HOW IT ALL BEGAN...
Back in 1986 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a minister had a vision. In 1990, a local Edmond man had an almost identical vision without even realizing it. Both men had a dream to promote higher morals and stronger character among children with whom they came in contact. The dream became a reality that spawned into a nationwide opportunity called Upward.
Caz McCaslin, the original minister from South Carolina, started the program. Upward has quickly become a national evangelistic sports ministry specifically designed for kindergarten through sixth grade boys and girls, which promotes salvation, character and self-esteem. Basketball was the program’s first sport. Then cheerleading and soccer were introduced.
James Worley, from Edmond, started Edmond Christian Sports Association (ECSA) five years before hearing about McCaslin’s Upward program. After hearing about Upward, Worley decided to merge his vision and started Edmond’s Upward sports program. Worley now oversees Upward basketball, cheerleading, and the East Upward Soccer program.
“I started the ECSA because we were playing in the Royal Ambassador’s basketball league and all of our games were in Oklahoma City,” said Worley. “So I got together, first with Henderson Hills Baptist Church, then Southern Hills Christian Church, and finally the Cathedral of the Hills Assembly of God, and they all agreed to let me use their gyms for basketball games. But after I heard about the Upward program,
I realized that what they were doing would help us to significantly improve our program.”
Similar to what once were the ESCA game rules, the Upward program introduced a few other attributes. Unlike the original ECSA, children in the Upward program are not required to attend a specific church, and the referees are not paid. Instead, with Upward, volunteer referees attend games and parents and children participate in a two to three minute scripture-based devotional during half time. They also give unique awards to each player after every game.
“Everyone receives an award because every child is a winner with Upward,” said Worley. The Upward program provides awards for each participant, based on their positive contributions to the game.
The awards are given out in a form of iron-on fabric stars that are placed on a player’s jersey or t-shirt. For Cheerleaders, the awards are given out in the form of a sticker for the girls to put on their megaphone's. A white star, the most renowned award, stands for the child who is the most Christlike during the game. A blue star for best effort, gold for most spirited, gray for best offense (basketball)/ best cheer (cheerleading), red for best defense (basketball)/ best leader (cheerleading), and every child receives a green star who memorizes the half-time scripture.
“Your best player doesn’t always start or end a game,” said Worley. “This builds self-esteem among many of the children who may sit on the bench with their club or high school sports teams. Many of them leave their current sports teams because they get to be on the field at Upward. It also gives kids a chance to improve upon their current skill level.
“Our objective is that children will experience the thrill of victory and endure the frustrations of losing and they will carry over those experiences into real life situations and handle them in a Christ-like attitude,” said Worley. “I feel children deserve a sports program where people don’t judge them based on their talent and ability. And if they are going to be involved with extracurricular activities they might as well be playing in a Christian atmosphere.”
There are roughly 300 children involved from over 41 different churches in the current Upward soccer program offered in Edmond and over 100 percent increase in participation from last year. Over forty parents volunteer at the Saturday matches and the one-hour weekday practices. There are also plans of assimilating an Upward flag-football program for this coming fall. Money left over from the previous year provides scholarships for families who are unable to pay the $60 enrollment fee.
Worley smiled and added, “God created this program and I just happened to be available.”
Years after ECSA built a solid reputation and Upward Basketball and Cheerleading was underway. Worley's daughter, Mandy Maberry stepped in to help Upwards Cheerleading program. Several years into her venture she felt the calling for a more established Cheer & Pom program.
"These little girls need role models, they need other little girls to look up to." said Maberry. "Every little girl wants to be told she has done a good job! Sometimes it needs to come from thier peers, and not just thier families!"
At that point,
Cheer 4 Christ was born.............