Archived Story

Up and away: Faith-based league to start season

Published 6:23pm Wednesday, October 16, 2013

BATH — A Bath church is ready for a new season of helping every child feel like a winner.

Upward Basketball and Cheerleading is set to kick off at St. Clair’s Church of Christ. It’s the fifth year running for the program that provides a positive sports environment and education in sportsmanship, along with a little bit of the gospel.

According to Craig Hagen, minister of St. Clair’s and director of the Upward program, the church stepped in to provide sports when the need became apparent in the community, but it’s also given the church an opportunity to open its doors to those outside its membership.

“It’s not a rec department-type league — it’s a faith-based ministry, is what it is,” Hagen said. “I mean, you use a basketball, but who would have thought a basketball would bring outreach and open our doors to people in the community?”

Hagen said boys and girls from Washington, Belhaven, Bath, Plymouth and as far away as Creswell have participated in Upward’s basketball and cheerleading program in past years.

Upward is unique in that it uses a computer program that designates which teams children ages kindergarten through seventh grade will be assigned based on an evaluation of skills before the season begins.

“We use those scores to divide up the teams because we want them to be as even as we possibly can,” Hagen explained.

The program even goes so far as to determine game scheduling, which players oppose each other on the court and each child getting the same amount of time in the game, rotating them in for six-minute segments per half.

“It’s man to man, the stronger kids are matched up so you’re playing against someone with similar ability,” Hagen said.

While learning how to play the game is important, it’s even more important to Hagen for players to get acquainted with God. Each weekly practice, the children are given a card with a Bible verse on it and are encouraged to memorize it during the week.

“Our first priority is to plant the seed of the gospel,” Hagen explained. “We want them to feel like a winner, but we also want them to know that Jesus loves them.”

Hagen said he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from parents over the years and the children — both basketball players and cheerleaders — get excited about awards given at the end of each game and having their names announced, usually along with a nickname, at the beginning of each match.

“You know, kids respond to praise,” Hagen said.

For more information about St. Clair’s Upward program, visit www.stclairschurchofchrist.com and follow the Upward link. Registration is through Oct. 31.

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