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Church’s Sports Programs Help Kids Build Self-Esteem and Develop Spiritually

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The Church: Centreville United Methodist Church in Centreville, Virginia
The Challenge: Building self-esteem and spiritual development in kids.
One Big Idea: Create a sports-oriented children’s program.

Children who are active in sports have better health, more positive self-esteem and a lower risk of negative influences. But the 500 kids involved in Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at Centreville United Methodist Church (CUMC) in Virginia also have the chance to learn about God.

Children in kindergarten through sixth grade can join a basketball team or a cheerleading squad for a season that runs January through March. Volunteer coaches lead team devotions on biblical virtues and emphasize character development by awarding stars for positive actions and attitudes. Referees lead pregame prayer.

“This program gets everyone—kids and adults—so excited,” says Zach Ayers, the new league director. “Everybody comes together as one to celebrate each child.”

The church’s program is a partner ministry of Upward Sports, a Christian youth sports provider serving more than 2,000 churches and 500,000 children nationwide. According to Ayers, approximately one-third of the student athletes are from CUMC, one-third from other churches and the remainder are unchurched.

“We love the smiles on the kids’ faces when they score a basket, and we celebrate with them,” says Referee Commissioner David “Hoop” Hoopengardner of the program’s all-for-one attitude. “That’s pretty cool when you think about it—when’s the last time you saw a referee celebrate with a player?”

After each game, players and cheerleaders are individually acknowledged at post-game huddles. Teams have pancake parties, if they play early in the morning, or pizza parties in the afternoon.

CUMC has an English as a Second Language class and lets other churches use its facilities, but the sports program remains the most popular.

“A kindergartener may go to the free-throw line and make a shot and everyone gives him a standing ovation,” Ayers says. “The look on his face is priceless.”

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Centreville, Virginia

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