Athletics, gospel team up
By Andy Mead
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
It's a cool, damp fall afternoon, and a group of 6- and 7-year-olds are practicing soccer in a grassy field in Lexington, Ky.
Eric and Kim Lake sit on the sidelines in folding chairs, watching their son T.J. kick the ball. A visitor asks what they think of this league.
"I like it quite a bit," Eric says. "It teaches the modified rules of the game, and every kid gets to play the exact same amount of time."
Kim says, "The emphasis is taken off winning and put on having fun and learning the game."
"And sportsmanship," Eric says. "And then at the same time, the gospel is presented throughout the year. Each week, the kids have a (Bible) verse that they learn. It's more family-oriented."
"And the parents cheer for both teams," Kim adds.
This is Upward soccer. It is organized along the same Christian principles as Upward flag football, basketball and cheerleading.
Caz McCaslin, who developed the Upward idea in 1986 when he was a recreation minister in Spartanburg, S.C., was a speaker at Georgetown College this month.
H.K. Kingkade, Georgetown College's director of religious life, was helping coach a flag football practice a few yards away from the soccer practice.
He said he was looking forward to Georgetown students and others hearing McCaslin talk about "the ministry of recreation" and how churches can use it to broaden their outreach.
"Here's a man who had a vision and God blessed it, and it's impacting kids all over the world," Kingkade said.
Upward has spread to more than 2,500 churches of various denominations in several countries and claims 500,000 participants from kindergarten to sixth grade.
The kids practicing off Winchester Road — and behind Macedonia Christian Church — were on a team organized by Calvary Baptist.
David Todd, who was coaching the flag football team, said he and his wife got involved with Upward before they had a child old enough to participate.
The kids playing on the Calvary Baptist teams don't necessarily attend the church, or any church.
"I've got nine kids on my team and all but two or three have listed a church," Todd said. "So with those two or three kids, there's an outreach opportunity."
A central part of Upward, he said, is how coaches and parents behave.
"They tell coaches, 'Don't jump on the referee,' " he said. "If the coach yells at a referee for a bad call, it in turn makes the parent feel that the coach saw a bad call, so (they're) going to jump on the referee, too."'
Todd, an engineer with Kentucky Utilities, is sold on the program.
"It's a unique program, and Caz does the best job of telling his vision and how it got started," Todd said.
His son, Chris, 8, was tossing an Upward football into the air. He said he liked playing Upward flag football "because my friends from church are here and I get to play with them."