By Sue Sprang

SAGINAW – Sunshine, dedication, and lots of energy and enthusiasm helped to make Ascension Lutheran Church, Saginaw, 2018 Soccer Camp a success. Last year was the third for congregation’s Vacation Bible School “with a twist”.

Ascension member Bob Aldrich, who spearheaded the program, explained why the congregation moved in a new direction with Vacation Bible School. Aldrich is the congregation’s education coordinator.

“Our VBS attendance was low and most of the kids were from our congregation,” he said. “We were looking for a way to bring in more kids from the community.”

With the help of UPWARD SPORTS* and a slew of volunteers, Aldrich spearheaded a new approach to VBS – soccer… Jesus-style. UPWARD SPORTS is a faith-based organization that “helps church leaders leverage the power of sports to connect with families in their community”.

Coaches model sportsmanship and God’s acceptance.

In a nutshell, UPWARD offers resources to help faith communities bring Jesus onto the playing field. Kids don’t just learn to play soccer or reinforce their skills, but are encouraged by their coaches and other volunteers to play fair, with integrity and excellence, and with a humble acknowledgement of their God-given gifts.

“We used UPWARD’s resources,” Aldrich said, “but we just used the basics at added to it – gave it our own twist. A very important aspect of Soccer Camp is the Bible devotions each night. We have exceptional teachers and the kids learn some very valuable scripture knowledge.”

Last year’s Soccer Camp was held in the evening, July 23-26. Monday through Wednesday’s schedule included practice/play, devotions, Bible study (divided into age-appropriate groups), snacks, and lots of fun and fellowship. Thursday night included exhibition games.

Coaches, teachers, and high school soccer players joined other adult and teen volunteers in making each night its own adventure. School districts represented were Saginaw Township, Freeland, Swan Valley, and Hemlock. 56 volunteers put in over 2,000 hours of time and kept 52 campers busy and enthused.

Every camper is valued and every camper plays.

Good friends Owen, Connor, and Truett came to soccer camp for the enjoyment, but mostly to hone their skills in a positive environment.

“I want to get better,” said Conner, who plays defense and backfield, “and here everyone gets to play.”

“I used to play midfield, but now I play forward and goalie,” Owen said, “so I have to have strong legs. That’s what I’m working on.”

“This is fun and I want to play all positions,” Truett said. “I made a header yesterday.”

Eight-year-old Gabby enjoyed her second year of soccer camp.

“I want to learn soccer and I want to play baseball and basketball,” she said. “My favorite part of camp is Bible devotions. I love answering the questions. I also like snack time, especially the blueberries.”

“This is a great experience for Gabby,” said her mom, Dori Dalton. “She’s an only child, so this is a chance to hang out with kids her age, while getting exercise and learning good values.”

Ella, age eight, also found the camp to be a great experience.

“I like soccer, and I like being with my friends and making new friends,” she said. “I like playing with the older kids. I really like playing defense. My favorite snack was the yogurt with blueberries. And I love my friends Gabby and Victoria. I like Jesus, too.”

Teen-age volunteers covered many tasks and shared their outlook on the camp:

“I love seeing the kids smiling,” said Courtney, age 18, who has helped with the coaching drills the past three years. “They’re just having plain fun.”

“I was bored and wanted to help out,” said 13-year-old Anni. “I’m having a good time.”

“It’s good to help out,” said Max, 15. “I like seeing everyone having a good time learning about God and stuff.”

They and their peers are already looking forward to this year’s soccer camp.

Fifty-six volunteers put in over 2,000 hours to help make last year’s camp a success.

Adults involved in the program also shared their perspectives:

“The great thing is that there is a lot of community involvement and volunteers,” said Pastor Julie Bailey, Ascension. “It’s also an opportunity to get the confirmation kids to use what they learn. They’re able to connect soccer with their faith. The younger kids may not get it, yet, but it’s a start.”

“I know this church is my community and I want to be a part of it,” said volunteer Shelley Dawson. “It’s things like this that give people a chance to serve and to feel needed. Seeing people who aren’t a part of the church become involved is rewarding. It’s like we’re planting a seed.”

Shelley’s husband, Swan Valley High School teacher and track coach Dave Dawson, echoed the thoughts of his wife and other adult volunteers.

“It’s great to be outside and to see the kids having fun,” he said. “We get more kids [than we did with VBS]. It’s a good vehicle for comradery and challenges them physically and spiritually. The congregation is totally on board with the program. It’s good for us, for the kids, for the community.”

*UPWARD SPORTS also has recreation and sports programs in basketball, cheerleading, flag football, volleyball, baseball, and softball.

For more information about UPWARD SPORTS, go to www.upward.org. To learn more about Ascension’s program, please contact Education Coordinator Bob Aldrich at 989-781-2170.

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