Upward Basketball teaches b-ball to youngsters

by: Vern Uyetake, 
A group of Upward Basketball volunteers poses after a long day’s worth of games.

Terry Dischinger has done pretty much everything when it comes to basketball - All-American, Olympian, NBA All-Star.

But when he and Dave Cook brought Upward Basketball to Mountain Park Church in Lake Oswego, it was one of his best experiences ever.

'I've been in a lot of gyms,' Dischinger said. 'But every Saturday I go up there and it's 'Wow!' This is fun.

'It's been an amazing experience for me, and anyone in the program would say the same thing.'

For the past few weeks, children from kindergarten through the sixth grade have been flocking to Mountain Park Church to play basketball and have fun. The rules have been fine-tuned to help little guys and gals learn how to play basketball. They gets tons of support from players, coaches and referees, and they even get to feel like Portland TrailBlazers.

'We have this inflatable tunnel with fog that has turned into a fun and unique thing,' Cook said. 'We set it up at the doorway and every hour four teams get introduced. The Chicago Bulls theme song (from the Michael Jordan era) is played. Parents line up outside and give the players high fives.'

There are 134 players who get the high-five treatment, which is pretty amazing considering what Dischinger and Cook expected prior to the season.

'Dave and I prayed about it,' Dischinger said. 'We thought even if we only had enough players for two teams we would still have this program because we believe in it so much.'

'To have 134 players is quite an accomplishment,' Cook said. 'We only had 40 players the week before registration. But we were warned that after having our first evaluation that the word would really get out.'

This has been a basketball version of Field of Dreams - if you build it they will come. A couple years ago Mountain Park Church had just finished renovating a former stable into a beautiful basketball facility - the church had raised $200,000 to install a Sports Court type gym floor and new glass backboards.

Only Dischinger and Cook had no idea what kind of youth basketball program they could put in there.

'We wanted a program where the main emphasis wasn't on winning,' Dischinger said. 'But we were overwhelmed at how to set that up.'

Then came their fateful visit to First Nazarene Church of Portland, which had just started an Upward Basketball program associated with Upward Sports, a highly successful national Christian youth sports organization. As Dischinger said, 'It was awesome.'

The two men found a basketball program where kids were evaluated, put into computers and drafted so teams could not dominate. There was also a coach's manual which detailed what to do at each practice.

In games, players of equal ability were matched up and everyone played an equal amount of time.

Best of all, beginning hoopsters had room to learn: no double teaming, no 'bellying up' and cutting off maneuvering space, no ball stealing except on passes, no pressing in the backcourt.

Cook said, 'With kindergarten kids you can end up with one big scrum, with no one sharing the basketball. In this league we have to be good citizens, we have to give players a chance to maneuver. Since they're so young, we have to permit traveling.'

'This is set up so all kids can experience success,' Dischinger said. 'That's what is happening. It's phenomenal to watch these kids grow and improve. It's fun for parents to watch and it's fun for kids to play.'

And it's fun for referees to ref. One of the most notable qualities of the league is the role referees play in the development of the players; and the appreciation the referees receive.

'You don't hear everybody yelling,' Dischinger noted.

One reason for this is the type of awards that are handed out: best offensive player, best defensive player, best attitude, best sportsmanship, best hustle. And Most Christ-like.

'Our mission is to introduce children to Jesus Christ by creating opportunities to serve through sports,' Cook said. 'At our practices we have a half hour period where we sit down and do Bible lessons.'

A tremendous amount of support from church members has gone into making the league a success. Much of it is due to the two commissioners, Larry Bricker and Jamie Agidius.

Mountain Park Church hosted the Upward Basketball awards banquet on March 19, and it figures to be the first of many.

That is because Dischinger and Cook have expansion plans that will push their league way, way upward.

'Now we're playing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays,' Dischinger said. 'If we played all day we could accommodate a lot more players. There are also other gyms in Lake Oswego.'

Mountain Park Church is located at 40 McNary Parkway in Lake Oswego. For more information call (503) 635-3443.