Energy was high Saturday as children and their parents gathered at the Rock Church in Gonzales for the Upward Soccer Tournament and community fair.

The two events were led and organized by Rock Church Outreach Director Tony Alise and Children’s Director Connie Newman.

The tournament and fair were a combination of efforts to enrich the lives of young people in the community through food, fun, sports and spiritual guidance, Alise said. Tickets sold at the fair raised funds for students at the church to go to summer camp in July.

Upward Soccer is a by-product of Upward Sports, a network of sports teams across the nation established in 1995. Upward Sports is dedicated to teaching children about the Bible through sports, Alise said.

“We’re here to plant the seed and to spread the word,” Alise said.

Upward Soccer is a noncompetitive league, meaning no scores are kept and “all the kids are champions,” Alise said.

All leagues are coed. Each child gets equal playing time, which means no child is benched for an entire game. At the end of a season, there is an award ceremony where each child receives an award. This, Alise said, is what parents really love.

The program allows children to learn sportsmanship, teamwork and respect for others, Alise said.

“Five years ago, Pastor Blake (Melancon) said that we’re going to do an outreach called Upward Soccer,” Alise said.

The church jumped onboard and began gathering volunteers to work the event. Today, there are more than 20 volunteers coaching Upward Soccer at the Rock Church.

Coaches are responsible not only for the athletic training but also for the discipleship. During halftime, both players and parents are led in a devotion by the coaches of each team. Also, the students have to learn a new Bible verse every three weeks, Alise said.

All the teams are coached by church members, but team membership is open to area residents.

On Saturday, 12 soccer teams played in the tournament.

Practice times are once a week, either on Monday or Thursday, depending on the team, Alise said. Parent participation is required.

“We try to make this a place where, when children wake up on Saturday morning, they’d rather be here than anywhere else. We try to make it big,” Alise said.

Newman, who works as a schoolteacher at Spanish Lake Primary, is a mother to five children, four of whom participate in Upward Soccer.

“This lets everybody play all at once. Plus, it’s at church with people I know and trust,” Newman said.

While Newman’s children played soccer, she ran the church’s biannual fair, which raises funds for students at the Rock Church to go to The Wilds summer camp in North Carolina. At the fair, hamburgers and hot dogs were sold, and children were able to get their faces painted, make crafts and play games.

“It’s really fun,” said Cole Alexander Morgan, 6.

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