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Officials, coaches make Upward league a success

I was never very good at basketball as a young man, though I could dunk when the stars aligned. I’d be lucky to grab the bottom of the net these days.

Aside from that feat, I was really pretty terrible at the game. And I’ve never been a big fan of watching basketball, either professional or college. It’s just not for me.

But Upward Basketball, on the other hand, is something I’ve grown to appreciate and love. First Baptist Brookhaven hosts an Upward league each year, and my son — who hopefully did not inherit my skills — loves to play each Saturday.

The best part about the league is that while it may be competitive, winning isn’t the priority. Learning the game and learning to respect the officials and each other comes first. There’s also a spiritual element that teaches the athletes about God. It’s a great program that no doubt sparks a love of the game in many children.

The teams are evenly matched and players are paired up with an opponent of similar skill and size. They are only allowed to guard that player. It helps keep the scores close and we’ve been on both ends of last-second comebacks. We’ve seen more than a couple buzzer-beating 3-pointers.

The coaches are caring, the officials are knowledgeable and the parents are pretty well behaved.

The program began as a basketball league at a single church and has spread to churches nation-wide. The parent organization — Upward Sports — is the world’s largest Christian youth sports program, according to its website.

Its mission is simple: promoting the discovery of Jesus through sports.

The games at First Baptist sometimes come with a halftime devotion and teams often have prayer and devotion time.

The local league wouldn’t be possible without the support of the church and many volunteers, including the officials. The same two officials spend their entire Saturday on the court, calling fouls and encouraging athletes from morning to evening. They are patient, call the games as fairly as possible and teach the game, without pay.

From a parent’s perspective, they are the reason the games are possible. Without caring officials seeking to encourage, the games could easily get bogged down in excessive foul calls. I would bet there’s a potential foul every time the ball comes down the court. But they are patient with their whistles and encouraging with their words. It’s impressive to say the least.

Most of the children who participate will not go on to play basketball at the high school level. Even fewer will play at the college level. But they all will have the opportunity to learn the game and, more importantly, learn the value of playing as a team and playing respectfully. That’s a win all day long.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.