This Saturday, May 17th, will mark the third week of Westmoreland Baptist Church's initial season of Upward spring soccer. So far, the program has been a great success.
Over 70 young people from Pre-K through 5th graders are participating in our Upward Soccer League. There are eight teams in this initial season. The level of coaching is excellent and the kids are having a wonderful time. The motto for Upward Sports Ministries is "Every Child Plays... Every Child Learns... Every Child Wins!" We have found that to be true in our Upward Basketball and Cheerleading efforts during the winter months, and the spring soccer program has proven to be a wonderful ministry.
Upward is a sports ministry begun about 25 years ago at First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, SC under the direction of Caz McCaslin, a staff member of the church. Upward is now a national program with over 2,000 local churches doing ministry to children and families through Basketball, Cheerleading, Soccer, and Flag Football. Our church has opted to try Basketball, Cheerleading and Soccer, and it has been a good fit. Over two hundred reservations were received for our Upward Basketball and Cheerleading Awards Ceremony back in March. The crowd was so large that if the league grows next season (as we believe it will) we may have to move our games from the church gym to the Westmoreland Boys and Girls Club (in the former Westmoreland Elementary School Gym), one block down Hughes Street from the church.
Soccer has already proven a bigger draw for us, and we expect that the Soccer Awards Ceremony will be even better attended than the Basketball ceremony was.
The ministry is much different than other "youth sports programs". It is truly a ministry, as every game begins with prayer and every child gets a Biblical devotional each game. No ministry such as Upward would be possible without the unselfish dedication of the leaders, coaches, and helpers. An important part of our Upward ministry is the prayer team of over 100 church members who are praying for 100 days for the success of this ministry and the safety of the children involved. The coaches are dedicated Christians, who must give testimony of their relationship with Jesus Christ. Integrity is essential in the coaches as they are the primary role models for the young people involved. The coaches are positive, dedicated to instruction and building up the lives of these children, and well educated in the Upward system.
Jeff and Tara Lockhart head up our Soccer league, and have already devoted hours of their time, as well as assuming much expenses along the way. They joyfully give of themselves in this important ministry. Even some of our senior members have gotten deeply involved in Upward. Retired guys like Thamer Calhoun, Charley Dygert and Bob Moses have donated hours of their time and talents. Wonderful folks like Dallas and Dee Ashworth and Maxine Bias, man our concession stand at each basketball and soccer contest. They are not in it to "make money" for the league, but rather to provide a service to the kids and their fans. This past Saturday I heard one mother question the cost of the concessions she had purchased.
"Are you sure that's right?" she asked.
"That's right", Dallas answered.
"That can't be enough", she protested. "You all should raise your prices".
I smiled as Dallas explained, "We're doing this as a ministry".
We'd give it away if we could...
Someone has asked if we are trying to get all the families involved to attend Westmoreland Baptist Church. The answer is, we are trying to bring Jesus to every family involved. About half of the applicants listed home churches that they regularly attend, but half have no home churches. We want to show Christ's love to them!
In closing, I want to share an email with you that I received from a lady whose family has been attending our church on a regular basis since her son participated in Upward Basketball this past winter. I'll leave her name off, but I want you to get the gist of the message:
I would like to thank you for making us feel so welcome. When we first moved to Hughes Street, I told my husband and kids that I wanted to start attending your church. I was a little intimidated at first because I was worried about how "welcome" I would feel and I guess that's why it took me so long to start coming. The Upward Basketball program was the little 'push' that I needed. I feel like I've been a part of the church forever. I really do feel at home. Everyone there is so friendly. Thanks again. "
Now THAT's what I'm talking about! That's part of what makes Upward such a special ministry. I thank the Lord for opening this wonderful door of ministry to us at Westmoreland Baptist Church.