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Sports ministry helping churches offer safe ways to host athletic leagues amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Unsplash/david clarke

A national youth sports ministry is assisting hundreds of churches across the United States in finding new ways to keep their recreational sports leagues and programs going during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over 1,200 churches turn to Upward Sports for guidance and organization for their sports programs that serve hundreds of thousands of young athletes playing sports such as basketball, soccer, cheerleading and flag football.

But during the pandemic, many church sports seasons have been canceled or delayed, Upward Sports Director of Operations Nathan Holm told The Christian Post. The opportunities to compete, exercise and connect through sports have dissipated at the church level so far this year.

“Everybody has had a challenging time because the world is constantly changing,” Holm said. “We’re actively listening to understand the challenges we’re facing and talking to health experts to see the best way a church can serve their community safely.”

Holm said Upward Sports and church athletic leagues can learn from competitive, travel and professional sports leagues to find a system that works at a lower level. But the solutions are not universal, and communities can benefit from implementing different safety tools.

“As the pandemic and transmission numbers change, the solutions become more and more local,” Holm explained. “Our goal is to be a good partner to churches, we’ll do what’s right for the Church in the safest way possible.

Upward Sports has searched not only for safe solutions, but solutions that abide by state laws. Some states allow gyms and playing fields to be used for organized sports. But in other states, such as California, gym gatherings are banned entirely in many counties.

With college football and basketball seasons approaching, it's uncertain whether collegiate sports will begin on time, if at all. Professional baseball and basketball are expected to join professional soccer in restarting operations later this month. With precautions, Upward Sports will keep an eye out for possible replication.

“Sports are a great way to unify and unite, they break down barriers and can spread the Gospel in meaningful ways,” Holm told CP. “One big area we’ve seen in sports is connecting families to communities.”

One-day events, modifying schedules and leveraging outdoor sports are all possible solutions to church sports programs. According to Holm, there have been no major outbreaks of COVID-19 due to church-run sports activities.

The precautions and distance caused by the coronavirus have also led to positive conversations, according to Holm. He said that discussions on a deep, helpful level have taken place that otherwise would not during a church athletic season.

“We know that churches are uniquely positioned to have a pulse on their community,” Holm added. “Churches have the ability and are often called upon during difficult times to step in and facilitate for the community.”

Upward Sports has been operating under a new Executive Director, Kevin Drake, since Tuesday. 

Drake has worked as a publisher and specializes in communication, which could benefit Upward Sports in its goal to connect communities through church athletics.

In a statement released Tuesday, Drake acknowledged the challenges the virus presents to sports but hopes to bring innovative and personal tools to further the company’s relationship with churches.

“Churches everywhere are facing unprecedented challenges and obstacles to ministry. And we want to be in it with them every step of the way,” Drake said. “We fully believe this unique time will yield unbelievable opportunities for ministry and we want churches across the nation to have everything they need to step in and care for hurting communities and isolated families.”

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