Skip to content

Upward Basketball going and growing

As the Raptors and Nuggets made final preparations to compete against each other on the basketball court, it was obvious that the players on both teams were ready to play their hearts out in hopes of winning the game.

The boys and girls gathered at the middle of the court where both teams faced off against each other as game time approached. It was at this point that the players reverently bowed their heads and prayed.

Welcome to the start of the season’s next-to-last Upward Basketball and Cheer game day held on a recent Saturday at the First Baptist Church Family Ministry Center in Desloge.

Josh Rinker, FBCD Family Ministry Center director explained that, while this is only his second season of leading Upward since joining the church staff around a year and a half ago, it’s about the eighth year that the church has offered the program.

“There are 37 teams — 34 basketball and three cheer,” he said. “We have a total of 310 players made up of kids ranging from kindergarten all the way up through sixth grade. As far as volunteers, there are as many as 70 people involved in the program.”

According to Rinker, FBCD is the only church in St. Francois County offering the multi-national program offered by Upward Sports, a non-profit Christian sports league designed for kids in grades K–8 that’s based in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

According to its website, Upward Sports was founded in 1995 by Caz McCaslin to provide children with “skills for the sports arena and values for life,” it offers four sports programs — basketball, flag football, soccer and cheerleading.

The church was drawn to the program because it stresses biblical values such as leadership, teamwork, integrity and respect — as much as winning.

“I guess what makes it a success here is that, unlike Farmington, there are no city leagues in Park Hills, Desloge or Bonne Terre,” he said. “That’s what draws people here.”

Rinker admitted there’s a lot he likes about the Upward Basketball and Cheer program.

“I’m a big basketball fan,” he said. “I played high school basketball and I have four boys — three of whom are playing. I’m also coaching three teams. I have a strong passion for basketball, but to be able to be involved in a program where not only do you get to play the game of basketball, but every practice we have a devotion with the kids where we get to share the gospel and the love of Jesus.

“One of the things that the Upward program is based on is that it’s based on the early ages. In the third and fourth grade it’s based on equal playing time, so the kids come in and we have a rotation. There’s even an app that can be used to keep your kids playing an equal amount of time. That’s good — the competition isn’t driven as hard, but the kids get a chance to play.”

Rinker said the program is a great way to reach out to unchurched children, but their families as well.

“I haven’t run the specific numbers, but when they fill out the form they’re asked what church they belong to,” he said. “At the minimum, it’s usually 33-40 percent that don’t attend church. Now, I’m not saying that all of them don’t attend church. Sometimes they just don’t put that in there, but on the flip side you probably have people who list a church who don’t really ever go. But there’s a big portion and I know, for me personally, I ask my team who goes to church — and it’s usually about one-third of them who don’t go anywhere on a regular basis. This is definitely a good opportunity.”

Rinker stressed that, while the Upward Basketball and Cheer program is held at FBCD, it’s truly a community-wide affair.

“Our coaches come from all over,” he said. “We have David AuBuchon who is the pastor of the Church of God here in Desloge. We have deacons from Esther Baptist Church. We have people from all over the different churches that are coaching and helping out with this, so it’s awesome the opportunity we have. At the church we have a great place to host it, but there’s also the other churches in the area that are supporting it through coaching and bringing their kids here.”

Rinker noted that the Upward Basketball and Cheer program runs a total of eight weeks and is open to both boys and girls.

“We start the third week of January and end the second week of March,” he said. “Our cutoffs for signups is in November. We have online registration, so they can go to the church’s website at www.fbcdesloge.net where there’s a link to click to it. You can also go to the Upward Sports site (www.upward.org), look up our league and register there. The cost is $60 which includes a jersey, participation stars and the end-of-season award.

All-in-all, Rinker believes things are going great with Upward Basketball and Cheer and that the church is expecting to have another great season in 2018.

“I know that I’ve only been here two years, but this is one of the best years I believe that we’ve had,” he said. “We’ve had a great number of participants and volunteers and it’s all gone so smoothly.”

At the end of the season, an awards celebration was held with master magician Pastor D.J. Edwards performing. 

Prior to the start of Saturday's game, players on the first/second grade Raptors and Nuggets teams bow their heads in prayer. Joining in are Raptors coach Jesse Sproat, left, and Nuggets coach Nathan Pruett, right, along with the game referees and Sproat's daughter, Jessica, who assists her father.

Prior to the start of Saturday’s game, players on the first/second grade Raptors and Nuggets teams bow their heads in prayer. Joining in are Raptors coach Jesse Sproat, left, and Nuggets coach Nathan Pruett, right, along with the game referees and Sproat’s daughter, Jessica, who assists her father.

A member of the Raptors team races down court with the ball while the Nuggets try their best to stop him from scoring.

A member of the Raptors team races down court with the ball while the Nuggets try their best to stop him from scoring.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

Leave a Comment