GALLIPOLIS — Twenty years? Where has the time gone? Twenty years ago Bill Clinton was president with George W. Bush on the campaign trail, Justin Timberlake was still in NSYNC and the release of the first iPhone was still seven years away.
Though many things have changed, the Upward Basketball/Cheerleading program at the Gallipolis First Church of the Nazarene, a consistent presence in lives of now generations of young people, recently celebrated its 20th season.
Doug and Elaine Brown of Point Pleasant, W.Va., help lead the program along with the assistance of a few (but mighty) faithful volunteers. Children’s pastor RuthAnn Fellure is credited with originally bringing the national program to the church, the latter of which has sponsored Upward Sports in the community for two decades. During that time, it’s estimated thousands of children have participated.
Upward Sports was established in 1995 as the world’s largest Christian youth sports provider. Upward Sports is the only organization that offers the 360 Progression, described as a uniquely designed total sports experience that adapts and expands as players grow in their personal athletic journeys. The 360 Progression develops total athletes mentally, athletically, spiritually and socially — producing players who excel both on and off the field.
The practices at Upward Sports are also unique in that players break for prayer, devotionals and a spiritual lesson at half-court when the coach determines. Elaine said the children contribute to these breaks by asking questions and leading prayers.
The Upward program at the Nazarene Church includes a majority of players from not only Gallia County but neighboring Meigs and Mason counties. This season there were 17 coaches and 69 participants in Upward Basketball/Cheerleading with 10 percent of those who were sponsored individuals with donations by the church.
“To see the excitement as they master one of the skills or make their first basket is priceless,” Elaine and Doug said in a note to church members. “Some of the cheerleaders have never been part of an organized program that encourages and supports them. Our coaches have a love for the sport and show the girls what true love truly looks like. A genuine Christ like love. The impact of your donation may not be seen, but please know lives are being changed.”
Over the years, those in the Upward program at the church have continued in their love of basketball by playing for their local high schools and in some cases on state championship teams.
A statement from Elaine and Doug continued, “Several of the athletes have even been blessed to play on a collegiate level. Countless players have passed through the fellowship hall doors, hearing the word of God, learning the skills of the game, sportsmanship, and making lifelong friends. Numerous players have gone on to become doctors, physical therapists, teachers, pastors, engineers, and RN’s. Through the program many parents, caregivers, grandparents and friends have been touched in their walk with Christ.”
Twenty seasons of anything in life is a commitment but Elaine says she and Doug have continued on with the program because of the children it impacts. The children may change but their desire to participate does not. She says in the offseason it’s not uncommon to have a player find her husband out shopping and ask, “Mr. Doug, when is Upward starting? Did I miss sign-ups?”
“The kids look forward to it,” Elaine said, stressing no child is turned away due to physical or intellectual disabilities or behavioral issues. All children are given an opportunity to play, to be a part of a team where they learn differences are nothing to fear. Also, every coach makes an effort to be sure each child makes at least one basket each season.
The season, which includes a few weeks of practice prior to games, begins shortly after the new year and continues through the first week of March. Games will continue through this month.
For more information on the Upward Basketball/Cheerleading program at the Gallipolis First Church of the Nazarene, call 740-446-1772.
Beth Sergent contributed to this article.
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