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OUR OPINION: Upward scores for youth

Start with a competition, add equal measures of teamwork and cooperation, sprinkle liberally with devotion and you have a basic recipe for Upward Basketball.

Upward Basketball is a faith-based, athletic activity for youth. The Upward program has added a cheerleading component for youth who choose not to or cannot participate in basketball.

The program is sponsored and hosted locally at three churches that share the same block of East Capitol Avenue. They are: First Baptist Church, First Christian Church and First United Methodist Church.

An opportunity to have fun is the drawing card for the program.

But the activity also is linked to learning, building character traits and growing in faith.

What sets the Upward League apart is its tone, according to Gary Gonder, league commissioner for First Christian Church.

“This is about teamwork and being positive,” Gonder said.

The devotional aspect plays an integral role in the Upward program, perhaps most apparent during the customary halftime devotion.

“I think it’s a positive place because it involves Christ,” said Carvella Bennett, a cheer squad coach. “It’s structured, but Christ is still a part of it; they still pray.”

The program this year includes more than 450 students, including youth from area communities, divided into about 40 basketball teams and five cheer squads.

In addition, about 60 parents and community members volunteer to coach and another 40 officiate.

And that’s the Upward Program’s added bonus – the opportunity for adults to be involved and engaged not only with their church, but with the young people who will follow them.

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