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Faith’s Role in their sport

For some athletes, religion plays a big part in their lives

Posted: June 5, 2009 9:56 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Nick Longshore when he was playing for BYU Nick Longshore when he was playing for BYU
Nick Longshore when he was playing for BYU
Beau Martin of West Ranch Beau Martin of West Ranch
Beau Martin of West Ranch

A quartet of Santa Clarita-area athletes at various stages of life with a vast list of accomplishments behind them have one common bond — faith.

Beau Martin, Stacy Nanninga, Nick Longshore and Mike Penberthy have all reached great levels of success athletically and beyond, but it is their faith that sets them apart from the average athlete.

All four are at a different parts of their athletic and spiritual journeys, but they all draw upon their faith to continue to achieve their goals and move through life to honor God and better the lives of their teammates and communities.

The Young Missionary

Less than a month ago, recent West Ranch High graduate Beau Martin followed up a season that saw him lead his Wildcats into the boys basketball CIF-SS Division II playoffs by finishing third in the Foothill league singles tennis tournament.

While sports have always been at the forefront of Martin’s mind, there has always been something more that has driven him.

“I remember when I was a kid I always dreamt of someday going on a mission,” Martin, a member of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says. “That’s been the one thing I have wanted more than anything so no matter how crazy school or sports got I have always been able to think about that goal as the next thing I want to achieve.”

Martin channeled his dedication onto the athletic field, serving as a spiritual leader at point guard for the Wildcat basketball team and part of a senior-one-two punch with Jordan Hovis that led West Ranch tennis to a second place Foothill League.

“I think Jordan and I both used a lot of dedication to help our team out,” Martin says. “I think that’s the same kind of dedication I take when it comes to thinking about what I’ll be doing in a few months.”

On Aug. 26, Martin’s dream will become a reality when he flies to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to begin a two year missionary.

He will first spend three weeks at the Provo Mission Training Center, learning about how to spread the message of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the Mormon Church.

That may be the easy part for Martin, who will then spend six weeks getting intensive Spanish training before he can go in the field.

“I didn’t know where I was going for a long time,” Martin says. “It could have been anywhere in the world, and I got Guatemala, which is a little tougher because Spanish wasn’t my best class in high school. But this will just be part of the total learning experience.”

Missionary work is a family affair for the Martins. Beau’s brother was also sent to Guatemala for two years, and he told him to be thankful for his athletic background.

“My brother told me that I’m going to sweat like I’ve never sweat before down there,” Martin says. “So it’s a good thing that I’m already in pretty good shape.”

A little sweat will not mean much to Martin as he works on achieving his ultimate goal of spreading the word. It is an opportunity that Martin knows will alter every perception of his reality.

“I’ll be giving up pretty much all worldly possessions,” Martin says. “It will give me a whole new take on life and the world. Everyone I know who has been on a mission has said that it has been the best experience of their lives to that point, so I am so excited. I figure two years of my life isn’t much to give compared to all Christ has done for us. Sports will be here when I get back so we’ll see if I get back into it then.”

The Bride-to-be

Four years ago Stacy Nanninga came to The Master’s College as a shy freshman who rarely spoke, but with her senior season and graduation behind her, much has changed for the once timid forward.

A back-to-back winner of the NAIA Champions of Character Award, which is given to players who exemplify a positive attitude, discipline and integrity on and off the court, Nanninga has become a team leader.

“My faith has helped me to stay disciplined in all areas of life,” Nanninga says. “It keeps me focused on the fact that I have to get things done so I can make the most of what the Lord has given me.”

Nanninga matured as a team leader, and is cited by both head coach Dan Waldeck and Athletic Director Paul Berry as the most devout athlete in the 2009 Master’s senior class.

Berry was also quick to point out that her fiance, fellow basketball player Ryan Zamroz, is also one of the most faithful people in the Mustang program.

The couple are set to be married in July, and Zamroz hopes to play basketball overseas next year.

“Right now our hopes are that Ryan can find somewhere to play next year, and I will follow him to wherever he fits,” Nanninga says. “I want to do my best to support him, and I think that will be an experience that I will really enjoy.”

Last month, Nanninga earned her degree in Liberal Studies, a credential that usually leads to a career in teaching, but the former Mustang forward isn’t sure what field she is focused on entering. She does however know that it will likely have to do with her Christian faith and helping people like she helped her teammates during her time at Master’s.

“The great thing about being on a team with so many people who had similar beliefs was that even when we got on each other our faith would play a role,” Nanninga says. “We knew that the game isn’t about us. It’s about playing the game for the glory of God.”

While, Nanninga won’t be stepping on any international courts next season except to support Zamroz, she doubts that she is done with organized basketball.

Nanninga believes that an opportunity will present itself to her some time in the not too distant future.

“Even if it was just in a rec league I’d be excited to play again somewhere down the line, but I still have hopes to maybe play overseas someday too,” Nanninga says. “Right now, it’s time for me to support my husband-to-be so he can go out and get through any ups-and-downs.”

The Coach

Nick Longshore’s sturdy build makes him look like the prototypical offensive line coach, but there is much more than a broad set of shoulders that distinguish the Canyon coach from the average man walking down the street.

Much like Martin, Longshore set off for two years of missionary work after his senior year of high school, traveling through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Philippines to teach natives about God and to clean and restore hospitals and churches.

“Five days a week we taught,” Longshore says. “On the sixth day we would have a service project, and on the seventh we were in church. It kind of sounds like a job, but it definitely wasn’t because it was so fulfilling and helped me grow so much. We only got to go home twice a year so it made me mature.”

After the two-year voyage Longshore returned home to play on the College of the Canyons offensive line. After a season with the Cougars, he enrolled and played at BYU where injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential.

“I had three surgeries,” Longshore says. “But I look at it in the way that I have never not been able to walk away from the football field. I firmly believe that God doesn’t care which team wins the game, but he is looking over the players out there to make sure they are as safe as possible. What I’ll always remember about my time at BYU is that every game opened with a prayer. I think there are only like two or three teams in the nation that do that, and I always thought it was fitting.”

Longshore found his calling after college, joining the Canyon High coaching staff. To him coaching is a lot more than Xs and Os.

“Football isn’t just about what happens on the field,” Longshore says. “I think if you can show to your players that you really care then you will be able to communicate with them much better. In a lot of ways it goes back to my time as a missionary because that is where I really learned how to communicate and listen and get to know people. My time there helped me learn ways to connect with people.”

Longshore hopes the skills he has learned through his mission and life might lead to a Division I coaching opportunity in the future.

“I love coaching,” Longshore says. “I have a lot of hopes when it comes to coaching because it’s a profession that gives me that chance to really work with people and watch them grow.”

Longshore also knows that if he continues to read his scripture then anything can happen.

It is a lesson he learned when he was a child.

“I remember being 12 years-old, and baseball season started,” Longshore says, “I said, ‘God, I promise to read the scripture every day if you let me just hit one home run.’ I read every day, and I wound up hitting 26 homers that season so it’s been working out pretty well for a while.”

The Traveler Turned Teacher
Mike Penberthy is best known on the basketball court as a member of the 2000-’01 World Championship Los Angeles Lakers team that started the Kobe-Shaq-led three-peat that re-established the Lakers as the dominant franchise in the NBA.

A current Valencia resident and graduate of The Master’s College, Penberthy was a key role player on a team that beat the Philadelphia 76ers in five games in the NBA Finals. But his path to the top of the NBA mountain was anything but conventional.

After graduating from Master’s in 1997, Penberthy played overseas for three years before Phil Jackson gave him a chance in the NBA thanks to his temperament and outside shooting.

“A lot of people think that Christians can’t play basketball because they are ‘soft’ or ‘don’t have a mean streak,’” Penberthy says. “I totally don’t agree with that. I got into my fair share of fights when I played. It’s just that when you are Christian I think you are able to gain control of you emotions a little faster, but Phil always told me that was one of the traits he respected most in me.”

Penberthy sees his deep belief in God as a major reason he was able to spend 10 seasons playing overseas for teams located in four different countries.

Being away from his family, dealing with often hostile crowds and living in countries where he did not speak the native tongue made for many struggles for the shooting guard.

“There are a lot of different facets that come from faith,” Penberthy says. “It can help your confidence and definitely help you feel a lot less alone when you are in a place you may not feel comfortable with. For me, I just always kept in my mind that Christ wanted me to be a basketball player so whenever times got hard I knew I could rely on that to keep me going.”

The kind of faith Penberthy used overseas ultimately led to him coming home to play for the Lakers in a situation he could only have dreamt of before Jackson offered him a roster spot.

The amazing ride culminated with the Lakers’ first NBA Championship in 14 years.

“It’s true that it really is the loneliest at the top,” Penberthy says. “I remember after we won, and I was like, ‘Well, now I have this big ring, but I might not make the team next year.’ What I kind of looked at was the fact that my relationship with Christ is stronger than my relationship with Phil or Kobe or Shaq. It reminded me of how, even when I scored 49 points in a college game, I knew someday almost no one would remember that, but my kids would always remember the teachings of faith that I pass on to them.”

The next season Penberthy had to find a different level of spirituality.

Jackson informed him that he had been cut from the team, leaving the sharpshooter without a place to play.

“I remember Phil tearing up and telling me,” Penberthy says. “All I could do was get in my car, fight off the tears and pray that I could find the strength to tell my wife that I basically had been fired and hopefully we would be OK.”

Penberthy found the strength and went on to play seven more seasons overseas before retiring last year.

He’s now working with the VIP Card, a card that provides discounts to various businesses for customers, while supporting churches, schools and non-profits, as opposed to similar cards, which do not generally benefit such causes.

“It’s a great chance to help a lot of people out,” Penberthy says. “It’s a nice way to stay in touch with players and coaches from the league because I get to talk with them about businesses in their areas, but also as we get this going nationally there will be a lot of great deals for people who purchase the card, but it will also benefit a lot that are in need.”

Penberthy also speaks about Christianity and his beliefs publicly on a regular basis.

“There is so much for everyone to handle day-to-day,” Penberthy says. “Faith keeps you grounded. It keeps things in perspective. It lets you know how to deal with the wins and losses of not only sport, but life.”


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