So how do two stories involving high school
football relate to the family? Keep
highlighted inks in the two articles below will take you to the Whiting
LAKE CITY -- He was raised in a Connecticut Catholic home more
than 2,200 miles from Utah. So how did Chris Sciarretta end
up walking on the University of Utah
football team and converting to the Mormon church?
Athlete Walks on at Utah,
Walks into Baptismal Font
April 13, 2010
"That's a good question," he
said with a laugh.
When the story is pieced together, the key elements include loyal
friends, a Mormon girlfriend and her friendly family, a concerned
mother and a dream to play college football.
But even if Sciarretta never plays a down in Rice-Eccles Stadium,
coming to Utah has already changed his life.
"If I hadn't come to the U., I don't know if I would have joined the
church and gained a testimony. Being out here made it happen for me,"
the scout team linebacker said. "It's pretty amazing."
Sciarretta describes his upbringing like this: "I come from a big
Italian family. They're loud, they drink, they yell. So looking back of
course I never heard about the church because my family didn't quite
fit the bill to be Mormon."
As a young man, he attended his family's church, but "Something didn't
feel right," he said.
Sciarretta's first exposure to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints came during his sophomore year of high school thanks to a unique
football team tradition. Most games were on Friday, but occasionally
the New Canaan Rams played on Saturday. Before those rare games, the
team traveled to a local church for a motivational message and a prayer.
"We always ended up going to the LDS church before the big games," he
One of Sciarretta's teammates, Daniel
Neeleman, was a Mormon who always
offered inspirational pregame prayers. Sciarretta was impressed with
him and the two became friends. Then he met Daniel's little sister, Victoria.
By his junior year, Chris and Victoria were dating, and he
was attending church meetings regularly.
"In the back of my mind I remember everyone saying, 'Don't go out with
her, she will try and convert you, don't do it, man,'" Sciarretta said.
"I had no idea what they were talking about (at church), but I felt
something that was undeniable. It was a feeling of happiness. Everyone
was so nice. Three hours flew by," he said.
While he continued to learn about the LDS Church, Sciarretta captained
New Canaan to its third straight state title during his senior year.
More than anything, he wanted to continue playing football in college.
There was interest from some Division III schools, but the 5-foot-10
linebacker wanted to play at the Division I level.
Cole, Victoria Neeleman's brother-in-law, a Cottonwood
native and former Utah walk-on. He knew members of the Utes' coaching
staff and recommended his young friend make a phone call. Before long,
Sciarretta had plans to fly out to Salt Lake City and attend school at
Cole also invited Sciarretta to meet with the missionaries. He did this
on his own without Victoria, and without telling his mother.
"I snuck around my mom somehow saying I was going to a friend's house.
I walked by her with my Book of Mormon under my shirt," he said. "It
just wasn't the right time to tell her and I didn't want to hurt her."
As he read his Book of Mormon and prayed each night, Sciarretta at
first hoped for the kind of dramatic conversion that involved an
angelic manifestation, but it didn't happen.
"I soon realized that I was being extremely dumb and that it wasn't
going to happen," he said. "Instead for me it was just something I came
to understand little by little."
Victoria Neeleman said Chris, a self-appointed designated driver for
his friends, was prepared for the gospel.
"He stopped drinking completely. He never swore. Everything was so easy
to give up," said Neeleman, who is now attending BYU. "Friends would
make fun of him and he didn't care."
Unfortunately, there was little time to meet with the missionaries
because walk-on tryouts were about to start out in Utah. Fortunately,
he became roommates with Robby Tripp, who was preparing to serve an LDS
mission. Sciarretta said Tripp and many others influenced him to
continue investigating the church.
Following Utah's win over Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl, Sciarretta
returned home with the goal of telling his divorced parents he had
decided to be baptized.
His father said he was old enough to make his decision, but his mother
had a more difficult time.
"She flipped out," Sciarretta said. "But eventually, after a lot of
discussion, she changed. She saw that I am a better person. I hope
later down the road she might consider going to church."
With his parents' blessing, the only other difficult task for
Sciarretta was mustering the courage to knock on Utah football coach
Kyle Whittingham's door and invite him to the service. He was a
freshman walk-on, after all.
"I was really nervous. This was Coach Whit. But he was awesome. He
truly cares about his players," he said.
Sciarretta was baptized on January 17, 2010..
Now 18, Sciarretta is running with the third-string linebackers in
Utah's spring drills and pondering the possibility of serving a
full-time LDS mission. It will also be a tough topic to bring up with
his mother, he said. If he did go, he wouldn't mind serving where his
ancestors walked in Italy.
"As I continue to pray about it, it seems right," Sciarretta said. "I
truly believe with the gospel so many things are possible. I have never
felt happiness like I do when I am going to church or reading the
Before the Snap of the Ball
from a Fireside Talk
Neeleman in 2006
years ago my family and I were transplanted from our comfortable easy
going lifestyle in Salt Lake City to a place that was far different
from anything I had ever experienced. This place had trees
that were tall and numerous, property lines all divided by ancient
colonial rock walls. At the focal point of the town stood a
place called God's acre, where five different denominations met in five
separate chapels. And our church was nowhere near
this proclaimed holy acre.
our family was under
the microscope. We were the ones that people were curious
about, partly for the size of our family but more so by our chosen
had already made its
mark in this affluent area before the Neeleman's had ever
arrived. In fact, a fair amount of the LDS businessmen that
work in Manhattan reside somewhere in our area. Many are
prominent business men and leaders in their chosen professions, but
then again, so is everyone else in town.
father served his mission in
the Recife Brazil mission, serving a people that had close to nothing
in what the world would consider valuable. These people
learned how to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their
humble lifestyle and caring attitude gave them open hearts and contrite
when my father was made the
ward mission leader upon arrival in New Canaan, he expected no
troubles. Back to the glory days he thought.
Wrong. The difference between teaching the gospel to the
humble spirits in Brazil was night and day compared to teaching the
egos of the rich and the famous.
youth in the community, I
have had a better chance than anyone to be an example to my friends and
their parents as well. Adults can be stubborn in every aspect
of their lives, but if there is a situation involving the welfare of
their children, they will always give you their undivided attention.
like anywhere in our
country, high school kids back east love to get into the party scene,
often against their parents will. When asked not to
participate in this renegade behavior, many of my peers will just tell
their parents, "Come on Mom and Dad, don't act like you didn't do the
same stuff when you were in high school?" And it's absolutely true.
this case unfortunately,
history repeats itself. Kids of successful parents find no
problem with acting in the same manner that their moms and dads did in
their early years.
the weeks preceding the
start of this past football season, I thought long and hard about how,
as a captain, I wanted to act in order to lead my team to
back to previous
years, I knew that past captains had worked hard at every
opportunity. I wanted to exhibit that quality.
had included everyone, no
matter what kind of playing ability they possessed, and I knew I should
do that as well.
is full of egos and
testosterone, loud music and cursing. So my goal was to give
something to the team without taking anything away from the game I
losing our opening game
in front of our home crowd, the team was in emotional shambles. They
never expected to lose that season. This is where I saw an opportunity.
the team together right
there on the field of defeat, we began to talk about what it would take
to bounce back and never lose again that season. Slowly we
weaved our way toward what I wanted: A team Dry Season, which
included completly refraining from the use of any drugs or alcohol by
all of the team members.
an all-out mutiny by
the team, I was shocked to see that many people agreed with these
standards, and were grateful for the opportunity to sacrifice as a
team. The humbling experience of the loss had opened a door
that would change our season.
were those who twisted
their faces and rolled their eyes. I said to them, "I know
for a fact there aren't many teams that are strong enough to make this
kind of commitment, but I promise you it will give us an edge on our
opponent, so do you want to win or not?"
members of the church, this
may not seem to be that big of a deal, but to these guys it was quite
something to agree to. But they wanted to show to the town
and the rest of the school that this team was serious and wanted to go
places. Starting with the first day of school, the dry season
began and so did our road to success.
gifts from God are for
those who obey his laws. We were playing better, feeling
better, and having fun the whole way. It's funny how God can
find ways to put himself in the center of all types of our different
many of our games,
especially the big ones, the entire team would attend a morning
devotional in one of the appointed churches in the town.
During the course of the season we met in the Congregational,
Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and of course the LDS church.
clear contrast however could be seen between the devotionals.
In the Catholic and Protestant churches, a priest would lead us in
opening prayer, then lead us in opening song, followed by a few words,
then he would also close by giving the benediction.
our church devotionals
however, each of the members on the team were given
assignments. One would play the piano, while another would
conduct the opening song. Two others would give the opening
and closing prayers and a member of the ward would give the talk.
team really liked the idea
of members of our own team participating in the service. In
fact it fascinated fathers most of all, that boys at age 16 and 17
could play and lead music, give meaningful prayers, and make it look
like we've been doing it our whole lives. Truth being, some
of us have.
week before the State
Championship game, I was approached by my Roman Catholic coach who
asked me whether our devotional could be held at the Mormon
chapel. "The other church wants to do it at their place but
we need to do it at the Mormon Church, that's where the big wins are
coming from" he stated frankly.
tell your priest we'll pay
the organist, the janitors, the music lady, anything that needs to be
done to make it work" "Of course," I replied smiling and explaining
that the money wasn't necessary and that I would call the bishop to
make the necessary arrangements.
walked from his office I
couldn't help but think that this man was starting to realize that
faith in God gives us confidence and assurance where it is
needed. And the place he wanted to go to feel that peace was
our meeting house. That was a mission experience in
itself. God proved to me that day that people look to him in
following morning at 7:00
AM, we congregated in the chapel. My uncle Steve
flew back to witness our team's struggle to the top and also to give
the team devotional. He spoke directly to the players and
explained how we would always remember this day no matter what
closed by telling us of a
higher being that all of us have felt in some way during the course of
our lives. And how that supreme figure would never abandon us
and would remain in our hearts for as long as we would keep
him. It was a special message. The silence in the
room was incredible.
the bishop spoke, we sang
the closing song which was the Battle
Hymn of the Republic.
By the second verse, everyone was getting pretty into it, which I knew
was a good sign.
to the game, I said the
first of many prayers that I would be giving that day. This
one was a personal prayer; the next would be with my Mormon teammates
kneeling in the showers before pre-game. We then would pray
as team by reciting the Lord's Prayer.
can't tell you how many times
just before the snap of the ball I have called upon my Heavenly Father
to assist me in the upcoming play. Often I will say things
such as "I will read a whole chapter, no, two chapters tonight, if you
help me on this play Heavenly Father." However, once I make
such a promise to him, I carry out my end of the bargain no matter what
hours later we were state
champs. There was celebration and tears of exhaustion and
happiness. Above the crowd, one chant began to gain volume "Mormon God,
Mormon God." Yes we were state champs, which felt great, but
also because of the seeds that were planted in the hearts of these
young men. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a tool in
the Lord's hands, and to serve sheep of a different fold.
team's prayers were
answered that day, and we defeated a very good football team 53-21 in
the CT State Championship Game. On the trip home, the team
spent much of the drive singing the Battle
Hymn of the Republic, barely
knowing even the chorus but loving every minute of it.
that season, I have been
able to see four of my friends from the team enter into the waters of
baptism to make sacred covenants with the Lord. One boy with
his grandmother and two brothers were baptized with their parents in
one of the most beautiful baptismal ceremonies I have ever been
to. Three of these boys are now preparing to serve full-time
missions and since that 2006 season, the New Canaan football team has
won four consecutive state championships.
served in the Brazil
unsubscribe, reply to this
"Unsubscribe" in the Subject.