GAME DAY Youth Sports Magazine — Upstate SC - February 2012
Onward & Upward
Founded in Spartanburg on a vision and prayer in 1995, this growing ministry uses sports to preach the gospel to thousands of kids, families on courts, fields across N. America
At their best, sports can encourage children to be physically fit while they learn skills, good sportsmanship, discipline and teamwork.
For some kids, however, the experience is a negative one. Parents and coaches might put too much pressure on them. Or they might sit on the bench for the entire season, never getting a chance to play, improve and build self-confidence.
Upward Sports aims to emphasize the positive aspects of sports, giving each child equal playing time and incorporating a Christian message.
For Caz McCaslin, founder and president of Upward Sports, the root of the organization began at First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, where he served as church recreation director. He started a basketball league at the church and included values such as integrity, sportsmanship and respect as integral parts of the sports experience. As the league grew, McCaslin formed Upward Sports in 1995.
The organization has expanded to include over 2,400 churches throughout the U.S. and Canada. More than half a million children now participate in sports like basketball, flag football, soccer and cheerleading. Despite its growth, Upward continues to be headquartered on Spartanburg’s west side, just off of Hwy. 29.
“Our goal was to create a league that would honor Christ, allow kids to have fun and experience healthy competition, and where we could incorporate biblical principles into the sports experience,” Mc- Caslin explains.
“A lot of people are looking for an opportunity for their young children to play a sport in a fun environment. Upward Sports guarantees that they will not only learn the sport through equal playing time over the course of the season but also learn virtues such as courage, joy and respect,” he adds.
For Cory Wall, student minister at Green Point Bapist Church in Inman, this sets Upward apart from other leagues.
“We’ve all been to ‘those leagues’ where coaches and parents lose their tempers and things are said that aren’t exactly G-rated. With Upward, we take that out of the picture and replace that with words of affirmation. The pressure is off, and kids are encouraged to have fun and do their best,” he says.
Green Point is finishing their second year with Upward, having offered flag football, cheerleading and soccer. Wall says that partnering with Upward has allowed the church to get its name out into the community and reach more people, in addition to giving its members an opportunity to serve as coaches, referees, greeters and more.
“In only two years, the number of young families in our church has definitely increased. While all these families may not directly participate in Upward, I like to think they came to Green Point because they heard that we are a church that reaches out to children and their families,” he says.
As they play Upward Sports, children learn virtues that they can utilize in their daily lives, Wall explains. They are given positive encouragement and learn that they are important to God.
Michelle Winebrenner’s two children, Jordan and Bethany, have played Upward soccer and basketball locally.
“I love the fact that they have been able to learn how to play the sports and develop their skills as an athlete in an environment that doesn’t have the pressure of other organized leagues,” she says.
She also appreciates the fact that children are coached by Christian men and women that share her family›s value system.
“The impact of the devotions and that we should glorify God in all areas of our life has definitely been something that both of my children can take from their experience with Upward that they may not have gotten from another sports league,” she says.
“I also love that every child gets equal playing time and every child is celebrated after each game with stars for team spirit, offense, defense, Christlikeness, etcetera. It helps build their character,” Winebrenner adds.
Anna Steadman of Boiling Springs also likes that Christian music plays during the games or at halftime and that devotions are offered at halftime.
“Most importantly, I know that my son (Josh) came away from it not caring that he wasn’t the best player or that he didn’t make the most goals, but feeling good about himself and knowing he was a valuable part of a team,” she says.
Josh enjoyed the experience so much that his younger sister, Hope, 5, plans to play her first sport this spring as she participates in Upward soccer.
Upward clearly has had a positive impact on many parents, children and churches, but McCaslin›s goal is to expand the organization›s reach even further.
Through a conversation with a senior pastor whom he respects, he has come to believe that God’s next step for Upward would be for the organization to reach 4 million children and their families during one season.