A donation from Wiregrass Electric Cooperative is shining a light on prominent community outreach ministry Upward Sports and its flag football league. By contributing labor, poles and other resources to field lighting at Memphis Baptist Church, WEC is helping give the flag football program new life.
Field lighting installed this spring will enable the church to host games and practices on weekday nights instead of just Saturday mornings. The Rev. Jim Tate, pastor of Memphis Baptist Church, believes the new hours will give more children the opportunity to play.
“We were having games in September and October every year on Saturday mornings and would sometimes have 200 to 300 people on our fields,” Tate says. “The problems with that were that it could get very hot and people have other things going on during the weekends. We came to realize we could get more participation if we could do our games at night so we started looking at different possibilities.”
Lighting It Up
It would take a significant investment to light up five or six football fields, and several options were considered. Church leaders realized permanent lighting fixtures were more cost-effective than procuring rentals and reached out to their electric provider for assistance for the project because they wanted it “done right,” Tate says.
After learning about the project, WEC agreed to lend a hand — quite literally. The labor, technical expertise and light poles helped Memphis Baptist shave costs for the proposed project and ultimately make it a reality.
“This is a way to bring families in the community together, to share the gospel with kids and give them something fun to do in a wholesome environment,” Tate says. “I don’t know that we could have done it and offered the league at night without Wiregrass Electric providing labor, materials and equipment for the project.”
Upward Sports partners with churches around the country to leverage athletic opportunities in their communities. Many different sports — cheerleading, basketball, volleyball and more — are offered through the program and vary depending on the host church. Volunteers coach the players, teaching them how to play the game and about sportsmanship and teamwork. Coaches also share the gospel.
Memphis Baptist Church recently partnered with Bethel Baptist Church, both located on Dothan’s south side, to maximize the ministry’s impact. The basketball league is now hosted at Bethel Baptist, which has a large indoor gym, and the flag football league is exclusively coordinated at Memphis Baptist. Both churches also have programs for cheerleaders.
Any child can sign up to participate in the program. Costs are minimal since Upward is a not-for-profit ministry and any dollars made through fundraising and concession sales are absorbed back into the program. Money from fees generally goes to uniforms, while other revenue streams help buy equipment and fund scholarships made available to low-income families.
Lending a Hand
WEC’s involvement wasn’t just about helping a member organization, but about community outreach and economic development.
“This is a great program that provides kids a chance to play a competitive sport in a safe environment,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC’s chief operating officer. “We know that more opportunity for recreational activities drives decision-making when families think about relocating somewhere. Obviously, we want them to consider the Wiregrass area, so we were happy to partner with Memphis and give them the support they needed on this project.
“We hope families take advantage of this or other activities and allow their kids to explore the awesome extracurricular activities available to them in the Wiregrass and connect with other families. There’s no better way to get plugged in and engaged with one’s community.”
The effort was coordinated by Bobby Camp, a longtime church member and electrician, who assisted with purchase orders and led a team of volunteers to help with electrical work. His company, JM Electric Supply Co., also supplied some of the material for the project.
“The outreach that it will allow the church to have because of the Upward football program — the tentacles will go a lot further than our church and our community,” Camp says. “It’s just another tool to bring people here for them to know Jesus.”
Flag Football on the Rise
Flag football is growing in popularity locally and abroad, and Jason Wright, league director for Memphis Baptist Church’s sports ministry, is thankful that children in west Houston County will get a chance to play. Currently, it’s the only flag football program available in that area of Dothan and Houston County.
“This gives them another opportunity to play a competitive sport,” Wright says. “This lighting gives us the opportunity to be flexible with the timing of when we offer the games instead of having to do everything during the day. Now, we can hold them at night with concessions and everything like a traditional football game.
“The fields and crowd capacity were already there. We’re grateful for Wiregrass Electric’s assistance in helping us be able to use this as an asset to our community.”
WEC will be able to use the field to stage its trucks or other contractor and co-op vehicles in the area, assisting with electrical repairs after severe weather events