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

The trend shows no signs of slowing. Last May, the National Center for Education Statistics projected female college enrollment would grow 16 percent by 2021 while male college enrollment would increase 7 percent.

Women are behaving the way economists would expect in an era where a college degree is increasingly vital to earning potential, "going to college in record numbers," the New York Times reported last year. "Men, mysteriously, have not."

Predictably, men are falling behind in terms of wages and unemployment. An MIT analysis found a "tectonic shift" in male employment.

"Over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions — skills acquisition, employment rates, occupational stature and real wage levels," according to the study "Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and Education."

The study projected a "cloudy future" for boys. It was particularly notable because the researchers suggested a link between fatherlessness in America and the downturn in male education and employment outcomes.

These statistics and anecdotes don't apply to all boys. Some buck the trend.

'Your example'

Five hundred miles north of Peñitas, sunrise mingles with the smell of pancakes and sausages in a one-bedroom apartment shared by Elder Conner Toolson and Elder Jacob Beard.

The two young men jogged in the cool stillness before dawn here in Fort Worth. Now, while his mission companion cooks, the tall, slender Toolson showers, dresses in slacks and a blue T-shirt and then pulls an ironing board out of the bedroom closet. He assembles it between the two beds and begins to iron the white shirt he'll wear for the next 14 hours.

One-third of American children now live in homes without a father. As that number has grown, so too has evidence about the importance of fathers. A boy who spends more time with dad shows more empathy as an adult. A boy with an involved father is less likely to need medication or therapy for behavioral or emotional problems. He is less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or abuse drugs. He is more likely to stay in school, stay out of gangs and jail and to go to college.

"The No. 1 thing most likely to increase a boy's possibility of success is to have an involved father with an equal amount of say as the mother," says Farrell, who also wrote "Why Men Are the Way They Are."

Toolson is following in the footsteps of his father, Andy Toolson, whose own two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints interrupted his education and a basketball career that took him to the NBA and pro leagues in Italy and Spain, where Conner was born.

This son is a pure basketball junkie, a chip off the ol' pick-and-roll. Conner Toolson started on the same team as Shumway at Lone Peak High School. The Knights regularly drew laughter when they walked into gyms last year for games against nationally ranked opponents in tournaments in Chicago; Milwaukee; Springfield, Mass.; and Fort Myers, Fla. They beat teams from eight states, winning the MaxPreps national championship and drawing the attention of the New York Times, which offered a review of the team's performance: "Its style is a fearless, careening brand of basketball, built on 3-pointers, lobs and dunks...."

Still, his father demanded more than basketball from Elder Toolson.

"My parents always expected the best out of me," he says. "I had to miss games and practices when I wasn't doing well in school. My dad had a big influence on me. He's your example. He's the one you look at. If your dad's doing well, you're more likely to do well."

Different road

Shumway's parents divorced in 2010. He doesn't want anything to do with his dad. "He made some mistakes and created a lot of problems for my family. I don't have contact with him. I have a restraining order against him."

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