The Owego Nazarene Church celebrated completion of its fourth season of Upward Sports basketball with an awards ceremony at its sanctuary on Monday, March 28. Nearly 300 players, cheerleaders, parents, and friends attended.
The highlight of the ceremony was a performance by comedian and ventriloquist extraordinaire Ryan Bomgardner, who tours internationally and has his own regional TV show, “Ryan and Friends.” Bomgardner graduated from the Maher School of Ventriloquism in Colorado and is a member of the North American Association of Ventriloquists.
Bomgardner brought along a few friends: Jeffrey, Grandpa and Grandma, and a cute skunk whose name was undisclosed. Bomgardner’s humorous interaction with his friends, especially Jeffrey, brought roars of approval from the kids in attendance. At one point, he brought four coaches up on stage and worked through an amazing routine where he projected a unique voice to each coach in sync with the coach’s body movements.
The ceremony also featured a routine by the cheerleaders and scholarship giveaways. The ceremony closed with a video presentation showing highlights of the recently completed season followed by awards to each of the players and coaches.
According to Cheryl King, the church’s Minister to Children and Their Families, the recently completed eight-week season was the most successful yet. The program, for grades kindergarten through six, included 61 players and 31 cheerleaders – the third straight yearly increase in program participation.
The parent Upward Sports organization, located in South Carolina, conceived its sports programs (it also offers soccer and flag football) as a way of providing a fun environment in which kids experience healthy competition and learn skills for the sports arena and values for life. Each child not only learns the sport, but also receives equal playing time and competes against an equally matched opponent. Over 550,000 children are currently participating in an Upward Sports program.
According to King, the Owego Nazarene Church learned about Upward Sports five years ago. A group from the church traveled to South Carolina and eventually opted for leadership training to learn how to set up and operate a local program at the church. King said, “The Upward Sports people were very professional and organized, and I was impressed by their high standards.”
The local program at the church has been increasingly successful, and both children and parents are very enthusiastic. According to parent Virginia Larter, “My three sons have loved every minute of it. I saw great improvement in their basketball skills over the season. There was age appropriate, yet challenging instruction. But the best part of the program has been the positive and encouraging atmosphere maintained by the coaches, referees and volunteers.”
King sees the Upward Sports program as a great way to reach out to the community. She added, “The program has been successful in bringing people together, regardless of faith. Kids do not have to be a member of the Owego Nazarene church to participate. The biggest challenge has been to get the word out about our program.”
Although there are no individual awards made at the end of the season, coaches handed out star awards at the end of every game. Stars are given in five categories such as offense, defense and sportsmanship, and are awarded to cheerleaders as well. Players affix the stars to their uniforms and cheerleaders put them on their megaphones.
King offered a final thought, “Parents find it positive that all games are conducted here in the church gym and that there is only one game and one practice each week. Also, there are no fundraising activities. Parents pay a nominal fee for the season and the church has been able to subsidize the remaining costs.”
You can check out the Upward Sports programs by calling the Owego Nazarene Church at 687-1932.