By JESSICA STEPHENS
In the nine years that Calvary Baptist Church has sponsored its Upward basketball league, program leaders have seen participation among players more than double.
When the church first began participating in Upward, a nationwide Christian sports program that emphasizes character and sportsmanship over competition, about 160 children participated, said Alan Marshall, the director for Calvary Baptist Church’s six leagues.
Today, more than 380 children are involved, including 335 basketball players and about 50 cheerleaders. The program is sponsored by Calvary Baptist Church, but participants include members of other churches and sometimes children who do not go to church at all.
Marshall says that Upward gives local families an opportunity both to do something together and to interact with other families in the community.
In addition to fostering relationships among families, workers within the program — all of whom are volunteers — try to build confidence and character in each player.
“We’re trying to teach every child that they’re a winner,” Marshall said.
Volunteers within the program work carefully to ensure that games are set up to focus on the individual players, not on the competition.
Before every game, each team member runs through a hallway lit with disco lights as his or her name is announced to the audience. Team members also get equal playing time throughout the season and are matched with opponents of about the same ability.
Britney Wright, whose son played with the league until he graduated last year and whose daughter still participates, said she appreciates the program’s concentration on building skills rather than on winning games.
“They praise the kids,” she said. “It’s not about who’s winning, who’s losing; it’s giving them confidence.”
Wright also added that parents appreciate the effort Marshall makes toward knowing the individual players within the league.
Marshall said that he tries to learn the name of every child involved, but he is quick to credit volunteers with the program’s success.
“We’ve got great coaches and great volunteers, and it wouldn’t happen without them,” he said.
Although Calvary Baptist Church sponsors the Upward program, the league is open to all first- through fifth-graders in Columbia. The program is broken up into six leagues based on grade level and gender.
Anyone interested in playing or volunteering with next year’s league can contact Calvary Baptist Church’s office at (573) 449-3144 to get a registration form.