Upward Nights to be held this week

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Community members will have an opportunity to recognize participants of the Family Life Center's Upward program during Upward Nights, which are scheduled to be held Feb. 12 and 13.

Upward, which is a basketball and cheerleading program for first through sixth grade children, is part of a national organization called Upward Unlimited. The national children's sports ministry promotes salvation, character and self esteem.

"One of the things that we believe in very strongly is that every child is a winner," said Jeff Allee, First Baptist Church's Family Life Center recreation minister. "The program and ministry encourages all kids to be winners no matter what the scoreboard shows."

The Upward program eliminates the pressure to win by offering a non-competitive environment that recognizes the positive contributions of each child. All participants receive awards following each game and are recognized at an awards ceremony at the end of the season.

"The Upward program teaches values that kids might not get in other leagues," said Caleb Buntin, who has served as the local Upward program director for two years. "We treat each child the same, and every child gets to play the same amount of time."

A special substitution process is used to allow each child to start and all kids to compete the same amount of time. The program also uses its own set of rules and regulations to ensure fair play among participants.

Children learn other positive skills from the adults who serve in the Upward program. Many parents and church members serve as Upward basketball and cheerleading coaches.

"It takes a lot of volunteers to run this program," said Buntin. "We have great volunteers who do so much for the ministry. It is awesome to see that team come together."

Volunteers work the concession stand, referee games, keep score and present half-time devotions. The program incorporates a devotional time into each practice session and game.

"First and foremost we want these kids to learn that God loves them," said Allee. "We want them to learn that they are all winners and that people love them."

"We want them to keep growing in their relationship with God," said Buntin. "We also want them to gain confidence. We love to see kids who are shy at first start to talk more and have fun with the other kids."

Although Upward does not promote a competitive environment, children who participate in the program learn a variety of skills that form a base for future involvement in sports activities. Visiting a high school basketball game allows the participants to see older students utilizing the athletic skills that are learned through Upward.

Program participants will attend the Cassville High School basketball games on Feb. 12 and 13. Cheer squads will perform at half-time of the varsity game on Thursday and at half-time of the junior varsity game on Friday.

All children who wear their Upward uniform to the games will be admitted at no cost. The students will sit together and be introduced to the community.

This year, around 170 local children are participating in the Upward program. Children participate on 23 basketball teams and five cheer squads.

The Upward program is offered in over 1,800 churches nation wide. Each partnering church must attend an Upward Leadership Training Conference to learn leadership techniques and program rules.

The First Baptist Church also offers an Ity Bitty basketball and cheerleading program for kindergarten children.

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