HILDALE, Utah (AP) — A public high school that reopened two years ago in a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border now has a basketball team, the latest sign the town is trying to embrace efforts to grow into modern society.
Some spectators at the first games of Hildale's Water Canyon School on Wednesday wore outfits associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Some polygamist families continue to wear the outfits even after they leave the church.
"When you look around, you can tell there are polygamist families here, but they're great people," said principal Darin Thomas.
Curtis and Christel Barlow's daughter was in the school choir that sang the national anthem Wednesday. Christel said the town "is slowly getting there."
"People need to see what life is about," Curtis Barlow said. "We've been living in such a sheltered environment, it's tough to function."
Ninth grader Mary Jessop plays center on the team. Her family left the FLDS in 2011. She said she hopes she can lead by example and inspire girls who are still in the FLDS to play basketball.
"I don't want them to take my spot on the team, though," she said.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1OIkGHj) it has been nearly five years since FLDS President Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides. The town is now split between his loyalists who still believe Jeffs is a victim of religious persecution and those who have left or been kicked out.
The majority of the 7,700 residents in the sister towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Arizona belong to the sect.
Hundreds of others have ties to FLDS members, though they are no longer followers.
But Jeffs' flock of followers still outnumbers the others, and they dominate leadership positions in city government.
Hildale is about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com