The Book of Mormon is currently appearing in major cities across the United States, and even though it doesn’t throw the Church in the best light, the bottom line is, it isn’t hurting the Church either. I happened to be driving through Kansas City a few years ago and saw a billboard advertising the play. I had to chuckle when a few miles later I saw another billborard that stated, “You’ve seen the play, now read the Book.” The fact that there is a play with a title of the Book of Mormon is not new. The first one came out during the late 1800s. What was the name of the play that toured the country?
a. The Book of Mormon
b. Another Testament of Christ
A significant development in Australian basketball occurred in 1954 when the Harlem Globetrotters toured the country to great fanfare and attention. Mission president Charles Liljenquist, seeing the attention generated by the Globetrotters, decided to emulate their example and utilize the basketball as a means to lift the image and public awareness of the Church. He created the first elite Mormon Yankee team and sent them to Adelaide with the hope and expectation that the team could help accelerate missionary work in the area.
At a public press conference held in Adelaide, President Liljenquist promised, in a flight of hyperbole, to send Adelaide a player “who’s better than the Globetrotters”. That player was missionary Loren C. Dunn. The team had instant success under Elder Dunn’s coaching and playing. They became popular with the public because of their skills and were even invited to by Australian Tennis Association to put on exhibitions prior to professional tennis matches. One such exhibition in Adelaide drew over nine thousand people.
It is likely the Mormon Yankee program would have been disbanded at the conclusion of Elder Dunn’s term of missionary service had it not been for the intervention of the prophet, President David O. McKay. President McKay was touring Australia in 1955 when he heard effusive praise for the Mormon Yankees at a press conference held in Adelaide. After the conference, President McKay asked President Liljenquist about the Mormon Yankees. President Liljenquist told President McKay that the program was a good one but would probably have to be discontinued when Elder Dunn and his teammates finished their missions. He explained to President McKay that too few basketball-playing missionaries were being sent to Australia. President McKay responded by telling President Liljenquist “You keep the program going. We’ll see that the basketball players come.”
President McKay was true to his word, and from that time on some of the Church’s most talented collegiate players were sent to Australia. College stars such as DeLyle Condie from the University of Utah, Don Hull from Utah State University, and Mark Frodsham and Bob Skousen of BYU were assigned, and their basketball prowess quickly established the reputation of the Mormon Yankees team.
In 1956, mission president Thomas S. Bingham was approached by Ken Watson, the soon-to-be coach of the 1956 Australian Olympic team. Watson asked President Bingham if he would form an elite team that could help coach and train his team for the upcoming Olympics that were to be played in Melbourne. Watson told President Bingham that his team needed someone to practice and play against in preparation for the games. He said that “it would be a great proselyting tool for the Church, a benefit for the Church, and that he saw that it would be a great benefit to them when they were getting ready for the Olympic games.”
An elite team was formed under the leadership of Elders Condie and Hull, and competition and coaching soon ensued. The skill level of the Yankee team was such that much of their time was spent in teaching basic skills to the Aussie players. That 1956 Yankee team defeated the Olympic teams from Australia, Taiwan, Chile, and France and lost by nine points to the Russians, who went on to win the silver medal in Olympic play.
Similar Mormon Yankee teams were formed in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and West Australia.
With the introduction of nationwide television in 1957, many of the Mormon Yankee games were televised nationally. The Mormon Yankees became extremely popular, especially Elder Condie. The press gushed over Condie’s skills, and one sports writer suggested that Condie defeated Australia virtually on his own.”
In 1959, two enterprising elders took the Mormon Yankee format to an entirely different level. They convinced the mission president to send the team out on the road to play exhibition matches in country towns were missionaries were present or where missionaries would be sent. The enterprising elders persuaded Volkswagen of Australia to sponsor the events and to provide a new van to transport the team and to arrange for all publicity. The willingness of Volkswagen to participate is an obvious testament to the popularity of the Yankee teams.
As a result, high-level basketball was introduced into many communities, and the traveling elders held clinics for the youth in the exhibition communities. In many of those communities, firesides were conducted and proselyting efforts intensified. Missionaries who would be left behind to serve in the communities were introduced at the games. As a former mission president, I appreciated the fact that Brother Woods devoted substantial portions of his book to the day-to-day missionary service that accompanied the basketball playing. Of particular benefit were the day-to-day journal entries made by Elder Harold Turley, one of the team members.
In 1960, the Mormon Yankees once again defeated the 1960 Australian Olympic Team. Elder Bob Skousen, who had an outstanding freshman year at BYU before leaving on his mission, led the Yankees at that point. Veteran Australian basketball officials later said that Elder Skousen was the most outstanding shooter they had ever seen.
Despite the popularity of the basketball-playing effort and the tremendous goodwill generated, the General Authorities announced in 1961 that the Church would no longer use sports as a vehicle to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Australian basketball officials were devastated by the news and tried to persuade Australian Church officials to reverse the decision. The decision was not reversed. . .
Mormon Yankees: Giants on and off the Court, Fred E. Woods (BYU Studies, Vol. 53, Number 1, 2014),