Their team Goal: "To do our best" in rugby, life
From (LDS) Church News, week ending 5 September 1998
There was something very different about this team of young rugby players from Salt Lake City. It was the only team from the Western Hemisphere invited to participate in the World Schools Rugby Championship in Harare, Zimbabwe. The team was noticed for its strict code of ethics, and also because it was obviously a team that couldn't be overlooked in the 12-team tournament.
Although the squad is called Highland Rugby and is made up primarily of Highland High School students, it is not affiliated with or sponsored by the school, and does not receive financial support from the school. The team is privately funded. Also, rugby is not sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association.
In Africa, word steadily spread among fans and members of other teams that the United States team, whose 23 players had diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, was made up primarily of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was also coached by a member of the Church - 23-year veteran Larry Gelwix, chairman and chief executive officer of Columbus Companies who volunteers his time.
At the awards ceremony following the championship game, the gold medal went, as expected, to the Kelston Boys High School of Auckland, New Zealand, and the silver medal to the Hoerskool Monument team of South Africa.
Then the announcer proclaimed that the bronze medal for third place "goes to that Mormon team from Utah, Highland Rugby of the U.S. of A."
The team that has been in the United States championship game 14 straight years and has won 11 times was among the elite in a sport that is far more popular in other parts of the world than in its home country.
In the years that Brother Gelwix has coached, the team has compiled a 304-25-6 record. It has lost only five times ever in those years to American high school-age teams and has a 48-14-1 record against university and club teams.
Coach Gelwix explained that the team's success comes through application of gospel principles. The team is expected to keep the commandments, to adhere, to high moral standards, and to be "others centered, not self-centered."
He said: "I believe the strength of our team is taking fine young athletes and encouraging them to square their beliefs in God with their behavior. This is an unbeatable combination on any kind of playing field or in life."
The results in Brother Gelwix's years of coaching have been as impressive in spiritual terms as in athletic terms. So many of his players go on to serve full-time missions that he has developed a newsletter to keep them informed and to stay in touch with them. Seniors on the team and those who have graduated have the chance to meet with Brother Gelwix each Sunday and prepare for their missions. They hear from former members of the team who are returned missionaries and from Church leaders. They also study the missionary discussions and do other things to make it possible for them to "enter the Missionary Training Center on a sprint," Brother Gelwix said.
Members of the team present Church programs - music, talks and testimonies - at firesides and in other settings.
The team standards made an impression on coaches and players on other teams during the recent tournament in Africa. The opponents learned, for example, that any player from the team who lies about anything to anyone is immediately placed on probation for one year and cannot play during that time.
High school-age teams from Africa, Europe, New Zealand and the South Pacific also noticed that during the three-week tournament, when the Salt Lake players were not practicing, playing, sleeping or eating, they were usually speaking in Church meetings, putting on a fireside, or doing missionary work with the full-time missionaries in Harare.
Brother Gelwix, who entered rugby coaching via teaching seminary and coaching football and wrestling at Highland High School, is able to convince his players that their athletic talent is God-given and should be used for His purposes. "They really buy into that," he said. "Our goal isn't to win games. Our goal is to do our best. When we do, the wins come."
When interviewed in Harare about his team, Coach Gelwix was often asked why he chooses to make the LDS religion and its philosophy such an integral part of the team's discipline. He responded, "I believe that teaching such principles will make a difference in their lives once the competition and championships are over. From all of this they will hopefully learn about hard work, commitment, sportsmanship, dedication to Christian ideals, improved relationships with their families and a deep confidence in themselves as young men."
The reporters also wanted to know about team members who were members of other faiths.
"Yes, we have boys who are Catholic, Baptist, Lutherans and other faiths. But we are all unashamedly Christians and we do not apologize for what we collectively believe."
The players who went to Africa agreed it was a great and unforgettable experience. Morgan Scalley, high school football star and seminary president, said: "The things we accomplished as a team both physically and spiritually are amazing. From seeing the beauty of God's work at Victoria Falls to feeling of His presence in both sacrament meetings and games, we were truly blessed."
Sid Baucom remembered that he was a little nervous about working with the full-time missionaries. "But as the day progressed and my companion and I walked and talked, the more excited I got. The spirit was so strong it almost felt like a blanket. I wasn't sure how anyone could turn us away if they felt what we did."
Andrew Cannon said he and his roommate, Mark Maughan, stayed with a non-member family in Harare and were able to talk to them about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the Savior. Coach Gelwix noted that, in part because of Andrew's and Mark's example, the family inquired about sending their daughters to Primary.
Brother Gelwix considers athletic ability to be a gift from God, and uses the parable of the talents from the Bible to explain to the players what they should do with their gift. By using the gift wisely, as they did in Africa, he has seen the players regularly multiply their rewards in all facets of their lives.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve, who has a family connection to the team, said: "Sister Wirthlin and I have seen many positive benefits that have come to two of our grandsons who have played on the Highland Rugby Team. This outstanding team won the United States Rugby Championship. They traveled to Zimbabwe to compete with the champions of numerous nations for the world title.
"Brother Larry Gelwix is the coach and truly a great leader. He not only builds athletic skills, but he builds honesty, moral integrity, and spiritual values. His inspired teachings prepare these young men for their missions. In addition, he sends out on a monthly basis 150 letters to his former players who are now serving their missions. Excellence is his motto, not only in the rugged game of rugby, but in the quality of life these young men should pursue for their future. As parents and grandparents, we pray for his continued success in this endeavor to build Christ-like qualities in each young man who comes under his inspired influence."