Coming to Omaha: fun-focused sports league where every kids gets a trophy, parents promise to keep cool

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Posted: Saturday, April 19, 2014 12:00 am

A new sports league franchise for kids with a focus on fun over competition is expanding to Omaha.

The league, i9 Sports, will open a company-owned location in Omaha by this fall. It plans to offer leagues, camps and clinics for boys and girls ages 3 to 14 in team sports such as flag football, soccer, basketball and T-ball.

Each sport is played for an eight-week season, and all teams include a mix of boys and girls. Practices and game days are held on the same day, one day per week.

The goal, President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Sanders said, is to “bring the focus back to fun” while making youth sports convenient for parents.

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“Youth sports have become adult sports played by kids,” he said. “Adults have sucked the fun out of youth sports, and our goal is to put fun back to the center.”

When the league was formed 10 years ago in Riverview, Fla., a suburb of Tampa, founders had been hearing about parents' problems with other youth sports leagues. They saw that fun had been replaced by “cut-throat competition,” Sanders said, and that many leagues were highly unorganized and political.

The name i9 Sports comes from the values founder Frank Fiume wanted the company to aspire to. He found that many of them — imaginative, instructional, inspirational — started with the letter “I,” Sanders said.

The company's leagues now have more than 600,000 members in 500 communities across 28 states from New York to Hawaii. This year's expansion plans also include Nashville, Tenn., the Kansas City area, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Naperville, Ill.

The league plans to hire 30 to 40 full- or part-time people in Omaha, Sanders said, including a full-time program director, referees and coaches.

A season of play typically costs about $125. (Parents are not expected to do fundraising or volunteering.)

The league is affiliated with the i9 Sports Association, a nonprofit meant to help local franchisees fundraise for kids who can't afford to participate, but that local fundraising will not be in place when the league launches in Omaha. “That is something we would aspire to in Omaha,” Sanders said.

I9 does not host tryouts, drafts or pick most valuable players on its teams. Every participating child is given a jersey, a sportsmanship medal and a participation trophy by the end of the season.

And you won't see any yelling or violence on the sidelines at i9 games. Parents are required to sign a pledge that stresses the most important part of the game: fun for the kids.

“Having that pledge has made it possible for us to nip any negative sideline activity in the bud,” Sanders said.

Sanders said the company picked Omaha for expansion because of the number of kids under the age of 14. “We're excited about coming to Omaha. It's a perfect fit.”

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