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Two Birmingham area churches test Upward Baseballcomment (0)

April 22, 2004

By Susan Chaffin Goggins

The sound of ball hitting bat is a sure sign that spring is here. And while church softball leagues have been popular for years, churches may soon have a new resource for sports ministry and outreach in Upward Baseball.

The program is still in the “exploratory stage,” said Tommy Yessick, director of Upward Unlimited, which offers evangelical sports programs for churches. Upward Baseball is being tested this spring in five churches including Gardendale’s First Baptist Church and Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover. Two churches in Georgia and one in Tennessee are also in the trial run.

Adding a sport to the Upward roster is a slow and deliberate process, according to Yessick. “Our goal is to get [new sports] to all churches as soon as we can, but our goal is also to keep a first-class program,” said Yessick. He would not venture a guess as to how long it will take to finalize the baseball program and make it available to the market. He said, “It all depends on the sport and how the trials shape up. Soccer, for example, took over a year.” After the season, Upward officials will meet with churches to review the season and discuss needed adjustments.

What are Upward developers looking for when testing a new sport? According to Yessick, the No. 1 priority is consistency with Upward ministry’s core values. Those values include establishing a prayer time, holding devotions during practice and at games for spectators, encouraging children with reward “stars” after each game, providing each child who participates with an equal chance to play and giving each child a Bible.

Yessick noted that application of these values has to be adjusted to each sport according to the game’s flow. “For example,” he said, “devotions are given at halftime of basketball games, but baseball has no halftime. One of the many questions to be answered for Upward Baseball is ‘When do you do the devotion?’”

But the program excites Alabama Baptist churches. Mike Cornelius, minister of sports outreach at Gardendale, said the response has been “fantastic.” They will be fielding 12 co-ed teams — six T-ball and six machine-pitch — for 132 children, 8 years old and younger. Each team requires a minimum of three coaches, but, Cornelius noted, “God has always put in place the right people at the right time.”

For Hunter Street, participating in the development phase of Upward Baseball is continuing an ongoing ministry. Hunter Street has offered its own Legacy Baseball program for the last two years. Hughes said they developed it based on the principles they had learned as longtime participants in Upward Basketball.

Successful participation in Upward Basketball was key to the Alabama churches chosen to be Upward Baseball participants, noted Yessick. Both churches have just completed a successful eighth year of Upward Basketball. Gardendale had 28 basketball teams with 208 children participating. According to Cornelius, these sports programs are a “tremendous outreach for the church.” Church membership is not a requirement for participation.

Hughes echoed the outreach success of Upward: “At our recent basketball awards, we saw 26 first-time professions of faith, two by adults.” He said about 50 percent of the children signed up for Upward Baseball are not Hunter Street Baptist members.

Hughes added that an interest in the church’s recreation ministry often leads to an interest in other church ministries.

Baseball is not the only sport in the developmental stage at Upward. Flag football will debut this fall as a pilot program in 21 churches. Two Alabama churches are included: Pine Grove Baptist Church, Centre, and Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville.

Upward is still best known for its basketball program, which is now played in more than 1,100 gyms. Upward Unlimited is based in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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