For parents who love getting their kids involved with sports but are concerned about demanding coaches and schedules or their children not getting to play in a game, the Edmond Upward program will put their minds at ease.
James Worley started Edmond Christian Sports Association (ECSA) in 1990, five years before hearing about Upward, a sports program that promotes salvation, character and self-esteem and is designed for kindergarten through sixth grade boys and girls. Eventually, Worley decided to merge Upward and ECSA and started Edmond's Upward sports program. He oversees basketball and the east Upward soccer program.
"I started the ECSA because we were playing in the Royal Ambassador's basketball league and all of our games were in Oklahoma City," said Worley. "So I got together, first with Henderson Hills Baptist Church, then Southern Hills Christian Church, and finally the Cathedral of the Hills Assembly of God, and they all agreed to let me use their gyms for basketball games. But after I heard about the Upward program, I realized that what they were doing would help us to significantly improve our program."
Now that soccer season is underway, Van Greenwood, Minister of Recreation and Community Outreach at Quail Springs Baptist Church, manages the West Upward soccer program. He is excited to share his passion with kids after twenty-two years of soccer experience.
"Our Upward soccer program has grown significantly over the past year," Greenwood said. "Worley has over 100 children in the East Upward program, and we (West) have over 200 kids.
Greenwood teamed up with Jeff Degiacomo at Highland Hills Baptist Church, who offered their fields, and says they are somewhat like the YMCA except "we utilize existing church fields rather than going into cities and building our own facilities."
Similar to what once were the ESCA game rules, the Upward program introduced a few other attributes. Unlike the ECSA, children in the Upward program are not required to attend a specific church, and the referees are not paid. Instead, with Upward, volunteer referees attend games and parents and children participate in a two to three minute scripture-based devotional during half time. They also give unique awards to each player after every game.
"Everyone receives an award because every child is a winner with Upward," said Worley. The Upward program provides awards for each participant, based on their positive contributions to the game.
The awards are given out in a form of iron-on fabric stars that are placed on a player's jersey or t-shirt. A white star, the most renowned award, stands for the child who is the most Christlike during the game. A blue star for best effort, yellow for most spirited, gray for best offense, red for best defense, and the green star for the child who memorized the half time scripture most accurately.
Two other attributes to the program include a special substitution rule, making sure every player gets equal playing time as well as matching players to competitors who reflect their own skill level.
"Your best player doesn't always start or end a game," said Worley. "This builds self-esteem among many of the children who may sit on the bench with their club or high school sports teams. Many of them leave their current sports teams because they get to be on the field at Upward. It also gives kids a chance to improve upon their current skill level.
"Our objective is that children will experience the thrill of victory and endure the frustrations of losing in a Christ-like attitude, and they will carry over those experiences into real life situations," said Worley. "I feel children deserve a sport's program where people don't judge them based on their denomination. And if they are going to be involved with extracurricular activities they might as well be playing in a Christian atmosphere."
There are roughly 300 children involved from over 41 different churches in the current Upward soccer program offered in Edmond and over 100 percent increase in participation from last year. Over forty parents volunteer at the Saturday matches and the one-hour weekday practices. There are also plans of assimilating an Upward flag-football program for this coming fall. Money left over from the previous year provides scholarships for families who are unable to pay the $60 enrollment fee.
Worley smiled and added, "God created this program and I just happened to be in the way."
For more information on volunteering or getting your children involved in Upward, please go to www.upward.org or contact James Worley at [email protected]