In Centreville United Methodist Church's (CUMC) Upward Basketball program, children learn about the Bible and play basketball at the same time.
What's more, the teams are open to everyone in the community, and registration forms will be available at the church's booth at Centreville Day. The program began last winter in CUMC's new gym and has proved a big hit.
"It's for children in grades K-6, and teaches them not only basketball, but also the word of God," said program volunteer Lee Caslavka. "This past season we had between 175-200 kids and we hope to hit 250-300 this year. And these were kids from other denominations, as well as our own."
THE PROGRAM directors are Jim Ayers and David Peterson, and Peterson's wife Kellie explained some of the details. (One of their sons plays in the league and the other referees). She said children learn a Bible lesson and then recite it at practice. There's a devotional time at practice and also in mid-game.
"And they receive little rewards," said Kellie Peterson. "For example, last year, they received puzzle pieces for learning each lesson, and the pieces eventually created a magnetic picture frame."
About eight children are on a team, and the teams play each other. But they're not vying for trophies at the end. Instead, they're learning how to play and having fun doing it.
"One of our slogans is, 'In Upward Basketball, every child is a winner,'" said Peterson. "The purpose is to share the importance of their faith while learning the skills of the game."
Within each grade level, the players are evaluated so that all teams are equal in talent and height, as much as possible. And all teams contain both skilled and unskilled players.
"We have several teams from each grade level, and all the games are played in our gym," said Peterson. "And each grade plays at the same time each week so parents can schedule easier." Practices are once a week — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday — for each grade level, and games are on Saturdays between 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
She said the players love it because, as they enter the gym for their games, every child's name is announced — just like in professional basketball. "And they run through hanging tinsel, complete with a smoke machine and rockin' music," said Peterson. "It's really spectacular and very cool."
In addition, players also receive stars to wear on their jerseys, all year long, with each representing a different character quality, such as sharing, that they've demonstrated during each game.
Upward Basketball is now registering for the season that runs from Jan. 13 until the end of March. Evaluation days will be Saturday, Nov. 11, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; Thursday, Nov. 16, from 6-8 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 17, from 6-8 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 18, from 10 a.m.-noon, and every child must attend at least one session.
Cost is $80/child and scholarships are available. For more information, call David Peterson at 703-968-3691. Volunteers are still needed, as well as coaches, assistant coaches and game-day coordinators.