STATEWIDE – In all, 46 churches across Louisiana have begun practice for the 2010/11 season of Upward Basketball.
Upward is a parachurch organization for boys and girls in the first through sixth grades. It is based in North Carolina and “reaches kids for Christ through sports,” according to the website www.upward.org. The sports they minister through include football, basketball, soccer and cheerleading. Now is the season for basketball.
“I thought Upward was a God-send,” said Robert Daniel, director of missions for three central Louisiana Baptist associations and former pastor of Twin Bridges Baptist Church in Alexandria. He led the church to start Upward in 2000.
“Upward gave us a God-sized task,” Daniel continued. “If you run the numbers, there were about 250 children, and you start thinking about moms and dads and siblings and grandparents connected with each of those children, that’s a considerable challenge. On any given Saturday [during league games] we’d have 600 to 1,000 people come to our facility. That would be far more than we could possibly reach in Sunday morning services.”
Brent Dix has been pastor of the Twin Bridges congregation for the last four years.
“For several years we were the smallest church in the nation with a league our size,” Dix said. “We’ve grown quite a bit, though.”
He attributes some of that growth to Upward, the pastor said, crediting leadership of the Upward program today to Tony and Mary Mancil. They came to know the Lord because their son played in an Upward league at Twin Bridges.
“We don’t have VBS,” Dix said. “This is our VBS. We have more kids come through this than we would in VBS.”
Upward is “a first-class sports experience that emphasizes healthy competition, sportsmanship, skills-building and fun, versus the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality found in many children’s sports leagues,” according to the Upward website.
Ten-minute devotions are part of half-time during each practice session, with Bible verses to learn each week. During league play, parents and other half-time onlookers hear a shortened, pointed devotional thought.
At the end of the season, each player receives an award, with the White Star Award the top honor, reserved for the most Christ-like player and most Christ-like coach in the entire league. (Each church comprises its own league.)
“Upward emphasizes sportsmanship ideals and Christian behavior,” Daniel said. “Our first season opened with 70 players and we finished the season with 99. We had people seeing what was happening and bringing in their kids.”
That’s still happening today, Dix said. By mid-November the pre-registered youngsters are assigned to teams of roughly equal height and skill levels. Others trickle in, some even after league play starts in early January, though that is not recommended.
“We try to fit a kid in,” Dix said. “We’re the only church south of the Red River [in Cenla] that offers Upward Basketball.”
About 215 youngsters have signed up for Upward Basketball this season, down some from previous years because students were not permitted to take home flyers about it from school this year. Word went out to Cenla churches, which resulted in an unusual 75 percent of the youngsters already being churched.
“Upward Basketball is the largest outreach to the community we have at the present time,” Dix said. “When people think of Twin Bridges they think of Upward Basketball because that’s the reputation it has.”