By Bryan Davis
A kid throws the basketball up to the hoop, sinking it into the net that stands seven feet off the ground. Time doesn’t stop, the normally two-point shot is not recorded and a member of the opposing comes up and gives a high five to the scorer.
It doesn’t sound like the everyday youth basketball game, but that’s how it’s done in the Upward Sports League, a youth sports ministry that has been serving West Point for five years.
Located at West End Baptist Church, Upward gives kids from kindergarten through sixth grade a chance to play basketball and learn the art of cheerleading in a less competitive and more family friendly environment.
“Our concentration is on the kids,” said West End Pastor Michael Mathena. “It’s not about winning or losing.”
Mathena says that Upward, a national youth sports organization, started in West Point with about 60 kids. The next year, that number doubled, and it has held steady at about 150 kids over the last three years.
Upward Basketball does offer competitive play, but with balanced talent on each team.
Mathena says that each game has two 18-minute periods. Every six minutes, the clock stops for mandatory substitutions.
That way, each child, on say a team of seven, gets equal playing time during the game.
“Upward Basketball’s unique substitution system is designed to provide every child equal playing time, along with competing against and equally matched opponent,” says the official Upward Sports brochure.
The brochure says that Upward Cheerleading gives children the opportunity to learn a sport and be part of the action.
Upward also helps in skills development, helping to give children the skills needed to move on to the next level. In cheerleading, each participant is taught the fundamentals needed for any successful squad.
Behind the skills and competition, however, is the original purpose and mission of Upward Sports to begin with. Upward, primarily, is a ministry that reaches out to the community through competitive sports. It is a part of what Mathena calls his church’s “front line ministries.”
“This is the place where we meet our community,” Mathena said. “When we are faithful in our ministry to the community, the Lord will honor that.”
Unlike many youth sports leagues, practices are not just learning how to shoot the ball. Between practices, a devotion is given, where the team discusses a particular Bible verse that was given to them the week before.
The same holds true at game time. Between the first and second half of each game, a five minute devotion is delivered to the kids and those watching them.
Mathena said that it was through some of those devotions that he has seen older audience members become involved in church after years of absence.
“I hope it’s been very positive,” Mathena said of the ministry over the past five years. “I know we have had the opportunity to impact some kids.”
One thing that is missing in Upward Sports is negative audience participation. Mathena said that not keeping score brings a fun atmosphere on and off the court. In other leagues, things sometimes get hostile in the stands and on the sidelines.
At the end of every game, each player will receive a Game Day Star. Categories of stars are Most Christ Like, Best Effort, Most Sportsmanship, Offensive and Defensive players of the game.
Registration deadlines ended late last week, but anyone interested in signing up for basketball or cheerleading can still do it. The cost for each will be $60 (late registration rate).
Practice will begin the week after Christmas, and the first games will be played on Saturday January 15 at West End Baptist Church’s gym.
Mathena says that eight to nine games will be played each Saturday. That is eight to nine devotions that will touch the lives of the young and old in attendance.