Churches prepare for Upward

First Baptist Church Upward soccer players go after the ball during a 2019 game.

The 2020-21 Upward soccer season is gearing up despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and basketball and cheerleading will soon follow.

First Baptist Church in Lenoir City started its 17th Upward soccer season with evaluations Aug. 6-7. This year looks different to keep players, parents and coaches safe.

In the past, players would take evaluation sheets around to six evaluation stations where the volunteer running that station would take the sheet, mark the evaluation and pass the sheet back. In the meantime, parents would gather at the bleachers to receive information about the upcoming season.

This year, parents went with players to each station and filled out the forms to eliminate the trade-off, Tony Franklin, FBC Upward league director, said.

With evaluations over, FBC is in the process of recruiting coaches before practices start during the week of Aug. 31.

“We’re going to ask that people continue to be socially distanced,” Franklin said. “We ask each player to bring their own soccer ball and use it exclusively and have their water bottles with their name clearly on it and not to share anything between players. Hopefully, parents will spread out around the field while practices are going on. We’ll have, of course, things to clean with — wipes and hand sanitizer available at all times.”

Games begin Sep. 12, and schedules might look different. Typically, games are played on the hour. Franklin suspects this may have to be adjusted.

Concessions will also be changed.

“We’re changing our refreshment stand where we’re only using prepackaged items,” Franklin said. “In the past, we’ve had wrapped biscuits, sausage biscuits, that sort of thing, popcorn, hot dogs, coffee, hot chocolate. We’re not going to do anything along those lines. Our refreshment, concession stand workers will be wearing masks and gloves, and we’ll be trying to keep that as safe as we can, too.”

The award ceremony at the end of the season is still uncertain. Franklin said he will have to watch coronavirus cases to determine if it will be possible to host such an event.

There has been a decline in participation this year. Typically, a season runs 150-250 players. Registration is under 100.

“Part of the problem we believe, besides COVID, well it’s related to COVID, is school started later,” Franklin said. “Typically, we try not to do our evaluations until after school has started, so we can do some advertising around the schools, but that didn’t work out. So I think that hurt participation, and then there are some parents that are just nervous about having their children participate.”

For now, Blairland Baptist Church plans to go forward with its Upward basketball and cheerleading seasons. However, there could to be adjustments to the usual game schedule, Jeff Harris, director of student ministries, said.

“We’re probably going to have to maybe not have as many games going on at one time to try to thin the crowd out some,” Harris said. “It’s just going to make for a longer day. We’re going to have to space everything out and maybe have some time built in between games, so one crowd can get out and the next crowd comes in for the game. So we may have to build in some kind of allotted time for transition to get people in and out for social-distancing requirements and everything.”

Harris has suggested using one court at a time instead of two like previous seasons. Hopes are that will limit the number of people in the building.

“That is if we’re still under those guidelines with (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and, you know, what the governor’s office is recommending,” Harris said.

Practices will start in December followed by games in January. Harris said Blairland’s Upward is fortunate for a later start.

“We’re just kind of throwing ideas around, but I mean we have talked about and thought about canceling, but we’re just kind of waiting to see how schools go with those starting up and everything and what kind of problems they may have,” Harris said. “So we’re just kind of letting them set the tone for sports and activities, and ours starts later in the year, so we have some time to see how things go and make some changes based on what they encounter.”