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Combining sports and faith for area students

Local organization Upward Sports provides Fargo-Moorhead K-8 students a chance to meet new friends, learn new sports and explore their own faith.

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Youth players battle for a rebound during Upward Sports basketball at Bethel Church in south Fargo on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — F-M Upward Sports not only helps students physically through athletics but also spiritually.

Upward Sports is a national, Christian-led youth sports organization that combines the gospel with recreational activities. The local chapter caters to more than 1,000 students from grades K-8 in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Teams practice and play at one of the three Upward Sports churches. Bethel Church, Calvary United Methodist and Northview Church all provide their facilities.

Students interested can choose from four different sports offered throughout the year including basketball, cheerleading, volleyball and flag football. FM Upward Sports director Glenn Heinsch said providing activities throughout the year is crucial to help connect with families.

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Upward Sports Director Glenn Heinsch gives a lesson during a break in the action at Bethel Church in south Fargo on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

"We really want to make it a year-round ministry," Heinsch said. "So that we are always interacting with these families."

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Heinsch was previously the Upward Sports director in Celebration, Fla., but moved to the F-M area in the fall of 2017 to be closer to his wife's parents and his children's grandparents. He then took up the role of F-M Upward Sports director.

In his role, Heinsch spends time with the players and spreads God's message during breaks in practices and games.

"At practice, we'll share a devotion for three or four minutes while they have their water break," Heinsch said. " And at half time during each game, we do some type of fun activity that's focused and centered on some Biblical truth."

By using the organization to bring students together and spreading the Christian faith, Upward Sports is allowed to use the three churches' facilities at no cost. Having games at the church is not only beneficial to Upward Sports, but also to the church itself.

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Youth girls reach for a loose ball during Upward Sports basketball at Bethel Church in south Fargo on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

"It is just a great outreach for these churches," Heinsch said. "There are not many other things that will bring in 300 kids and their families every Saturday. They can come and see what the church looks like, what activities they have and what ministries they have. I encourage the churches and the pastors to have materials out for things they offer, so the churches really see the potential they have in these families that are there to play basketball."

Pastors of the host churches have noticed a rise in their congregation size as a result of Upward Sports, Heinsch said.

Participation in the sports Upward offers has risen consistently. This winter alone, the basketball program is seeing about 850 students, and they could have even more. By January 2024, Park Christian School in Moorhead will also offer their facilities for Upward Sports. The addition will allow for more students to participate in the various sports and increase the program's capacity to 1,100 students.

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Basketball players pray before the start of a Upward Sports basketball session at Bethel Church in south Fargo on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

Even during the high-points of the pandemic, Upward Sports' attendance number never dropped.

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"We did not see a decline in any of our numbers in any of our sports," Heinsch said. "They do nothing but continue to go up."

The organization left the decision to continue competition up to the churches and families, Heinsch said. Of the parents that let their kids participate, they were pleased to get their kids out of the house and kept repeating, "Thank you for giving our kids something normal to do."

Upward costs around $100 a season to participate, but players receive a full uniform that serves as both game and practice attire. Scheels, which sponsors the organization, provides most of the equipment necessary for each sport, Heinsch said.

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Ella Anderson, 10, of West Fargo is introduced during Upward Sports basketball at Bethel Church in south Fargo on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

For Heinsch, providing guidance to students through faith and athletics is a rewarding experience.

"That's why I do what I do and that's why churches allow us to come in," he said. "To have that impact on them that goes far beyond basketball or football."

For more information, or to register, visit their website upwardfm.org .

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Lynx coach Mandie Drege gives instruction during Upward Sports basketball at Bethel Church in south Fargo on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

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