News Release

Story of the Mormon Yankees Basketball Team Told in New Movie


Although it has been over 50 years since the Mormon Yankees, a basketball team composed of missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who played the game while they were serving in Australia, “Hundreds of Australian sports fans, writers, athletes, and citizens from various regions still remember not only the team but often the names of the players," according to and historian Fred Woods.

While missionaries had been playing basketball in YMCA’s and local leagues in Australia since the 1930’s as a way to meet Australians and build bridges for the Church, the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne launched the Mormon Yankees to national recognition and opened doors for the Church that had previously been closed. 

The missionaries on the Mormon Yankees teams grew up playing “Church ball” (with players coming from Latter-day Saint congregations) and were in many cases star players on their high school and college basketball teams. The story of the remarkable circumstances that led to their success, both on the court and in their missionary work is the subject of a recently released movie, Spirit of the Game, which was based on Fred Woods' book Mormon Yankees, Giants on and off the Court.  The movie, which was not produced by the Church was shot on location in Australia with Australian actors and tells the story of this unique time in Australian sport in an entertaining family movie.

It begins with events in 1956, the year the Olympics were held in Melbourne. Ken Watson, coach of the Australian Olympic basketball team approached Mission President Thomas S. Bingham and asked if the Mormon Yankees could help his team get ready for the Olympics. Basketball was a relatively new sport in Australia then, and Coach Watson recognized that the Americans had skills his team had not yet acquired. He badly needed their help. President Bingham agreed, realizing this could be an opportunity to raise awareness of the Church among members of the public. And it did. During the years between 1955 and 1960, membership in the Church in Australia tripled.

Former University of Utah basketball star DeLyle Condie was appointed captain of the missionary team and is remembered as a “great leader” who forged the missionaries--who had never played together before--into “a very competitive, winning team in a short time, and that in itself was the hand of the Lord because we really shouldn’t have been that good,” according to Mark Frodsham, one of the missionaries on the Mormon Yankees Melbourne team.

The Mormon Yankees assisted the Australian team for several months before the Olympics, offering pointers for improvement while playing against them. The Australian team made great progress under their tutelage. Soon the missionaries were also playing many of the international teams who were in Australia preparing for the Olympics, such as teams from China, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and Russia. As many as four to five thousand people attended these exhibition games. 

As team members finished their missions, they were replaced with missionaries who had similar basketball experience. The program kept going until 1962, when a decision was made to phase it out.

While Spirit of the Game focuses on events that occurred in Melbourne in 1956, the Mormon Yankees teams, which were organised in all the major cities are remembered across Australia by Latter-day Saints and many others.

The movie opened in Melbourne with showings soon in New South Wales. 


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