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Decades before becoming General Authorities, Church leaders such as, from left, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Gifford Nielsen and President Henry B. Eyring, excelled on the athletic field. (Photo credits: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

General Conference Bonus:
'Ball Players-turned-Brethren'

Several Church leaders who are participating in the 2023 April general conference were first-rate athletes.

By Jason Swensen

30 Mar 2023

The folks occupying the seats on the Conference Center rostrum during this weekend’s April 2023 general conference are an accomplished lot.

Counted among the General Authorities and general Church leaders are doctors, entrepreneurs, educators, lawyers and, yes, at least one commercial airline pilot.


Several of those same people participating in general conference are also accomplished athletes. They are former ballplayers who, in their athletic prime, could fling spirals, sink jump shots, protect the quarterback and spike volleyballs over the block.


So in conjunction with the 2023 April general conference, Church Ball Magazine has compiled a roster of  “Ballers-turned-Brethren” who might still be able to hold their own between the lines.

President Henry B. Eyring/Second Counselor in the First Presidency/High School hoopster


No surprise, the long-legged Church leader and scholar once suited up for the East High Leopards basketball team.


President Eyring apparently had some hops. In a 2015 interview with KSL’s Dave McCann, he relished the memory of dunking a basketball. “I can remember exactly the moment the first time I did it,” he said. 

He then added, humbly,  “I still think the basketball hoop might have been a bit low.”


He also loved tennis. His first date with his wife, Kathleen Johnson Eyring, was on the clay courts at Harvard University.

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland/Quorum of the Twelve Apostles/College basketball player


A St. George, Utah, native, Elder Holland was a multi-sport athlete at Dixie High School, where he helped the Flyers claim state titles in football and basketball.


He took his hoops talents to his hometown college, Dixie College (Now Utah Tech University). Following his freshman season, he stepped away from college basketball to serve a mission to England.


He returned to Dixie College in 1962, rejoined the basketball team, was elected co-captain and helped the squad win a conference championship.

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder David A. Bednar/Quorum of the Twelve Apostles/High school QB


Young David Bednar was a talented athlete while growing up in Northern California. He played quarterback in high school.


His aptitude for throwing a football would pay unexpected dividends after his mission to Germany. He was playing QB in a BYU student ward flag football game when he completed a downfield pass to a fellow student. 

The name of his receiver that day: Susan Robinson, whom he later married.

Photo credits: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; YouTube screengrab

Elder Quentin L. Cook/Quorum of the Twelve Apostles/Prep football & basketball stand-out


Before becoming a successful attorney and business leader, Elder Quentin L. Cook was a star athlete at Utah’s Logan High School. He captained the Grizzlies football team and was all-region in both football and basketball.


The young “Renaissance Man” also participated in high school debate and represented Utah at the American Legion’s Boys Nation event in Washington, D.C.


Elder Cook was later a missionary companion to Elder Holland, his current associate in the Twelve. No word on if the two accomplished basketball players ever squared-off in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; YouTube screengrab

Elder Gifford Nielsen/General Authority Seventy/College football and basketball player/NFL quarterback


A high school All-American in both football and basketball at Utah’s Provo High School, Elder Gifford Nielsen competed in both sports at BYU. But it was on the gridiron where he achieved national fame — earning quarterback All-American honors and membership in the College Football Hall of Fame.


Following a six-year NFL career with the Houston Oilers, Elder Nielsen became a television sports journalist in Houston.

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Brian K. Taylor/General Authority Seventy/College basketball player


After excelling on the hardwood at Utah’s Davis High School, Elder Brian K. Taylor accepted a scholarship to play at BYU. His fearless, free-wheeling style of play made him a Cougars fan favorite.


In 2019, Elder Taylor joined Elder Gifford Nielsen and NFL quarterback/returned missionary Taysom Hill at the groundbreaking service of the Pocatello Idaho Temple. 

Many more temples will be built in the future — but it is unlikely that a groundbreaking event will ever again feature such an athletic lineup.

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU Photo

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Vaiangina (Vai) Sikahema/General Authority Seventy/NFL veteran


A native of Tonga, Elder Sikahema discovered football while in high school in Mesa, Arizona. He was a natural. He continued his playing career at BYU where he helped the Cougars claim the 1984 national championship.


He later played professionally for several NFL teams and was twice named to the Pro Bowl. After retiring, he stayed connected to sports as a Philadelphia news broadcaster.

Elder Sikahema’s first love was boxing. More than a decade after retiring from pro football, he laced up the gloves for a celebrity boxing match against Jose Canseco. The former baseball slugger didn’t make it through the first round against the heavy-hitting future general authority.

Elder Craig C. Christensen/General Authority Seventy/BYU offensive lineman


A multi-sport athlete at California’s Concord High School, Elder Christensen played center for BYU and was a Cougar teammate of fellow general authority, Elder Gifford Nielsen.


The sport has clearly “grown” since Elder Christensen wore a Cougar uniform. He was listed on the BYU roster as a 215-pound center. BYU’s current roster includes a 215-pound wide receiver and a 235-pound punter.

Photo credits: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU Photo Photo

Elder Peter M. Johnson/General Authority Seventy/College basketball player


A convert, Elder Peter M. Johnson was introduced to the Church while playing on the BYU-Hawaii basketball team.


After being baptized and serving a mission in Alabama, he played two seasons at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. He was named the Thunderbirds’ most valuable player following the 1990-1991 season.

He married fellow SUU basketball player Stephanie Chadwick Johnson. The Johnsons' daughters, Kiana and Whitney Johnson, played for the T-Birds as well.

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


Bishop W. Christopher Waddell/First counselor in the Presiding Bishopric/College volleyball player


California-born and standing 6-foot-5-inches tall, Bishop W. Christopher Waddell seems factory-built to patrol the front row of a volleyball court.


After serving a mission in Spain, he played college volleyball at San Diego State University.

Photo credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Additionally, two other veteran Church leaders — President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf — are notable examples of the benefits of an athletic, healthy lifestyle.

Both men — one a nonagenarian, one an octogenarian —  are known for enjoying a day on the ski slopes, cycling and recreating with family and friends.

Photo credits: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Instagram photo

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