Tuesday, October 6, 2015         

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Church program unites competition and Christ

By Associated Press


SALEM, Ore. » Combining sports and Scripture is a task Pastor Kevin Hearne has managed to implement at Bethany Baptist Church in South Salem.

By beginning an Upward Sports cheerleading and flag-football program, students are learning life lessons, the fundamentals of the two sports and the values of winning and losing -- all while having lessons of the Bible integrated into the learning process.

Inspired by the success of the Upward basketball program at First Baptist Church in downtown Salem, Hearne had been wanting to incorporate a similar program at Bethany.

"We thought, what a great opportunity," Hearne said. "It's a way to connect with our community."

It took a few years, but after a recent training conference with Upward Sports in Portland, Hearne and others from the church implemented a program for both cheerleading and flag football with their K-6 students.

Upward is a national Christian sports program that emphasizes healthy competition, sportsmanship, skills building and fun.

"One of the core values is that they won't be competitive," Hearne said.

But when the competitive nature of sports arises, Hearne uses the opportunity as a learning experience.

One flag football player who got into a scuffle on the field later asked for forgiveness from his teammate.

Hearne said he saw the need to reconcile as a valuable lesson learned.

Holly Taylor, who belongs to the church, has her 6-year-old son participating in flag football. She said the fact that the program is spiritually based will help her son learn to live the right way.

"It (also) gives them stability and they are very loved here," Taylor said.

There are 239 students participating in the program, with 74 cheerleaders and 165 football players. The students make up seven cheerleading teams and 14 flag-football teams among the three divisions.

When the K-1 division competes, scores are not taken. The students simply play for fun.

"I like the fact that they don't keep score for the little ones," Taylor said, adding that not keeping scores keeps the experience positive for the youngsters. The two older divisions, grades 2-3 and 4-6, do keep score so that they can learn the value of winning and losing and to gain a better understanding of sportsmanship, Hearne said.

The seven cheerleading teams cheer for both teams during their weekend game day. At the end of the games, there are team meetings where everyone gets recognized for their contributions during the game. The players and cheerleaders are given star stickers to put on their uniforms or megaphones. Each sticker has a different meaning, including ones for spirit, great defense and offense.

While students are enjoying the sports, they are also learning the basics.

For 9-year-old Joshua Hearne, son of the pastor, playing flag football is more challenging than basketball. He is glad the program is at the church, and he is learning how to throw and make the football spiral through the air.

"Not all your fingers need to be on the laces of the football," he said.

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