Spiritualized Recreation: LDS All-Church Athletic Tournaments, 1950–1971

Historian Jessie L. Embry recounts the creation, growth, and eventual demise of churchwide sports tournaments organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She uses as a framework the words of Thomas O’Dea in his book The Mormons (1957). As the tournaments grew from the 1930s to the 1960s, centralized planning and organization was required. The games and tournaments served spiritual and social functions: they provided a way to introduce people to the LDS Church and keep Church members involved, and they helped boys and men develop talents and good sportsmanship. Embry quotes many interviews that she and others conducted with Church members who had participated in the tournaments. Women did not participate in games or tournaments but had roles as hostesses or scorekeepers. As O’Dea predicted, the time came in 1971 when the Church ended all-church tournaments because the Church had grown too large and international, and the mission of the Church became more directly focused on saving souls. This article provides an interesting aspect of how the LDS Church evolved in the twentieth century.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 48:3
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