The Mormon Yankees

Photo courtesy of Mormonnewsroom.org / The Mormon Yankees

Did you know that Mormon missionaries played a role in the history of Australian basketball?

It’s true. An article from Mormonnewsroom.org tells the story. The LDS Church’s Australian website published a similar article. A group of American missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint called themselves the “Mormon Yankees.” They were asked to play practice and exhibition games with various Olympic teams in the weeks leading up the official games held in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956.

These missionaries were serving in the Victoria District of South Australia LDS mission. This  team of missionaries, many of whom went on to play college basketball following their missions, played the Russians, Chinese (Taiwanese), Chileans, French, United States and Australian Olympic teams. They defeated all but the Americans and the Russians, who eventually won the gold and silver medals.

The team’s true focus was missionary work. During games, literature was distributed which resulted in great and favorable publicity for the church. Any money that was generated was given to the building fund of local LDS branches in Melbourne. These missionaries were also good examples for many Australian youth.

This Youtube video tells more about these athletic missionaries.

Here is another video that focuses more on how the missionaries contributed to the birth of basketball in Australia.

One of the team members, Eldon Huntsman, talks about his experience as a Mormon Yankee in this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbJ_BT8hBtY

On a somewhat related note, this Youtube video shares who two LDS missionaries coached two men’s and women’s teams from Thursday Island, located between Papua New Guinea and Australia, in a 1961 Australian basketball tournament.

3 comments

  1. Christine Hannan

    I am Australian and live in Perth, Western Australia, but was born in South Australia. Recently I was asked if I remembered the “Mormon Yankees”. Yes I remembered them. I grew up in a country town called Whyalla. I remember the Mormon Yankees playing there in the 1950’s on the only basketball court that existed in the town which was at the old aerodrome site. When the site became obsolete, it became the headquarters for the YMCA in Whyalla. The YMCA used the old hanger for their trampolines and other gymnastic and club equipment, the office/departure lounge became the clubrooms, and the entrance provided the court. I think the area at the front was either concrete paved or tarmac, I can’t remember which – but it became the basketball court. I think the YMCA were the only people involved in basketball back then. When the missionaries “Mormon Yankees” started playing there, basketball suddenly became recognised and half the town turned out to watch the games. My parents took us to watch. We had never taken an interest in basketball before then and I doubt that many knew anything much about it – except perhaps hearing of the Harlem Globetrotters. We had the missionaries stay in our home and I remember an Elder Bjork who stayed at our home and I’m pretty sure he played in the team.

    The missionaries played exhibition matches, they played the local teams and also helped to teach the skills. It was amazing how basketball took off after they arrived.. Basketball was not only a PR exercise, but a good missionary tool. It helped to break down barriers.

    I recently purchased the book “Mormon Yankees” Giants on and off the court, by Prof Fred E. Woods. It’s really just a record of interviews but goes right back to the beginning of Bastketball’s development in Australia and the role that the “Mormon Yankees” played. It has brought back many wonderful memories.

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