Playing for Christ

Published 10:02 am Friday, October 30, 2009

Eric Barnes doesn’t profess to be an expert at anything, but he knows more than the average Joe about three things: kids, basketball and Jesus.

And mixing the three together is his goal.

Barnes, the energetic youth pastor at First Baptist Church, and his wife, the former Amy Dickess, have seven children of their own … all of whom are 9-years-old or under. Recently, the couple found out they are expecting once again. This time, they will be having twins.

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“We absolutely love kids,” Barnes gushed in an obvious understatement. “We really do see them as blessings from God.”

Those blessings, along with the former Ironton High School standout’s passion for the hardwood and love of his Savior, Jesus Christ, are what drives Barnes in his latest quest; UPWARDS Basketball.

UPWARDS is a national organization of Christians who blend basketballs and hoops with Bibles and hope. FBC, utilizing its newly built Faith and Fitness Center at 400 Vernon St., will join that mix this year for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“UPWARDS uses sports as a means to reach out to the community and teach life lessons,” Barnes said. “Our goal is not only to teach kids about Christ, but also to teach them foundational basketball skills.”

Barnes, who is assisted by his brother Ty, also a former standout at IHS, insists that the focus on basketball in this program will be much more intense than most UPWARDS programs.

“Team practices will be once a week, with games on Saturdays; but we will also have ‘Skills and Drills’ on Tuesday evenings,” he said. “Those drills are going to be like a mini-camp with about eight different work-out stations. We’re going to be teaching serious basketball skills.”

Eric and Ty both played college basketball and later toured the world on a missionary team called Sports Ambassadors for Christ. Ty also played professionally in Australia for two years. Their older brother, Chris, also a prep phenom at IHS, is currently the head coach at South Point High School.

So, it’s safe to assume that the Barnes family is serious about basketball.

With seven children at home and two more on the way, Eric and Amy will soon have a basketball team, complete with a full bench, underneath their own roof.

But you won’t often find Barnes hanging around his home court. Although he and his family have their own home, their hearts are at First Baptist Church.

“We want people and families to hear the truth about Christ,” he said. “We just use basketball as God’s mouthpiece.”

The league fee is $55, which includes jerseys, weekly gifts, 10-12 team practices, eight games and eight “Skills and Drills” mini-camps. Sign-ups and evaluations will be held Saturday, Oct. 31, and Saturday, Nov. 7, from 1-5 pm.

“The whole process (for each individual child) will only take about twenty minutes,” Barnes said, noting that parents can bring their children at any time within the 1-5 pm time frame.

For more information, contact Barnes at the church at 532-1240.

“We don’t play for end-of-season records here,” Barnes said. “We want them to learn about the sport and, in the process maybe they’ll meet Jesus along the way.”