League director Tim Wellsand knows firsthand the character-building value of Upward Basketball.
His son, David, played the first year Denver Baptist Church hosted Upward and continued through elementary school, served as a game referee while in high school -- and now helps as a coach.
“It makes me proud to see the growth in his life throughout the different stages of this program,” Tim said.
And as the Wellsands prepare for Upward registration and player evaluations at the DBC gym on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to noon and on Sunday, Nov. 11 from noon to 2 p.m., both are excited about the benefits for area youth.
“Often people find other youth sports programs overly competitive to the point of not being that enjoyable,” Tim said. “Our program gives every player a chance to enjoy playing and improve without so much pressure put on the score and winning.”
Instead, emphasis is placed on developing skills, character, sportsmanship, and faith. Upward’s motto for this season puts it this way: “Play with Purpose.”
“The environment at an Upward game is fun without being overly competitive,” he said. “The players all get equal playing time and take turns handling the ball and running plays. Teams often work together to ensure that every player gets an opportunity to score a basket.”
In fact, it was that kind of cooperation that brought the program to Denver in the first place.
Almost two decades ago, some members of the church heard about Upward’s goal of helping kids not just athletically, but spiritually and socially as well -- and shared the idea of hosting it at DBC.
Soon after, the congregation caught the vision. The church’s new fellowship hall, they decided, would be built large enough to hold a junior high-sized basketball court.
“We were then able to start out our first season after the completion of the fellowship hall,” Tim said.
Turnout was solid that inaugural year, and attendance steadily increased as more people were exposed to the program, he said.
Fewer players participated last season. But those who did say they still got a lot out of it, Tim said.
“We’ve had several people ask if we would continue the program again this year because they wanted the opportunity to have their child participate. As long as we have enough people valuing the program for their kids, it’s important for Upward to continue,” he said.
One unintended benefit, according to Tim: Upward has brought together people from different area churches to work together. “I’ve met a lot of fellow Christian parents helping out as coaches or in other roles that I would likely have not worked alongside otherwise,” he said.
For example, Jon Maverick’s sons, Grayson, 11, and Asher, 8, have taken part for several years, while Maverick himself has coached league teams.
“My wife and I both have spread the word to many friends and had friends with kids who joined the league,” Maverick said. “It’s very beneficial...Tim has done a wonderful job. I think it’s a great program.”
“It’s not super competitive,” Maverick said. “That’s not what we are there for. We’re there to teach them many different things. And teaching the kids about Jesus is very important... I really enjoy that part of it.”
Tim adds another favorite moment: the very first basket scored by each young player.
“The reaction is almost always the same – the fans cheer and the player turns toward their parents or grandparents with a huge smile on their face,” he said. “At that moment it doesn’t matter which team scored. Often the players on both teams cheer in celebration.”
For more info, visit upward.org or Denver Baptist Church Upward Basketball on Facebook or call Tim Wellsand at 765-633-3070. After kids are placed on teams, the first practices start the week of Dec. 3, while the first games will be played on Saturday, Jan. 12. Teams have just one practice and one game a week.