Kent Walton, a junior from Yucaipa, Calif., and BYU's best hitter last season, has been called out on strikes because bishop Wayne Childs, an employee in BYU's admissions department, withdrew the ecclesiastical endorsement that every student - LDS or not - must renew annually to attend the LDS Church-operated school.
"We feel like we are getting chased out of Nauvoo," said the 21-year-old baseball star's father, Kenneth Walton. "This is a soul, not a nobody. It's a sad, sad situation that somebody is trying to make an example out of my son."
BYU spokeswoman Carrie Jenkins confirmed that Kent Walton, a conference player of the year candidate until the dismissal, "is no longer a student at BYU." She refused further comment, citing federal student privacy laws, but acknowledged, "the decision was not made by the Honor Code office."
Kenneth Walton said his son did nothing immoral, illegal or against the standards of the LDS Church. He flew to Utah on Friday morning from his home in Mesa, Ariz., and met with Childs and stake president James Kearl, a BYU economics professor, and was told that the decision had been made and there was nothing more he could do. An anonymous e-mail alerted The Tribune to the situation, not the Walton family.
"They said he didn't participate in the ward enough, hadn't been to church enough and hadn't gone in and asked for a calling," Kenneth Walton said. "All the stake president would say was, 'I hope you don't hurt your son by making a big issue out of this.' "
Walton said his son had 10 or 11 opportunities to go to church in Provo since classes started last fall and went six times. During the other Sundays he was ill, attending church with a friend in Cedar City, attending church at home or it was LDS General Conference.
Childs could not be reached Friday evening, but it is doubtful that he could have commented on the matter. BYU baseball coach Vance Law told The Tribune that "it is not an athletic department issue" and that BYU was forbidding him to discuss the matter publicly.
Like Jenkins, Law stressed that the dismissal did not come from the Honor Code office. Jenkins said a "very small amount" of BYU students have their ecclesiastical endorsements withdrawn each year.
Documents viewed by The Tribune show the issue has pitted university officials and the athletic department - who back Walton, by almost every account - against the very church that runs it.
It even reached the ears of BYU president Cecil Samuelson and at least one member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but was not overturned.
Kent Walton was reluctant to make a statement, fearing that his future could be jeopardized if he chooses to try and get back into BYU next fall. He said his first desire is to finish his education at BYU and rejoin the team, noting that he chose to attend BYU over offers from other colleges was because of its church affiliation and the "chance to be around people who share my beliefs."
His roommate and teammate, Jake Wortham, said he witnessed Walton attend church "a bunch of times" in BYU's 49th ward, especially after Law told the three players who share a condominium off-campus just before Thanksgiving that their bishop wanted to see them become more active.
"The punishment doesn't fit the crime," Wortham said. "Not even close."
Walton's father said his son has already been getting inquiries from other programs, but will need a week or two to decide what to do next. The team's first practice for the 2008 season was Friday.