As a cliché, "It's a small world" can ring remarkably true in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thanks to a worldwide proselytizing effort that has sent missionaries to locales across the globe to find, teach and baptize people for more than a century and a half, the church can sometimes resemble one massive, extended family. Members everywhere seem to know someone who knows someone who knows someone ...
For a pair of old friends (one a returned missionary — the other, his former investigator) their "small world" could be aptly measured at 94 feet — the length of a college basketball court.
In 1969, Idaho native Kimball Rogers was called to the Cumorah Mission, headquartered out of Rochester, N.Y. During his first winter in the field he was assigned to the Glens Falls area of New York not far from the Vermont border. There he met a recent convert to the Mormon church named Bonnie Fredette who had a younger brother, Al, who was investigating the Church. Both Rogers and 18-year-old Al shared a common passion — basketball.
Rogers was eager to teach Al the missionary discussions. So he threw down a challenge underneath the Fredette family hoop: "If I could beat Al in a basketball game in his driveway, he would listen to a lesson."
Al Fredette can't recall the outcome of those outdoor contests 41 years ago, but he does remember picking up some snacks for the missionaries and inviting them "to come inside and talk for a while." Later that summer, Al was baptized by his older brother, Dennis, who had joined the LDS Church in Germany. Rogers was eventually transferred to another area, and the two young men lost contact.
Fast forward four decades. Al Fredette had passed on his love of basketball to his son, Jimmer, who had established himself as one of the nation's top college ball players at BYU.
Three time zones away from New York and living in Arizona, Kimball Rogers had raised a ball player himself. Youngest son Stephen claimed junior college All-American honors at Mesa Community College last year, then transferred to BYU prior to the 2010-2011 season.
Before the start of the season, Jimmer Fredette told his dad about a promising new teammate named Stephen Rogers. The name meant nothing to Al Fredette, who still lives in upstate New York and serves as the ward mission leader in the Glens Falls Ward, Albany New York Stake. "Jimmer just told me Stephen was a good, tough player who shot the ball well."
Kimball Rogers had not forgotten Al Fredette. He can point to passages in his missionary journal and read about winter afternoons spent shooting hoops together in the Fredette driveway followed by missionary discussions in the family living room. "I could still remember him in my mind."
The two men, now the fathers of grown children, were reunited following a BYU game last year at the Marriott Center in Provo. Kimball Rogers immediately recognized his former investigator. "I knew it was him — the (family) all share the same Fredette look," he said with a laugh.
Kimball Rogers introduced himself by his first and last name. "That didn't help because I only knew him as Elder Rogers," said Al Fredette. He remembered his old driveway "rival" once Rogers clarified that he was "Elder Rogers" from 40 years ago.
"We shook hands and gave each other a hug," said Kimball Rogers, a member of the Evergreen Ward, Mesa Arizona Central Stake.
The old friends marvel at the circumstances of their reunion. "It's amazing," said Al Fredette, "We've both got sons playing at BYU at the same time."
"It makes you realize how small the world is," said Kimball Rogers.