Recruiting & Religion


By Ngozi Ekeledo

Twin Falls, ID ( KMVT - TV / KSVT - TV ) From a nervous high school senior.

"I'm more excited than ever just to go to Brazil and to teach the people of Brazil about my church," says Twin Falls HS student Casdon Jardine.

To a returned and triumphant missionary.

"I feel like I'm getting back after having a year back and hopefully I can be successful for the next two years,” said former CSI basketball player Trevor Bamgartner.

Both Jardine and Bamgartner share a likeness beyond their church membership.

"Ever since I was little, it's always been my plan to go on a mission. It's always been mission first, basketball will come," Jardine said.

Both student–athletes have or had to grapple with a tough decision pertaining to their playing days.

"In a playing sense, it definitely slowed me down a little bit,” Bamgartner said. “You definitely lose some of that quickness you had earlier."

They're not alone.

One of the biggest names in college basketball this season, Duke freshman phenom Jabari Parker, has helped put the LDS community in the spotlight on a national level.

"We're grateful for Brother Parker and the example he puts forward,” said TF Mission President Glen Curtis. “It's a benefit to young people."

Like Jimmer Fredette, Steve Young and many LDS stars before him, Parker chose to forgo serving a two year mission and will now try to become an NBA lottery pick.

"The fact that he is an example of the church helps represent the fact of what a good person is,” Curtis said, “and draws positive attention on his beliefs, his understanding of Jesus Christ and atonement and helps people understand what Latter Day Saints believe."

But for the hopeful athlete who's called to serve, staying in shape becomes a challenge.

"They always said that it's really hard to stay focused just because it seems like, 'do I really need to work that hard right now?' I mean, I still got two years till I'm playing," Jardine said.

In fact, Bamgartner’s introduction to his new CSI basketball teammates was not pretty.

"I remember when I first to CSI [from my mission], we did some wind sprints just right outside on the football field, and I remember doing those and I was dying,"

Two years ago the church lowered the age for missionaries, which has in turn --

"Put a different onus on recruiting, in that you have to establish those relationships with the kids before they leave,” said CSI athletic director Joel Bate. “[You] try to keep in contact with them while they're on their on their mission [to] keep their interest high."

Curtis argues that the benefits outweigh the costs, so to speak.

"The positive aspects are a couple more years of maturity, a whole lot of understanding of commitment ,sacrifice [and] team work."

A lot can happen in 18 to 24 months, meaning that the transition from a Mission to the playing field is not necessarily easy for all student athletes.

"I think there's some debriefing time that they need,” Bate said, “to get just acculturated again back into America."

What this conversation lacks is a female presence. In fact, Bate said CSI has never had a returned missionary female student-athlete.

"Now they can serve at 19,” Curtis said, “[and] it is a decision at the beginning of a college career versus at the end, so we'll probably see more experience, more opportunities for young women to make that decision."

Despite the religious path or process, Mormon athletes are becoming more common nationwide, and it's helping these young men and women stand out while blending in.

"If we're willing to sacrifice two years just to pick up and go, I think that they gain some respect for us," Jardine said.

Bamgartner agrees.

"I don't know if it's good or not that people don't just see me and say, 'oh, he's a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.”

“At the same time, I think it's a good thing in the fact that they see me as a normal person who has just really high standards and is just like everybody else, but has a very strong faith and believes in it and is holding strong onto it."

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