By Bonnie Mentel

According to its website, “Upward Sports is the world’s largest Christian youth sports provider. Today, approximately half a million players at more than 2,000 churches in 47 states participate in camps, clinics, and leagues through Upward Sports’ Recreation Division.”

When the MAC facility opened at First Baptist of Brandon eight years ago, the staff looked at starting an Upward Sports league. The purpose of the league is to introduce kids to sports who might not be able to play elsewhere and to introduce the gospel to children.

“Every practice will have a five-minute devotion. The child will learn a Bible verse and talk about a character virtue of Jesus Christ,” Kevin Ohme, Minister of Activities, said. Ohme said that most of the time children make up their mind about their religious beliefs by the time they’re 12.

The Upward Sports program at First Baptist of Brandon offers flag football, soccer, and cheerleading for children from Kindergarten to eighth grade.

“Every kid is going to play the exact amount of playing time. They have a substitute system that they use. That kind of takes it out of the coach’s hand. Whoever is in the game at a particular time is in the game. It’s more of a league for beginners; for those who may have never had an introduction to the sport which makes it a great, safe environment. The emphasis is not on winning, but on having fun while learning about the sport,” Ohme said.

The season begins with two evaluations, although every child will make the team. The evaluations ensure that the teams can be made as even as possible. They don’t want to have one team dominating all the others. There is an award ceremony at the end of every season with useful prizes, and occasionally, there will be trophies given out.

“That’s all included in the price. We usually charge about $90 per child to play. It’s an eight-game season with a couple of practices beforehand. They practice one night a week for an hour. The games are also an hour and take place on Saturdays,” Ohme said.

Soccer registration begins in early April and closes Saturday, May 14. The first practice will start at the end of May. The first game will be on Saturday, June 11. The teams will play eight Saturdays in a row and then that season will be over. Toward the end of September, registration will open for basketball and cheerleading.

“We never turn a kid away because they can’t afford it. I always talk to the parents when they come in to tell me they have a hardship. I’ll ask them what the reasoning is behind that and I’ll ask them what they can do and what they can afford,” he said. To register, visit www.fbcbrandon. org/mac and click on the Leagues and Camps link, or visit www.upward.org. Contact 315-3280 or kevin.ohme@fbcbrandon.org. Membership to the MAC is open to the public.