Castillo teases Shumway, yet again, with the Mexican term "guero," which describes a white man with a fair complexion, reddish-blond hair and, in this case, freckles. Her playfulness and quick smile delights Fernandez and the missionaries. Soon, though, the talk will turn to more serious subjects. The couple is working hard to save money to renovate the trailer home. Both earn little, and finding better pay in Peñitas is difficult. Castillo wants advice from the missionaries about how to be Christ-like with a co-worker who bothers her and others at the flower shop where she works. When they leave, Shumway and his companion cautiously walk to the road in blinding darkness.

Basketball is the furthest thing from Shumway's mind.

Cloudy future

Across America, boys and young men are adrift and losing ground.

Study after study shows they are doing worse in school, falling behind in the workplace and are more likely to be depressed or suffer other mental health issues than girls. Boys have delinquency rates three times that of girls and, between the ages of 15 and 19, a suicide rate five times higher than girls.

"The crisis has deepened over the past two years," says Warren Farrell, author of "The Myth of Male Power." "All the jeopardizing dimensions of boys' lives are still with us. The rate of boys with ADHD increased. Video game addiction is worsening. There's more video porn to seduce teenage boys. More boys are being raised without fathers."

The results are staggering, and yet Farrell is concerned that what some have termed a war on boys "has not been recognized as a crisis" by most Americans.

The data is easy to find and tells the story of a problem decades in the making. For example, high school grades and college attendance rates for boys and men have stalled or faded for 30 years. The impact is dramatic. Last year, 140 women graduated with some kind of college degree for every 100 men, according to a U.S. Department of Education estimate.

Today, men earn just 38 percent of all associate degrees, 43 percent of bachelor's degrees and 40 percent of master's degrees. The college achievement gap between men and women has been widening since 1982. During that time, women have earned nearly 10 million more college degrees than men.