COLUMBIA — Each hour from morning to night during the weekends from the end of January to mid-March, children of the Calvary Baptist Church Upward Basketball League compete and learn in a positive environment.
"Our motto is, 'Every child's a winner,'" said Alan Marshall, league director of Upward Basketball and Cheerleading at Calvary Baptist Church. "So, it's learning and teaching and getting kids to know the game and feel good about the game, more than it is absolutely winning the game."
One of three basketball leagues in Columbia, the program at Calvary Baptist Church has 38 teams and three cheer squads, bringing the total number of children involved to more than 400.
Players from first through sixth grade are grouped according to age and matched with other players at the same skill-level to ensure that every child learns the fundamentals. The importance of learning is emphasized throughout the game as referees and coaches use each foul, double dribble and traveling call as a teaching moment.
"One of the things that makes Upward different is it's got a spiritual component, so we're teaching the kids values and Christian values," Marshall said.
The program features speakers at halftime to share messages of faith to kids and their families, and teams are led in prayer before games begin.
Marshall has been the league's director for 13 of the 14 years the program has existed, and has seen kids that were in the program come back to help as volunteers.
"I love seeing them grow," said Marshall. "I’ve seen some kids out here today that have been in Upward for a year or two and I see them grow and develop and it's just really cool."