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Moving Upward

By Matthew Brown.

Girls play ball during an Upward game in the FBC gym.

Smoke and music fill the air. The crowd rises, claps and begins to cheer! Cheerleaders’ names are announced as they begin to line up in anticipation! Smiles, excitement, eagerness, and even some adrenaline fill the room. More smoke billows as each player’s name is announced!

Madison Brown! That’s my daughter. She has had her name announced Saturday after Saturday for the last six Upward seasons. I have not only been there to hear her name announced each of those Saturdays, but I have had the pleasure of personally announcing her name on many of those occasions. I am one of the two MC/Announcers for Upward at First Baptist Church. Maron El-Khouri and I have been tag-teaming these duties for the last six seasons. This season, I had all three of my children on Upward teams, for the first and last time. That’s because Upward runs from 1st through 6th grade, and this year my daughter is in sixth grade and my youngest is in first grade.

Adam Brown! My eldest son has had his name announced for three seasons.

Jonathan Brown! My youngest – this year was his first year running through the “tunnel” and having his name announced.

Children who participate in Upward sports are encouraged to have a relationship with Christ. Each Upward team meets together for practice once a week, during which they have a devotional. They are given cards with memory verses for the week ahead, and they take time to discuss what God is doing in their lives. After every game, players receive a star which they apply to their uniforms. These stars are earned by memorizing the weekly verse and by their efforts during the Saturday games. Each of the Upward stars has a different color and a different meaning. The blue star represents effort, the gold star represents sportsmanship, the gray star represents offense, the red star represents defense, and the white star represents Christlikeness.

Upward is very much a part of our family… and it all started with a phone call.

Chris and Laura Harris

Chris Harris and his wife, Laura, called my wife, Candi, and me, a little over six years ago. They wanted to know if we would be interested in helping them with something that had been on Chris’s heart for over a year. Chris felt very strongly that God was calling him to a mission right here in Richmond. His mission was to reach young people through sports. Basketball was the game. He began his involvement with Upward basketball by helping his brother at another church in the Richmond area, and Chris had witnessed the impact that it had had there.

Cheerleading adds a sense of excitement and fellowship at Upward games.

He had seen that congregation come together to support the Upward Program and had witnessed lives being transformed. He saw children coming to play basketball, but something amazing was happening at the same time. The children were learning more than just how to dribble a basketball, how to pass the ball, how to run a play and make a shot. It wasn’t even that they were learning about sportsmanship and the value of friendship and integrity. The children that he saw were being transformed. Chris wanted to know if we would lend a hand to help bring some of that transformative energy to First Baptist. How can you say no to that?

Here are a couple of facts about Upward at FBC:

During the 2011 season we had 147 players on 22 teams, and 20 cheerleaders on three teams.

On the average game day there are 18 volunteers who run the program, along with 25 coaches, 25 team parents, 12 volunteer score keepers, 24 volunteer referees, and volunteers for the halftime devotion for each game –  that’s more than 100 volunteers each Saturday.

Six years ago I got a call. This call is going out to you now. Are you going to answer? Volunteers are always welcome with Upward. One easy option is to come to the Gym during the season and cheer on some children as they reach for something a little higher.

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