Beulah United Methodist Church has embraced the Upward Sports concept and is happily hosting 21 soccer teams each Saturday morning, fulfilling Upward’s mission to introduce children to Jesus Christ by creating opportunities through sports.
On any given Saturday, some 75 volunteers are actively working with the neighborhood children.
The congregation was introduced to Upward four years ago by member David Glass, the former women’s basketball coach at VCU. David was so taken by the program that he has gone on to work full time for the organization. Steve Clark and Brandon Brooks now provide leadership for the local endeavor with a big assist from Steve’s wife, Diane.
“We have seen tremendous growth in our outreach,” said Steve Clark. “The soccer program has nearly tripled from the first season that saw about 60 children registered.” Teams of eight to 10 children compete in age groups from 4 years old through the seventh grade.
Upward has been a joint effort for the Beulah congregation. Church members serve as coaches and officials. One of the Sunday school classes mans the concessions stand that was built as an Eagle Scout project by C. J. Ramey. Concession proceeds go toward providing scholarships for youngsters unable to pay the $65 registration fee. Church members also deliver the weekly devotionals. The United Methodist Men have taken on Upward as their chief service project. Their labor has been instrumental in the building and maintenance of the three soccer fields located behind the church fellowship hall.
Kyle Press, a sophomore soccer player at Matoaca High School, has volunteered as a referee all four seasons.
“My uncle suggested I come out and get involved. I found that it was a lot of fun and it’s simply a nice thing to do,” said Kyle.
One of the teams is coached by Meadowbrook junior Evie Velez. Velez’s family lives adjacent to the soccer fields and its members have been strong supporters of the program.
“We’re just a soccer family,” said Evie. Her assistant coach is Kelsey Cunningham, one of a dozen or so Beulah youth volunteering last Saturday.
The church has welcomed the support of the Richmond Kickers, who will sponsor Upward Night at their game on Saturday, April 17. The event includes a pizza party, a clinic and a ticket to the game. The Kickers mascot recently came out to an Upward game and Rob Ukrop has been a speaker at a previous end-of-the-year celebration.
Brandon Brooks summed it up by saying, “Prior to each game, we announce all the kid’s names as they run through a tunnel. One of our main goals is to be sure that each child is recognized and is made to feel important.”