1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (New International Version)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that lasts forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
Creating Community Through Sports
Communities have been using sports to bring people together for thousands of years. The Apostle Paul often used sports, especially running analogies, to express faith. I believe Paul was captivated by what he must of witnessed watching the Olympic Games.
About seven years ago I had a meeting with Steve Hoover, Jr., about what sports could look like in a Christian context as opposed to how the world sometimes operates. At the time, Steve told me about coaching his son Reece’s baseball team. This team of boys were tight knit and played together for quite some time. They built a camaraderie and their teamwork was outstanding. The team was made up of Christians and nominally or non-religious kids.
When the Joplin tornado hit, Reece’s team raised money to send to Joplin to help. His team played in a tournament where a team from Joplin was also competing, and Reece’s team presented a check to the Joplin team for them to use to help rebuild from the devastation. Steve said as the kids gave the check to the Joplin team, there wasn’t a dry eye amongst his kids. This gift made an impact for all of the kids on his team, Christian and non-religious alike.
Reece’s team played really well and were always near the top of the standings record-wise. There was one other really good team in their league as well. That coach approached Steve about combining forces, merging the teams, so they could play in a more competitive higher level league. Steve thought about it, but declined because he would have to leave some of the kids on his team behind – kids he had taught, mentored and loved.
In my opinion, this is what Christian leadership looks like. Athletes love to compete, and I’m certain Steve’s first inclination was to do it – to compete at the highest level. But for their team there was something more important than trying to prove themselves: love. Love was the basis of the decision.
Reece’s team was great. The kids learned well how to play baseball. And as I write this, Reece is beginning to showcase his talent for colleges – he is planning to play college baseball.
For me, what makes Upward Sports the best alternative is the attention to 4 aspects of developing children. Upward calls it "MASS":
- Mentally: Helping kids make wise decisions
- Athletically: Improving physical abilities
- Spiritually: Embracing life’s purpose (the kids have a theme word and verse they focus on each week)
- Socially: Fostering healthy relationships (learning how to play as a team)
I see the building of this family life center as a tool to achieve so many things. One of them is to achieve the dream I believe God gave us to help disciple, mentor, and develop kids through sports.
Sports rallies communities. Remember when the Royals won the 2015 World Series? 800,000 people gathered near Union Station in celebration of a sports team.
Upward Basketball, Soccer, Baseball and Flag Football draw people from all over our community, both Christian and non-religious. Last year in Upward Basketball we had children from 26 different faith communities in Olathe, Lenexa, Shawnee, Overland Park and even Lawrence. We also had many people without a church home.
One of my favorite aspects of Upward Sports is that we scholarship kids from our two partner schools, Ridgeview Elementary and Fairview Elementary. We have built relationships with families every week during the seasons that we would never had truly known before Upward.
One of the primary reasons I wanted to start Upward was not just for the kids – it also it connects young parents, women and men, in serving opportunities they would normally be doing in the local sports community, but now are doing differently, incorporating teaching Scripture as a part of weekly practice. Parents are teaching the Bible to their kids! Not only their kids, but the community’s kids.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop sharing my excitement here. Come check out a game, or even just a practice to see what’s happening. It is truly exciting and definitely a Godly undertaking!