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Basketball with outreach gaining popularity in SBC

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (BP)–In contrast to the workplaces of other athletic directors, Caz McCaslin’s office is not filled with trophies and framed articles about wins and losses but with testimonies about changed lives.
Letters that report success in reaching children and their families for Christ through Upward Basketball validate McCaslin’s philosophy that having an intentionally evangelistic sports program can positively affect individuals, communities and churches.
“All around our country are wonderful church gymnasiums and Christian life centers being used to reach lost people for Christ,” he observed. “However, there are many other churches whose members are not sure why people are not being reached through their facility.”
While McCaslin, president of Upward Unlimited in Spartanburg, S.C., affirms the “one thousand and one” uses churches find for these facilities, he maintains “a gym was first meant to be used for basketball.”
McCaslin began a sports program for more than 200 children from grades one through six while he was minister of recreation at First Baptist Church, Spartanburg. Upward Basketball emerged from that program with the purpose “to help children, their families and friends to look upward, beyond basketball, to commitment to Christ.”
When the number of participants at First Baptist, Spartanburg, reached 700, a friend suggested he write a book about Upward Basketball to help other churches become involved.
Today, more than 12,000 children nationwide are involved in Upward Basketball, with participation expected to reach 40,000 children next year. Younger children play without keeping score, and for all ages every child plays in every game for equal amounts of time.
Leagues formed within a church have one hour of practice during the week and a game on Saturday. Coaches share a devotional at each practice to build a relationship with the children, and at the last practice, a complete gospel presentation is given.
The program reaches parents and coaches as well. During halftime at every game, church members share their testimonies, and at the end of the season, a Christian athlete is invited to present the plan of salvation to all who have been involved. Children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and coaches are provided an opportunity to make a public profession of faith in Christ.
Among McCaslin’s collection of testimonies is a letter from Rob Elliott, minister of recreation at First Baptist Church, Gardendale, Ala.
“Lives of coaches, players and parents are being changed each and every week,” Elliott wrote. “After the first game we had a sixth-grade player make a public profession in church. We had a father who sat in on practice each week who saw his son being taught Christian principles and thought he should and could do that. He went to a church that Sunday and was saved. Our coach went with the family and saw him baptized that night. God is so good.”
Training for Upward Basketball is open to ministers of recreation, children’s pastors and laypersons, enabling anyone to set up a sports outreach program in their church.
Resources, including player jerseys, awards, coach’s shirts and training videos and manuals, are available from Upward Unlimited at 1-800-585-4721, and the cost of training and the program usually is covered by modest participant’s fees without affecting the church’s budget, McCaslin said.
A pilot program for Upward Baseball is being tested this year. Upward Soccer, volleyball and other sports will be added as programs can be developed.
Upward Basketball is jointly sponsored by Upward Unlimited and the Baptist Sunday School Board’s church recreation program.

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  • Charles Willis