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Top Athletes Head for Next Goal: Missionary Service

When President Thomas S. Monson announced lower age requirements last October for missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he noted that departing for missionary service at an earlier age (18 for men, 19 for women) is an option, not a requirement.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than with the Lone Peak High School men’s basketball team. Lone Peak, which plays its home games about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, recently attracted nationwide attention from the likes of the New York Times and NBC’s Today show for winning 26 of its 27 games and ending the season as the top-rated high school basketball team in the United States. The team is also unique for another reason: all five seniors have chosen to serve in the coming years as Mormon missionaries, some leaving at 18, and others later on.

Senior Eric Mika had planned to play a year of collegiate basketball at Brigham Young University (BYU) prior to being a missionary. After hearing President Monson’s missionary age announcement, Mika decided to stick with his original plan to serve at 19 because that option best fit his circumstances.

“After a lot of praying and thinking about it, I thought that my original plan was good,” Mika says. “I knew it was right to go after a year. It felt right before the announcement came out, but it’s clear to me now, and so I think that kind of settles my soul.”

Fellow senior Nick Emery had also planned to play one year at BYU before beginning missionary service at age 19. But his plans changed quickly after 6 October 2012.

“When I heard that announcement it was kind of a relief because I really wanted to go straight out on my mission, but that really wasn’t an option at the time,” says Emery, who will be a missionary in Frankfurt, Germany. “It was one of the greatest feelings.”

Fellow seniors Talon Shumway, Braden Miles and Connor Toolson will also serve prior to college: Shumway in Texas and Miles in Washington, D.C. Toolson is planning on serving this summer.

Mormon missionaries voluntarily give of their time (two years for young men, 18 months for young women) to help people across the world come closer to Jesus Christ. It’s an endeavor that requires a work ethic, persistence and determination —traits similar to those required to be a championship high school basketball team.

“I’ve been taught so much, not only from my parents but from my coaches, [about] how to really put myself in that situation where I can work hard,” Emery says, “and I’m going to relate that to my mission in every way possible — just being the best person I can be.”

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