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Church Basketball League Teaches Sportsmanship over Winning

"Upward" balances teamwork and sportsmanship

It’s hard to picture a youth basketball or baseball league game where coaches don't scream at the kids, parents aren’t fuming in the bleachers and one side doesn’t go home labeled as ‘losers.’

But, you won’t see any of that if you visit the youth winter basketball program called Upward sponsored by the .

Each Upward team is equally divided according to players' abilities, with talented players balanced against ones with emerging skill sets. The games are held on Saturdays during the winter for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, but scores aren’t kept for the games of the younger kids, said Jim Ayers, co-director of the church’s program.

 The game as it’s played at the church is a celebration of teamwork and sportsmanship without the “hot-dogging” that can be seen in playground pick-up games around the community, said Ayers, a Centreville defense analyst whose own teenaged son helps out on Saturdays.

 “We try to give each team a talent mix and have every child participate in the game and on the court,” Ayers said. “We try to make sure the predatory player doesn’t take over the game.”

Each coach has to abide by a formal rotation plan to make sure every player on his squad gets adequate playing time. Players are given colored wrist bands that signify their skill level. Because zone defense is prohibited, only same-skill level players, ones with white wrist bands for example, can defend against each other.

 Melanie Arnold, of Centreville, has had her son, Chris, 11, playing in the league since first grade. She said she appreciates what the Upward program, through the church, is trying to do.

 “It’s a great program,” Arnold said. “Here it’s OK to make a mistake and everybody works together as a team to boost each other up. I just love this program.”

 Players don’t have to be members of the church to take part, Ayers said. In fact, more non-church members are participants in the program, counting players and volunteers, than church members. It’s been running for about six years and has been at its 500-player capacity for most of that time, Ayers said. Plus, all the players get a big NBA-style introduction at the beginning of the games, getting to burst through a swath of artificial fog as they run onto the court.

Kim McCready, another Centreville parent, has two children in the program, Samantha, 9, and Bailey, 12. They both enjoy playing in the games, she said.

 “It’s not as competitive and it’s very family oriented,” McCready said. Although the sideline catcalls are missing from this program, the parents still join in cheering for their children, she said.

“My kids are always telling me I’m the loudest mom out there,” McCready said.   

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