Now the phone bills from Christmas calls have arrived to parents of the over 58,000 missionaries serving for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and among them are six BYU basketball players.
Freshman All-America David Jensen left the Cougar baseball team to serve a mission to Uruguay. Catcher Mike Tejada was drafted last summer by the Colorado Rockies while serving a mission to Pittsburgh. Among the Cougar football players who are just returning from missions: Toby Christensen from Spain and Ben Archibald from Tucson, while quarterback Matt Berry recently announced his withdrawal from BYU to serve a mission.
Here's a report about the Cougar cagers who are currently serving missions.
6-6, 195, Fr.
Dominican Republic Santiago
Left: July 1998
Returns: July 2000
On 4 p.m. Christmas Day the hour-and-one-half phone call to Newbury Park, Calif., from Elder Bobik. At his request, his parents sent him a package which included Church books Mormon Doctrine and Believing Christ and a gallon-sized ziplock bag of protein powder.
He sent home Christmas presents of a video tape of himself and calendars with pictures of himself for his parents to distribute to his friends.
He may have grown an inch, but this is the subject of undetermined discussion between his parents and him. Since serving his mission, his father has been stricken with cancer. His father speaks fluent Spanish, but not as well as Elder Bobik. His accent and voice cadence fooled his mother as she thought she was talking with a Dominican member.
One of the missionaries in his mission is 6-1 Elder Kirk Bowden, who played basketball for BYU-Hawai'i and was together with him in the MTC.
His parents drove an hour to attend the BYU game when the Cougars won at Cal-Santa Barbara last month and they mingled with coaches and players.
6-9, 205, Soph.
Left: July 1998
Returns: July 2000
At 11 a.m. on Christmas Day Elder Talmadge phoned his parents to start a call that lasted around three hours. He has grown an inch on his mission and outgrew his size 14 shoes while serving in the Missionary Training Center. At the MTC he not only got to see teammate Bart Jepsen, but did get to play an occasional game with Utah basketball star Brittan Johnson (now serving in Texas).
Talmadge is the eighth missionary to serve from his immediate family, six of whom have labored in Europe. When he began serving, foster brothers from Bulgaria and the Ukraine were also serving in New York and Chicago. His younger brother Noah, a 6-6 freshman playing for BYU Hawai'i, plans to travel with his parents to Brazil this summer when Talmadge is released as a missionary. Otherwise, the two brothers wouldn't get to see each other for several years, because Noah will soon be serving a mission.
After dining in the popular Salt Lake City restaurant Rodizio's, his parents sent him the labels from the food and he identified them all. His mother sent him a Christmas package which included reindeer antlers that twinkled, while Talmadge's presents to his parents were Brazilian hammocks.
A Brazilian newspaper featured a photograph of Elder Eyre dunking a basketball in his missionary attire with his tie flying.
Elder Eyre accidently kicked a soccer ball into a fence. He apologized to the family for breaking their fence and it materialized into their baptisms three weeks later. He helped convert another lady who smoked seven packs of cigarettes a day.
His mission president is former BYU team orthopedic doctor Richard Jackson. Elder Eyre has enjoyed visits from Quorum of the Twelve members Elder Perry, Elder Eyring, Elder Nelson and Elder Scott.
6-8, 215, Soph.
New York Utica
Left: August 1998
Returns: August 2000
On noon Christmas Day all family members were gathered at Bart's sister's home in Salt Lake City for his phone call. His parents had driven up from New Mexico and sent him a 100-minute phone card with instructions on when to call, along with a Y2K missionary kit with snacks and a candle.
Also included in the Christmas care package at the request of Elder Jepsen were some Jelly Belly beans and some hot chili beef jerky from hometown Roswell, N.M. He finally got to see a video tape of his brother Bret breaking the backboard last season in Albuquerque's Pit.
Although not in his immediate mission area, last summer he and his fellow missionaries did get permission to see the Hill Cumorah Pageant in nearby Palmyra. He has access to the local YMCA where he plays an occasional pickup basketball game.
Now serving in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., he was nervous about a baptism happening on time until the 20-year-old candidate pedaled up on his bicycle in time for the service.
When President Gordon B. Hinckley toured the area last spring, he enjoyed the prophet's visit.
6-6, 190, Soph.
Florida Ft. Lauderdale
Left: June 1999
Returns: June 2001
At noon on Christmas day the Bigelows in Olympia, Wash., received a two-hour phone-call from their Spanish-speaking missionary son.
His parents sent him a much-appreciated phone-answering machine for Christmas. Elder Bigelow was able to speak at a fireside with BYU coaches and players the day before BYU beat Florida International University in overtime last month, but he wasn't able to attend that game.
His current missionary companion is Elder Jon Nelson, who played baseball last year for Dixie College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He was in the MTC with Spencer Nelson (now serving in Oklahoma), whom he dunked over in last year's Utah State game.
During the Hurricane Floyd disaster, Elder Bigelow volunteered 40 hours of service in a Red Cross shelter. He reports that he can go an entire day in the Miami area and not see a Caucasian in the Cuban community.
6-8, 215, Soph.
Left: October 1998
Returns: October 2000
At 9 a.m. Elder Handy phoned his father Mark, a former BYU basketball player from 1974-77. Chris was baptized during his freshman year at BYU and is now a zone leader. An assistant to the president in that mission is his former Alta High School teammate Jason Richards, son of former BYU basketball-baseball player Doug Howard, 1968-70.
Chris's father reports his son is also learning how to play the guitar in what little time he has during the 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week missionary calling. Chris enjoyed a visit from one of the members of the LDS Church Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He also was excited to see family friend Jeff Judkins join the BYU staff and is proud of the start of BYU's basketball resurgence.
Like fellow teammate missionaries Elder Bobik, Elder Eyre and Elder Jepsen, this was the second Christmas phone call of his mission. One of his last companions was from Elder Bigelow's home ward.
5-11, 170, Fr.
Left: August 1999
Returns: July 2001
A six-and-one-half-hour phone call began at 7 a.m. on Christmas morning in Orem from Elder Opunui serving in Santa Margarita, Calif. The phone call was his only Christmas request and it included conversations with family members, his girlfriend, and good friend Bill McCleary.
He caught a tarantula which he named Richard and made it his pet. He feeds Richard six crickets a week and takes the spider along with him to entertain kids while he teaches discussions.
The point guard does 1,000 pushups daily and went straight on his mission out of Orem High School before attending BYU. Elder Opunui's parents noticed his spending exceeded his monthly allotment, but later learned their son had found a family that needed help and opted to make Christmas brighter for them.
He has played occasional basketball games with local street gangs and does service work through basketball at a local high school. He stays in touch with BYU sports through Cougar fans living in the area.