By Kayla Rinker
BOURBON – Inside the gym the music started, the fog machine kicked on and a crowd of people stood up, ready to cheer for their favorite players.
Outside the gym, 10 anxious and beaming faces waited for their name to be announced on the loudspeaker.
“I wish you could see their faces when they come running out,” said Cindy Ware, member of Calvary Baptist Church in Bourbon and director of the church’s Upward Basketball program. “Some kids are never recognized for anything at all and when they hear their name they are so proud and so excited.”
With one Upward Basketball season under their belt, the people of Calvary Bourbon have already deemed the ministry program a huge success in their community. Evidence of that success came during the end-of-season award ceremony, where the church saw 35 professions of faith. That number is astounding considering there were only 53 players in the entire league.
“That was really a ‘Wow’ moment,” said Toni Gibbs, member of Calvary Bourbon and coach of one of the Upward teams. “The whole season was great but it felt like we had the Devil working against us, I mean, it was just one thing going wrong after another. And then at the end of the season, when the pastor was doing his invitation and all those children came forward in front of their friends and parents, well, it was most definitely a ‘Wow’ moment.”
Members of Calvary Bourbon, a church averaging fewer than 100 people in Sunday worship, were also pleased with life lessons taught to the children during Upward.
“It was such a fun way to spread God’s word to our community,” Gibbs said. “I’m a very competitive person so it was hard for me to adjust to the Upward style. But, it was good for me and it was great for the kids. The program helped the children develop their self confidence and it has made a world of difference in how they treat others. It’s a great balance.”
Ware recalled one family in particular that seemed to benefit greatly from the Upward season.
“The family has three boys and when they signed up everyone said, ‘You don’t want them involved. Those kids are trouble,’” she said. “Teachers couldn’t make them happy at school and one of the little boys even got kicked out of school. But, before our season was over, that little boy was so caring. He would help up the kids who fell down and he was really nice to the other ones.”
Because of its small size, many might question how a church like Calvary Bourbon could put together the volunteers to organize an Upward Basketball season.
Gibbs said though Calvary hosted the season and its members did much of the organizing, the church’s version of Upward was a community event.
“There were many people from other churches in our community who became involved,” she said. “They led devotions, helped as coaches, ran the concession stand and refereed. We were a group of Christians united and working toward the same goal.”
Though the children in Bourbon aren’t scheduled to sign up for next season’s Upward until October, plans for expansion and improvement of the program are already underway.
“Next year we will be starting Upward Cheerleading to bring in more people,” Gibbs said. “We are also hoping to have a bigger turnout for basketball so that we can separate the girls and the boys. Last season we mixed the boys and girls together and it worked pretty well. It would just be nice to have enough kids that we could separate them.”