By Chris Sokoloski

csokoloski@gtowntimes.com

It's Upward Soccer time again at First Baptist Church.

For the men who oversee the program, it's not just about the sport.

"It's an opportunity for us to share Jesus Christ with these children," said Jay Holmes, the church's minister of music and a member of its Upward Steering Committee. "The biggest blessing is to see them grow in their relationship with Christ."

"I've been born again through this program," said Pete Krause, who is the co-director of the program along with his wife, Staci. "It is definitely a calling."

Upward Unlimited is a nonprofit sports ministry that began in 1986 out of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg. More than 1,000 churches around the world now host football, soccer, basketball and cheerleading programs.

First Baptist members started discussing Upward in 2001, added basketball and cheerleading soon after and soccer a few years later.

About 200 kids from around Georgetown County played basketball and about 60 were involved in the cheerleading program last fall. Last summer's soccer program attracted enough kids to have 27 teams.

Many participants attend First Baptist or another church, but some don't.

Since First Baptist doesn't have grassy areas big enough to play on, it partners with Screven Baptist Church, which hosts practices and games.

Holmes, Krause and a handful of other volunteers were at First Baptist on Saturday morning for this season's first registration and evaluation day. About 30 kids signed up, were fitted for uniforms and then evaluated on their skills. Volunteers graded each child on dribbling, running, shooting and passing.

Each player's evaluation is then entered into a computer, which chooses evenly-matched teams.

First Baptist's teams usually have about seven or eight kids, and while the younger teams are co-ed, Holmes and Krause try to maintain separate teams for the older boys and girls if they can.

Debbie Altman of Georgetown registered her daughter Kori on Saturday.

"I like the Saturday format," she said, and the program "gives everybody a chance to play."

Holmes said the Upward programs at First Baptist could not thrive without the tremendous support from the church community. About 70 people volunteer during the summer as coaches, referees, time keepers and more. There are also 100 people who pray for the program for 100 days.

Once soccer is finished, First Baptist's Upward committee starts planning for basketball and cheerleading.

"The planning never stops," Holmes said.

Krause said he loves watching the kids grow spiritually and athletically during the season and all the hard work plays off when "you see the joy on Saturday mornings."

Registration continues

Upward Soccer is open to kids from K4 through sixth grade. First Baptist will host three more registration days on July 30, and Aug. 1 and 2 from 9 a.m. to noon. All children must attend to be evaluated and fitted for a uniform.

The cost per child is $45, and includes jersey and socks, car magnet, CD and awards. The church offers a $10 sibling discount.

Practices begin the week of Aug. 15. Games, which are played Saturday mornings at Screven Baptist, begin Sept. 3. For more information call 546-5187 or go to fbcgeorgetown.com.

First Baptist Church is on Cleland Street in Georgetown. Screven Baptist is in Maryville.