The Upward program at Avalon Missionary Church and Mount Calvary Lutheran Church gives kids a lot more than just the chance to participate in soccer, basketball, and cheerleading. "Intertwining the teachings of Christ and the Gospel with athletics, Upward allows children to learn about Christianity through playing soccer, basketball and cheerleading", program director, Barb Mattax said. Mattax, along with her husband, Brad, coordinate all three sports.
Upward eliminates the negative aspects of organized sports by creating an atmosphere of equality for the players. "There's too much competition in sports," Mattax said. "We'd rather have every kid come in and be a winner. People don't want to be in a program in which their kids leave in tears. We want a program that is a positive encouragement for the kids." She explained that at matches and games each child gets equal playing time. The teams are also evenly matched according to each child's ability. "This helps kids feel really good about themselves," she said. At the end of each season an award ceremony is held for the participants.
The 2003 Upward Soccer season is set to begin on August 16th. Registration begins on July 7th. The eight-week program has 20 boys and girls teams with nearly 200 children playing. Players range in age from Kindergarten through eighth grade.
Teams meet each week to practice for an hour. During the practices there is a short devotion time in which players learn about Christ and the Gospel, Mattax said. Matches are held each Saturday on the Family Life Center Soccer Fields located at Avalon Missionary Church, 1500 Lower Huntington Road, in Waynedale. After each practice and match, players earn stars for best effort, sportsmanship, offense, and most Christ-like behavior, she said.
Players pay $60 to enroll in the soccer program. They receive two jerseys (home and visitor), soccer socks, a water bottle, a sports bag and an end of the year gift.
Caz McCaslin created Upward in 1985 in Spartansburg, South Carolina. Originally it was a small organization run locally. The program grew in popularity around the South Carolina area over the years eventually going national in 1995. According to the Upward Limited web site, the sport now has over 125,000 children participating. 600 churches in 38 states have leagues.
"The program has been well-received in the community. It's a huge success. It would be great if every child in Fort Wayne could be in the program," Mattax said. Area churches interested in the program can contact Barb Mattax through Avalon Missionary for help in setting up their own leagues. They can also visit the Upward web page at www.upward.com for detailed information on how to start an Upward program. Upward creator Caz McCaslin and his staff decided to implement a soccer program five years ago. McCaslin asked 6 churches throughout the country, who had been successful with Upward basketball and cheerleading, to pilot the new soccer program. Avalon Missionary was one of the chosen churches. It has been successful enough that McCaslin has allowed them to continue running it each year. "Although it is not a national program yet, Upward Soccer will eventually expand to churches across the country," Mattax said.