Scheduling the Primary Program

October 1, 2007 | 42 comments
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I don’t wish to detract from Adam’s lovely post, but after reading the comments, I am surprised at how common the late September Primary Program is. According to the yearly outline for the program, the Primary Program is to be held during the fourth quarter.

I have no idea what went into the decision to plan the program for September in all of the wards where this happens. But I do know that when I asked around once, I was told that (1) sacrament meeting attendance “counts” for the ward budget in September and (2) the best-attended sacrament meeting of the year is the Primary Program. So in some cases, the decision is made deliberately to put the program in September to beef up ward funding.

The thing is: there are lots of disadvantages (ethical issues aside) to a September program. First, it is difficult to practice for since August usually means half the ward is on vacation and so you have only a few weeks to get things together. Second, it creates a real “dead zone” in Primary in October and November since the work of the year is finished. (December, what with Christmas, seems to take care of itself.) Finally, the program is supposed to reflect the theme for the calendar year–and if you start practicing in September, it only reflects 3/4ths of the year.

I’m sure there are various local concerns (i.e, pregnant choristers) of which I am unaware that might justify a September program. But if the sole reason is to enhance the ward budget by doing something contrary to the handbook, that’s unethical. There’s also the (very bad) precedent set when one deliberately decides to do anything contrary to the handbook.

I admit that I may be missing something–I am going on hearsay here and I’m not a church policy wonk and I am completely unaware of circumstances in other wards. But if your ward has been in the habit of having the program in Sept. in order to “help” the budget, and if you have anything to say about the schedule next year, please follow the program guidelines and schedule it for the fourth quarter.

42 Responses to Scheduling the Primary Program

  1. Jones on October 1, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    As a stake Primary President I was aware of the guideline to have the Children\’s Sacrament Meeting Presentation in the last quarter. I was surprised by the guideline because the established calendar was the have the program the last Sunday in September. I also noticed that it was at that time that the Church News also ran a story every year on the the CSMP. I think the last quarter terminology may just be a guideline — I\’m no longer in a leadership calling to be able to check the handbook. I advised each ward to schedule the program when it worked BEST for them. Some bishoprics were open to adapting to a ward need. Some insisted that the ward follow the Stake calendar where it was listed as the last Sunday in September.
    When I was a first counselor in Primary and writing the program (it use to be the specific assignment of the first counselor) I heard of a ward that had their presentation in May! That really appealed to me. Although the CSMP gives structure and prescribed content for the year\’s sharing time and songs to learn I did sometimes feel like we were a slave to following what was outlined. My preference was to get the program DONE and then concentrate on really connecting with the children and creating a delightful and Christ-centered Primary. (Not that we hadn\’t done that before but we always had those lingering concerns about preparing the children \”for the program\”). When I was working in Primary I always had the concern that not enough time was spent singing the wonderful and very traditional songs found in the Primary Children\’s Song book. If the song hadn\’t been in a program in the last couple of years chances were most of the children didn\’t know it. I don\’t think the CSMP was devised for wards to be a slave to it. It is too easy to follow what it says you are suppose to do and not spend the time on your knees seeking to know what would be best for the children in the ward.

  2. Julie M. Smith on October 1, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Jones, interesting thoughts and helpful to me. A few comments:

    (1) I believe the “fourth quarter” language is also in the handbook–not just the program guidelines–which would dispose me to take it much more seriously. Anyone with access to the new handbook can confirm or deny that for us?

    (2) You wrote, “My preference was to get the program DONE and then concentrate on really connecting with the children and creating a delightful and Christ-centered Primary”

    My first thought was, “Yes! That’s a great reason!”

    My second thought was, “I hate it that so many people view the program as an awful burden to be done with.” Perhaps another option would be to plan a program that didn’t give everyone a sigh of relief when it was over.

    As for your last sentence, of course I agree. My post was a response to situations where I wasn’t told that it was done prayerfully but rather with a very specific (and, in my opinion, inappropriate) motivation.

  3. Matt W. on October 1, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    We do ours on the second to last week in september and the skeptics say it’s about the money, However, I think it is generally because that is when it was last year, etc etc.

    It is correct though that it does give quite a boost to numbers. It gave our ward 50 over our average attendance.

    However, even with this boost, Septmber is only 3 over our average attendance as a whole, so I am not sure it makes that big a difference…

  4. Matt W. on October 1, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    In the philippines, the primary programs were mothers day and fathers day. I had only been to singles ward before my mission was terribly disappointed that this is not also the tradition in America…

  5. queuno on October 1, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    We do ours in October. We’ve got too many children gone over the summer. Plus, our ward has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sacrament meeting attendance anyway. We don’t have room to put more people or cars when it comes to an average Sunday, let alone a special one like Primary, a baby blessing, a mission farewell, etc.

    I know of a ward where the Primary president has moved from the ward, but they are attending their old ward until after the Primary program is complete. Now that’s dedication for ya…

  6. kevinf on October 1, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Julie, My recollection is that the timing on this may be recommended for the 4th quarter in the curriculum guidelines that are produced each year, and not in the Handbook.

    I also recall that in the US the next year’s budget allowance for Stakes and Wards is calculated based on 3rd quarter attendance, which is also generally the lowest quarter for attendance, in my experience. I have heard, but not authoritatively, that they really just count September sacrament meeting attendance to get the average. Yes, it may be reprehensible to use that logic to schedule the CSMP, but for some wards with large amounts of youth and low average incomes, that could be a powerful draw.

    However, I have heard, speaking on deep background here, that there are some wards with affluent memberships that sometimes stretch the concept of fundraising for Scout Camp and Girls Camp to include funding all of their weekly youth activities through the sometimes troubling “Other” account. Put that kind of a ward in the same stake with the situation I described in my first paragraph, and you can see why the former ward might be tempted to schedule the CSMP in September.

  7. Brian D. on October 1, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    It all makes sense now: the homeless people we were asked to invite to church last month (along with the free food), the hastily scheduled primary program (nothing like using children to raise money) and the clerks roaming the halls, looking for anyone who might qualify as attending our ward (the nice people from the community church at the local high school were nice enough to lend their numbers to ours).

    Honestly, I do not care when the program takes place. I enjoy the program regardless of the date.

    I seriously doubt that wards schedule the program in Q3 to raise attendence for the budget. Sounds a bit hokey to me.

  8. Norbert on October 1, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Our ward has done it in December for the last few years, usually the second sunday before everyone is off for holidays. It usually has an overt Christmas link, with a few Christmas songs. Our primary is tiny, and it is always hilarious to see how the pri pres will fill the time with five or six kids, of whom only two will talk in public. This year we have two kids on a good Sunday, and she’s asking all small groups to sing songs as well. The wife and I are working on a jazzy ‘Whenever I Hear the Song of a Bird,’ a fave of mine.

  9. Matt on October 1, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    With a wife who has been Primary President in multiple units for a number of years, I agree that the program can be a \”burden to be done with.\” While the actual program presented in sacrament meeting is always wonderful, the amount of planning, coordinating family schedules, extra practice sessions during the week(s) before the program, and overall anxiety experienced by the leaders is not worth it in my opinion. It probably takes a couple of months off their lifespan. :)

    It would be great if the program was written by a board at Church Headquarters – and in fact, over-written with multiple choices – so the local unit leaders could just pick and choose parts for each child and songs as appropriate. When it comes to the Primary program, the leaders never follow Elder Ballard\’s counsel to simplify.

  10. kevinf on October 1, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    Brian D, seriously, you don’t invite the homeless, the community church, and roam the halls trying to get folks to come in and sit down during Sacrament meeting? Oh, wait, that’s Gospel Doctrine class.

  11. hpm on October 1, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    Matt, you probably don’t want to say that leaders “never” simplify. That’s a big generalization. I’m a Primary president (married to a Matt, by the way–you don’t live around Boston, do you?) and I don’t recall going too overboard program-wise in the past. I’m someone who actually enjoys the process of writing the program, though I’m not doing it this year. I wouldn’t necessarily appreciate *more* SLC boilerplate text, but others might. I think your Primary Program Template suggestion has merit as long as its use remains optional.

    (For what it’s worth, I once served in a Primary presidency which resisted serious pressure from the Bishopric to schedule the program during September for budget reasons. Ick.)

  12. Michelle on October 1, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    I am the Primary President for a small branch in Utah. We are doing our program the second Sunday in Nov. Everyone likes that Idea :)

  13. Janet on October 1, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    As a primary chorister, I loved the “dead zone” following the program. We did our program in mid-October, so we just used the remaining weeks of the year to focus on songs the kids really loved, let them come up with topics for sharing time, play games, that sort of thing. It reminds me of my senior year of high school, once all the AP tests were over and the college acceptance letters had arrived. Rewarding the kids with a month or so of stressless Sundays seems OK to me.

    But September programs = awful, at least if your ward has a high student population. In addition to other reasons you mention, Julie, you wind up with teachers, parents, a presidency, and kids distracted by the start of school. I like October–let’s everyone find their pace in the secular world so the Sunday program doesn’t seem like an extension of academic angst.

  14. Janet on October 1, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Durned extraneous apostrophe: “lets everyone…”

  15. Liesl on October 1, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    I’m the chorister in our Provo ward. We did our program yesterday. School started in the middle of August, so it’s pretty comfortable by now. In October we have General and Stake Conferences and it seems like last year the discontinuity made it much harder for the kids to remember their parts and the songs. It also makes it difficult to schedule the building for a Saturday morning practice with so many other big events happening and with the other wards trying to use the building also. November and December are tricky because of the holidays and though we could probably make it work, I’d miss the extra weeks of freedom in singing time. The months after the program are a wonderful chance to teach the children songs that they might not otherwise learn in the focus on the Program songs the rest of the year. I love having the freedom to teach the songs we all loved as kids that are probably never going to fit in with the scripted monthly or yearly themes . We simply don’t have the time to do that in the months leading up to the program.

  16. Ann on October 1, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    When I was the primary president, the Bishopric always just asked when we wanted to do it. We usually did in mid-November, which gave us time after the kids had learned the songs to write a nice program and then get ready for Christmas. I had no idea about the numbers thing in September, and nobody ever mentioned it to me.

  17. Pam Blasco on October 1, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    I have just experienced the most beautiful Primary Program in all my years. Of course I was not in on all the work! I just got to enjoy it. Earlier in the year for a sharing time, the children all wrote down a time they felt the spirit and some of their testimony. This was to be the written dialog! Yes from 3 year old to 11 years old.
    It was so very precious! It was moving, it was funny, it was their words.
    The music was exquisite with solos and groups, and some other varieties.
    It should be fun process not an arduous task. It is for and all about the children. Sometimes adults just get in the way either with their attitude or with their ego.
    Of course I had 5 family members in it too! That always makes it special. But even the elderly were impressed by this years program and felt the childlike humility.

  18. Pam Blasco on October 1, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    opps 2x’s accident. By the way if the program was in Dec. or May or Sept. who give a rip. As long as it is a special experience.

  19. Anita on October 1, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Our ward just held it yesterday, because two of the presidency members are expecting babies later in October. Local issues at fault here!

  20. deb on October 1, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    When my kids were small, the Primary President made the Program into such an ordeal that the kids literally got sick over it. The script for one year was almost forty pages long! The kids had huge speaking parts to memorize, and were soundly and publickly scolded if they were off by even a word. She had full scale rehearsals for rmonths in advance, three nights a week, plus hours on every Saturday. It truly was an ordeal, stressful, and no fun at all.

    Then I was called, in March. The outgoing president handed me that year’s script, already composed, and suggested I had better get going on practices right away. I decided it is not a Broadway production, but a sacrament meeting, designed for worship.

    As I got to know the kids, I took notes. Along about September, I pulled together a script. My goal was to get it all one page; it was less than that. It was a simple outline. “Song. Talk by Freddie on Holy Ghost’s influence at school. Duet. Emily: testimony about playground” etc. The speaking parts were not scripted at all. Their written assignment was something like “Emily, you gave a great testimpony about doing right on the playground, last month. Please tell the ward about it, in your own words. Take about 3 minutes, please. If you need help, ask!”

    We had two walk-throughs the Sunday before the actual program, which lasted under an hour. Songs, and each child came to the microphone in turn. If they were prepared, they spoke. If they were not ready, I had them read the “script” on the podium; “I am sorry that I am not prepared, but I certainly will be next week. I want the ward to feel the Holy Ghost, so I will do my part.” Each was under orders to speak in their own words, from their hearts.

    The ward was wary, the old PP smug as they waitied for “me” to fall flat. The Program was awesome, tear-inspiring, with the Spirit so strong it felt like the walls could not contain it.

    Afterwards we had a well deserved games-and-treats-non-party. That was our way until I was released, years later. I was so sad to see a thick script come home with my children the very next year, with long passages to memorize.

  21. Naismith on October 1, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    Gosh, I could have written #15 except that I live far from Provo.

    But we also started school in mid-August, and have stake conference in October. This year it will be in November, and the bishop won’t be there, but I can understand the late-September date. October is impossible.

  22. It's Not Me on October 1, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    We had just been in the bishopric a mere 3 weeks when we had our first bishops training. The first item on the agenda was our September primary program. When I say “our,” I mean our ward–the only ward in the stake to hold it in September. The stake president told us in no uncertain terms that it was to be held in the fourth quarter, regardless of the desire to increase our budget. It had been planned/approved by the prior bishopric, so we didn’t feel too picked on.

  23. Sarah on October 1, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    We almost always have ours in October — usually the week between General and Stake conferences. We have one Saturday practice, and skip the Sunday School lessons for two weeks, and that’s it.

    We have 85+ kids, so we can’t get the program down to one page (wow) but the talks are mostly made up of talks the children already gave during the year in Sharing Time.

    Incidentally, what “very bad” consequences come from not following the Handbook?

  24. Julie M. Smith on October 1, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    Sarah, I think one of the greatest advantages of the handbook is that it gives local leaders fewer things to argue about.

    More seriously, it’s there for a reason and I think that unless you have a really good reason, then you need to follow it in your calling.

  25. Adam Greenwood on October 1, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    I think its not the members job to follow the handbook. Its the bishop’s job to follow the handbook. Ask your bishop if you need to go in the 4th quarter and follow what he says.

  26. Julie M. Smith on October 1, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Adam, I’m really surprised to read that from you. If your ward’s YW Pres wanted to start ordaining the Beehives and your bishop was OK with it, you’d sit back and smile? The reason that sections of the handbook are distributed to people with leadership callings is because those people are responsible to follow them–and go to the bishop for permission for exceptions. It would put a terrible burden on the bishop to need to (1) be aware of every phrase of the handbook and (2) double check every plan made by every ward organization to be sure that nothing in the handbook was being violated.

  27. Sarah on October 1, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    I’d agree with you, Julie — I just sometimes cringe at the amount of shoving the handbook in one another’s face that goes on online. One too many “this is the will of God” comments in relation to the question of whether it’s ever okay to let a child born on January 3rd move up to Sunbeams a year early, I suspect.

    But, umm, there’s kind of a big difference between the ordination of women and scheduling the CSMP six or seven days before the beginning of the prescribed fiscal quarter.

  28. Rosalynde Welch on October 2, 2007 at 12:08 am

    I’m the primary music leader in our ward. I’ve been in the calling for just a few months, and I’ve appreciated the structure that the program outline provides, but I certainly don’t feel enslaved to it when planning the music each week. Between the opening and closing songs, the theme song, the fun/wiggle song (not to mention the welcome and birthday songs), and weekly singing time plus occasional music in sharing time, I’ve found plenty of opportunity to range fairly far and wide through the songbook. I keep a list of last year’s program songs in my materials and try to choose from those quite regularly, as well.

    I will be glad to be finished with “Follow Him in Faith,” which is not a favorite of mine.

  29. Adam Greenwood on October 2, 2007 at 12:23 am

    Does the portion of the handbook that is given to Beehive’s leaders state that said leaders aren’t supposed to ordain their Beehives? That’s a remarkable level of detail.

    BTW, I wasn’t really aware that portions of the handbook are handed out to people in specific jobs. So, yes, if you are a primary president and you have a print-out or something saying that you’re supposed to have your program in the fourth quarter, fine. But I think following specific directives like that is the responsibility of the people to whom they are given and not something I care about much.

  30. UKAnn on October 2, 2007 at 3:34 am

    Just to provide some ‘international’ insight. Our budget is not based on a ‘September’ headcount. I believe our budget fluctuates month to month, depending on the previous month’s average Sacrament attendance. I believe system was adopted a couple of years ago in England (I’ll have to check with DH). Bear in mind also that in England the children don’t go back to school until sometime in the first week of September, so having the option of ‘anytime during the last quarter’ is better – when I was PP I used to hold it sometime in October – gave time for the children to get back from holiday, practice a few weeks, then the Presentation, then heads down planning our Christmas Nativity presentation which is given by the children every year in our Ward. I always just assumed it was planned during the last quarter so the children can tell what they’ve learned that year in Primary, and to use their talks, etc – nothing to do with Budget planning!

    We often forget the ‘guidelines’ are written for a worldwide church.

  31. Naismith on October 2, 2007 at 7:30 am

    “Just to provide some ‘international’ insight. Our budget is not based on a ‘September’ headcount. I believe our budget fluctuates month to month, depending on the previous month’s average Sacrament attendance.”

    I wish we did this in the US. I live in a ward near a college campus, and the current system seems intentionally designed to shortchange wards like ours. The months that “count” for attendance include the months that students are most likely to be away, so our attendance for budget purposes is MUCH less than our attendance overall.

  32. Julie M. Smith on October 2, 2007 at 11:48 am

    “But I think following specific directives like that is the responsibility of the people to whom they are given and not something I care about much.”

    That’s why I ended the original post the way I did: the post is addressed to those people (i.e., Primary Presidencies and Bishoprics) who have some say over the scheduling. Everyone else in the ward should mind their own business. (When I was in a PP, I advocated that the program be moved to October. This year, our ward did the program in Sept., but I teach RS, so I didn’t say anything to anyone.)

  33. Adam Greenwood on October 2, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Fair enough.

  34. Stevie on October 2, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I once told my bishop that I would hate being a bishop he needs to support/explain/encourage a number of church policies which I do not see as inspired, important, or even worth considering. For my part, these issues have no real meaning, but some people feel very very strongly about them… and that would drive me a bit crazy. For me, such policies include things like: “Which hand do you take the sacrament with?” “Do deacons need to wear white shirts?” There are many others, and now I can add: “When shall we have the Primary Program?” I can’t believe that it really matters. I always find the Primary Program to be amusing, interesting, cute, and somewhat spiritual. The only issue I have with it is this: All subsequent meetings should be cancelled on that Sunday because in my experience, the primary staff is already tired and the kids are all wound up, and they then have 2 long hours of primary to look forward to. What would be the harm in just letting everyone go home afterwards?

  35. kevinf on October 2, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Adam,

    There are two volumes of the Handbook. The first volume is given to Stake Presidents and Bishops, and deal with stake and ward administration. It was updated in the last year, and significantly shortened and simplified. More concise, without as much detail.

    The second volume deals with administration of priesthood quorums and auxiliaries at the stake and ward level, and is also given to SP members, and the bishop and his counselors. Each section, such as AP, MP, primary, etc, are then republished as individual sections to be distributed to the leaders of those quorums/auxiliaries. In addition, there are bulletins and program guidelines published from time to time to supplement all of these, both as changes are made, and in the case of auxiliaries and the quorums, an annual set of instructions about themes, manuals to use, etc. It was my understanding that that is where the directions to do the CSMP in the fourth quarter are found.

    Next time I’m at the stake office, I’ll look up in the copy of the handbook in the clerks office and see what it says about the CSMP, but probably not for a few days.

  36. Matt W. on October 2, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    here’s what the Primary Pamphlet says:

    Will get the Handbook when I get home:

    Under the direction of the bishop or branch president,
    the children’s sacrament meeting presentation
    is given during the fourth quarter of the year. The
    children will share what they have learned about
    this year’s theme, “I’ll Follow Him in Faith.” The
    sacrament meeting presentation should be no more
    than 40 minutes long and should follow Church
    policies and guidelines for sacrament meetings.
    A member of the bishopric or branch presidency
    should conclude the meeting with brief remarks
    confirming the principles taught in the presentation.
    (See Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2:
    Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders [1998], 237.)

  37. Carol F. on October 2, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    I know for a fact that the handbook says fourth quarter, per my bishop who switched our program to the hellacious month of October (general and stake conferences) in order to comply. I had no idea about any budgeting counting things for September, but I know that as chorister, I highly prefer September to the fourth quarter for one reason alone: annui. After eight months of being consumed with the Primary Program, Primaries deserve to be done with the program! What ever happened to those good old days of singing songs about nature, and families, and missionaries and reverence and the Sabbath day and pioneers? The themes for the programs are extremely narrow (which is fine) but ten months of the same theme is hard to stomach. Last year after the September program, I made fast work of the three months until the new theme. I only get two months this year, one of which is Christmas.

    Don’t get me wrong, I stick in songs all the time. We sang in church for Mother’s Day and Pioneer Day and sing “I Heard the Prophet Speak Today” every Conference and have our wiggle songs and such. I go through extraordinary lengths to add songs to the repertoire all the time. But STILL, there is a lot of pressure to keep the Primary Program in the foreground. Let’s do a little math. Say you get 15 minutes per week of singing time. Say you have 35 weeks of practice before the program. That is 525 minutes or just over 8 spotty hours of practice spread over nine months in which to accomplish a 45 minute program. I think high school AllState choirs practice for more like 14 hours over two days to accomplish the same length of program. It’s probably a bad comparison, but my point is, there is a lot of pressure to review the program constantly to keep it in their little minds. I could never be a rock star because I DON’T LIKE REPEATING SONGS SO MUCH! I’ve been bored for months. But you come to Gilbert AZ on Oct 21st and it is going to be a sweet little program with bells and children accompanying on the piano and the whole thing.

    Rosalynde, be glad you have this year’s instead of last year’s!

  38. Janet on October 2, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Ros! You’re the primary chorister now? Excellent! Best calling in the church. I actually sobbed when they released me to be Gospel Doctrine teacher back in Lindell, if you can believe it. Of course then I sobbed when I had to leave GD to be in the primary stake presidency, but that’s just ‘cus PSP don’t deal much with the kids anyhow. It’s mostly driving.

    I’m envious ;P

  39. Amy on October 2, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    I also miss the old fun songs that primaries now don’t seem to learn! When did that change? When did we start these strict repetitive programs?? Is this recent? I have only returned to primary this past year after a long absence.

  40. Mark B. on October 3, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Budget allocations from SLC are determined quarterly, and third quarter attendance figures (which are really September figures, since the “quarterly” reports are really just reports for the last month of each quarter) are used in calculating the allocation of the first quarter of the next year. Since attendance is averaged over the four or five sacrament meetings in the month, the uptick in attendance at the Primary program would have to be huge to make a real difference–a 40 person increase on that day over regular attendance would make just an 8 or 10 person difference in the monthly average, and that doesn’t matter enough to be worth pushing the program into September.

    Besides, in our district, none of the Primaries are anywhere close to ready by September. We’re lucky to have the programs readly by February, of the next year.

  41. UKAnn on October 4, 2007 at 2:38 am

    Re my comment #30 – correction – our budget is based on the previous quarter’s Sacrament meeting attendance, ie. 4 times a year. Can have it’s complications as the Bishop towards the end of the year asks the auxiliaries for their budgets, but he can only give a ball park figure on what they will receive as he never knows from quarter to quarters what he might be receiving.

  42. Ziff on October 7, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Elder Cook said in Conference this morning that he attended his daughter’s ward’s primary program “last week” (September 30th) and he didn’t say anything about it being wrong. Does this mean he’s countenancing the practice, or did the “fourth quarter” issue just not occur to him?