According to church pastor Rev. Ken Calhoun, it began at least eight years ago, before he was pastor here.
It has provided a unique community outreach.
The last games will be on Saturday, Feb. 21, and the Upward Award Ceremony will be Friday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m.
This year there were more than 150 children divided into about 20 teams who participated, he said.
Rev. Calhoun said that sign-up starts in the fall, with the children evaluated by a computer program designed by Upward in January on things such as age, height, experience and athletic ability.
“The computer program tries to match up teams, with a range of skills and experience,” the pastor said.
Rev. Calhoun said that Upward basketball emphasizes teamwork, cooperation, workmanship, how to win and lose with dignity, and Christian values.
There are teams for both girls and boys from the first through eighth grades.
It is billed as “a league where every child plays, every child learns, and every child is a winner.”
Once the local sponsor determines the schedule, they order brochures from Upward which are distributed to appropriate grades at school.
The national program is nondenominational Christian, he said, and children from many different faiths participate in it. In Longview, the Upward Basketball sponsor is a Baptist church.
Once a church commits to sponsor a certain sport, it will be the only church allowed to back it in that community. Another church may sponsor a different Upward sport.
“It provides a sporting environment with Christian values, where you don’t allow the kind of conduct you sometimes see in other competitive sports,” Rev. Calhoun said.
In Upward Basketball and other Upward sports, there is not the yelling at children and referees that happens in some sports. Coaches are civil, and children who make errors are not heckled.
Practices take place on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights, with games on Saturday. Adult members of the First United Methodist Church are always present at practices and games.
Program director John Coleman will be sent to a statewide training conference in April. He, in turn, will conduct local training for the churches.
He and his wife Donna, who is also a director, said those who gave scholarships for players included First National Bank of Gilmer, Dwight Brannon, Steve Nye, Gilmer Drug Company, Jerry and Linda Steger and Methodist Men.
Charlie and Shelly Cano donated a new scoreboard.
Coleman described it as a “much-needed addition to our program.”
Cano, Steger, Rob Robinson and Coleman mounted it in the gym in time for the Feb. 7 games.
Coleman thanked the many volunteers who gave up a few hours, one night a week or every Saturday to supervise the Christian Life Center, run the concession stand, referee, coach, run time clocks, give devotionals, make bulletin boards and “just be the best witnesses for Christ that anyone could ask for.
“Due to the overwhelming generosity of our church family, this program has been a rewarding experience for the children of our community and furthered the kingdom of God. What an awesome feat.!” Coleman said.
It is a national non-denominational Christian-based program, the pastor said.
Upward also has programs in soccer, cheerleading and flag football.
Its web site describes Upward as “a fun, reliable, passionate and encouraging sports experience for boys and girls, in K5 through sixth grade. Upward provides first class, organized and detailed sports programming in basketball, soccer, flag football and cheerleading.
“Unique aspects of Upward include an evaluation system that promotes equal and competitive teams as well as a substitution system which allows for equal playing time for all participants.
“Through Upward, children are exposed to quality coaching and sport development. Upward emphasizes character and integrity instead of a ‘win at all costs’ mentality associated with today’s sports world.
“The Upward experience has spread across the country and around the world by equipping local churches with all the necessary training, tools and support to conduct an Upwardcamp or league.”