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By JOEL COLEMAN
After a brief hiatus, Upward Basketball is back in Starkville.
Registration recently ended for the local hoops league, with over 200 kids, both boys and girls, signing up to play.
"It went away and a lot of people in the community missed it," said Steve Blanton, advertising commissioner for Starkville Upward.
The league's return is thanks to a joint effort by Starkville's First United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church and features kids currently in kindergarten up through the sixth grade.
Throughout the course of the season, Starkville Upward coaches will stress to their players values such as sportsmanship, teamwork, integrity and respect.
They'll also use the game of basketball to help develop the youngsters' faith.
"Certainly we talk about Jesus Christ," said Blanton. "We'll have little devotions weekly for the kids. We encourage (faith) and want to take the opportunity to play and have fun and introduce them to Jesus Christ as well."
Aside from the Christian-themed aspects of Upward, the league also does its best to ensure fair competition with balanced talent on each team, as well as a unique substitution system that is designed to provide each child equal playing time.
To help spread the talent evenly, every participant in Starkville Upward went through an evaluation earlier this month.
"We had some kids in the evaluation process, my daughter being one of them, that had never played basketball," said Blanton. "And we've got some kids that have played either in the Upward league in the past or some of the other leagues. We've got beginners and we've got experienced kids. In the evaluation process we wanted to make sure that we split the teams up evenly. But everyone is welcome and we're trying to foster a good, friendly team environment."
Practices for the league begin the week of Jan. 3.
First games will be held on Jan. 22.
A postseason awards celebration will wrap up the year on March 8.
Over the course of the season, Blanton says Starkville Upward's primary goal is simple.
"We want to give kids the best sports experience possible," said Blanton.