p>The Upward basketball season just ended at First Baptist Church of Thomson, and 134 kids were winners.
In Upward basketball, no stats or league standings are kept. In fact, no score at all is kept for the younger teams.
"The idea of Upward isn't about winning a game, as much as it is teaching these kids how to win at life," said David Lambert, the youth minister of First Baptist and organizer of Upward basketball in Thomson. "Teaching them the skills of team work and respecting people in authority, how to win and how to lose, to build character and self esteem -- these are the things we want to do through Upward. So, we downplay competitiveness."
The children's own natural competitiveness shines through, Mr. Lambert said, as each one still works hard to shoot the ball and make a basket. The coaches capitalize on that to further the mission of Upward. At the end of each game, the coaches award a color-coded star to every player, which can be ironed on the players' jerseys.
"The different colors mean different things," Mr. Lambert said. "For best offense, best defense, most improvement, most Christ-like character, making a basket for the first time, making a defensive play for the first time, things like that. The coaches award those and celebrate what each kid does that's worth celebrating."
This year's season in Thomson had two leagues with 19 teams, dividing into grade levels for first through sixth grades.
Upward basketball only plays man-on-man defense, with players paired according to their ability, Mr. Lambert said. And that is one of the qualities that drew the Wells' family to Upward. Tom and Krista Wells' 10-year-old son, Tommy, has played Upward basketball for three years.
Coaches use a predetermined rotation to ensure all players get equal playing time.
"It helps each kid improve their game and keeps them from being discouraged," Mr. Lambert said. "After they finish Upward, we want each child to feel confident and feel that they can go out and join a team and not be intimidated."
In addition to learning the drills and skills of basketball, each practice has a devotional time centered on a scripture verse the players were supposed to learn that week.
Only one hourlong practice and one game are held each week for eight weeks, so busy families are not overwhelmed, Mr. Lambert said. Less stress apparently means more fun.
"Tommy loves it," Mrs. Wells said. "He woke up early every Saturday morning in anticipation of his game. And we would have to be at practice an hour early because he was so excited. ... I think it's really great for young kids."
Mr. Lambert said registration will begin in September for next year's season. Brochures will be sent home to all students in first through sixth grades in McDuffie County schools and Briarwood Academy.