Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Upward Sports Head of Partnerships Andrew Provence to the newsmaker line to talk about Upward Sports and how they are reaching out through sports and churches to connect kids with the word of Jesus Christ.
Leahy: We are delighted to have on our newsmaker line Andrew Provence, the head of the Partnerships Upward Sports program. Good morning, Andrew. Did I get the last name right?
Provence: (Chuckles) Thanks for having me on, Michael. It’s actually Provence.
Leahy: Andrew Provence.
Provence: That’s right. Thanks for having me on.
Leahy: Andrew, I’m delighted to have you on. I want to talk about Upward Sports. I want to also talk a little bit about your background. You are a college and semi-pro-baseball player. Where did you play college ball?
Provence: I played college baseball at a Christian University in South Carolina called North Greenville University. I was fortunate enough to play three years of semi-professional baseball out in Central Illinois – so just have a tremendous time using the gifts that God gave me to play the game of baseball and enjoy that.
Leahy: What position did you play?
Provence: I was a starting pitcher, so I had it easy. I only had to play once every five days. I got to take a lot of days off.
Leahy: A starting pitcher, that’s a very interesting position because you may be out there every five days, but, boy, that fifth day, it’s all you.
Provence: That’s right. That’s right. It all gets going. And I was excited to see that baseball is now back as an Olympic sport. So it’s fun to watch baseball now in the Olympics as well.
Leahy: Was it out of the Olympics for a while?
Provence: It was. I think it’s been away for about 18 years. So it’s great to see a new sport.
Leahy: How could they have Olympics without baseball?
Provence: I know, right? How could they do that? I’m glad Tokyo brought it back and the guys are out there competing.
Leahy: Many many years ago, I played baseball in high school, and then I played men’s senior league baseball for a while. I was good field no hit. But a couple of years in high school, I did pitch and I remember enjoying it but also having a hard time consistently being good at it.
I was able to develop a curveball on a couple of occasions. And when it worked, there was nothing better than the feeling of throwing a good curveball and fooling the batter and have them go down swinging.
Provence: Man, I love it. That’s all you need. All you need is one good pitch out there and you can have some success.
Leahy: Over time, I didn’t really have any good pitches, which is why I ended up playing third base. (Chuckles) But on occasion was a lot of fun. Now your dad played in the NFL?
Provence: He did. He played for the Atlanta Falcons and the Denver Broncos. So I grew up in a sports family and saw both of those teams first hand.
I’m a huge Falcons fan as well, so it’s sad to see Julio Jones get traded over to your Tennessee Titans. I was disappointed about that. But I’m sure you guys in Tennessee are going to love Julio.
Leahy: What position did your dad play?
Provence: He was a defensive lineman, so he played defensive end.
Leahy: He was a defensive lineman.
Leahy: He’s a pretty big guy.
Leahy: Is he still a pretty big guy?
Provence: He is. He’s getting into his older years, but he’s still a formidable guy. And you if you put some pads on, he’d still be able to run out there a little bit.
Leahy: Now be careful about older years because I’m in that range. (Laughter) We’re still alive and kicking here. Tell us about Upward Sports. And I like a lot of this idea of reaching out to churches. When did it get started? And what’s the mission and where can people go on the web to find out about it?
Provence: Awesome. Upward Sports, Michael, is a belief that we have in using the power of sports to help kids discover Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. And so we started back in 1996 and we’ve been serving thousands of churches over time. And even in the state of Tennessee.
We walk with about 70 churches in your state to help use sports to connect with their community. And I know you guys cover the Nashville area as well. And there are about 16 churches that are using sport in the Nashville area.
We have programs available from basketball, soccer, flag football, and cheerleading. And we’re actually just starting a new sport. We’re really excited about starting volleyball, and we see volleyball as a huge growing sport, especially among middle school and high school girls.
And we’re just fired up about being able to launch volleyball and be able to provide that to churches and the young kids and their communities as a sport that’s really growing around the country.
And obviously, if you’re ever looking to start a sports ministry with Upwards, just go to upward.org. And we’d love to connect with you on that.
Leahy: It’s upward.org. Where are you based, Andrew?
Provence: We are based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. That’s in the upstate area, just at the bottom of the foothills of the mountains. And so the upstate of South Carolina is where our offices are based.
But we have church partners and have leagues and programs all across the country in 46 states. And so we are hopefully everywhere.
Leahy: How long have you been doing this?
Provence: I’ve been on staff at Upwards for about seven years, and it’s been a real treat for me, just seeing transformation happen through churches and kids come into play and really seeing life’s purpose through sports. And so it’s just been a real privilege for the past seven years.
And I couldn’t be more excited right now. Just as we come out of the pandemic and we see pastors and leaders see this opportunity right now to re-engage with their community. I’ve never been more excited about what Upward is doing now than I ever have. So it’s a very exciting time.
Leahy: So are you the founder or executive director? What exactly is your role there?
Provence: I’m the director of our partner team, and our executive director is Kevin Drake. I work with a wonderful team of individuals over at our Upward Sports campus in Spartanburg and Upward leaders all across the country. I work on the team with our staff.
Leahy: Now, let me ask you this. You’ve been in sports your whole life – over the past 30 years. Have you seen the way sports is conducted change? And is that change positive or negative?
Provence: That’s a great question, Michael. And it definitely has changed over the years. And there are trends always. And we’ve gotten into the competitive travel ball trend over the last decade.
Leahy: Can I just stop you for a moment? I got to tell you something. When I grew up a long time ago and was a kid playing sports.
What you would do is you would go down in the summer, you would go down to the playground, and whoever was there, you’d have a pick-up game of baseball.
And you’d do that all day. And then when it was over, you’d go back home. Or you would play basketball. And then everybody would be able to compete. I went to a little small public school in Upstate New York. And then in the fall, you’d go out for football or soccer, mostly football at that time.
In the winter, you’d switch and you’d play basketball or wrestling. And in the spring, you play baseball or run track. Pretty much everybody who wanted to had an opportunity to participate.
To me, Andrew, that seems to have changed. It seems that not everyone is participating. I don’t think that’s a good thing because of these travel teams and this focus on one sport. What’s your thought on that?
Provence: Thanks for sharing that background of just your experience and your observation there. And you’re totally right. Travel sports have exploded. We see a real opportunity right now to get more kids involved because they’re getting priced out.
They’re getting burnt out just for playing the same sport over and over throughout the year. Kids are dropping out of sports earlier and earlier. And so there’s really a call right now for kids to just play. You just mentioned that.
You just went out and you’d play. And that’s really the call now. And what we’re seeing now is hopefully an emerging trend across the country, especially over this past year, as parents just want their kids to get out, for kids to just play.
And so we really lean into the younger elementary ages and recreational experiences where there’s a lower time commitment, more emphasis on fun, and more emphasis on being together with friends. And also that applies not only to younger ages but even middle school and high school.
Those kids want to play, too. And so there’s definitely a trend and a calling back to the idea of play. And so there has been that trend of the competitive travel sport. But we’re seeing more and more kids want to just have fun.
Leahy: Andrew Provence with upward.org, can you stay through the break? There is a lot more I want to ask you.
Provence: Oh, absolutely. You bet.
Listen to the full first hour here:
– – –