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Youth Sports League Looks to Make an Impact Beyond the Field

DSC_0248 (2) (300x200) (300x200)One Tampa, Fla. based organization, has not only redefined the term, student-athlete, but has also expanded to 500 communities nationwide, including one in Chicago’s Montrose Harbor.

With sports becoming increasingly competitive and focused on a “win-at-all-costs” mentality, i9 Sports was established with the intention to rediscover the main attraction children have to sports in the first place: to have fun.

“I wanted to be part of a league that was organized, fun and convenient,” said Brian Watkins, program director of Chicago’s i9 Sports division, who brought this coed youth sports organization to Chicago three years ago. “We focus on positive play.”

By emphasizing fun, safety and convenience, i9 Sports reaches its mission: “to help kids succeed in life through sports.”

And considering the past year has seen friction among teammates caused because of misconduct in NFL players Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles and Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins, having a program that emphasizes the importance of being a positive player speaks volumes both on and off the field.

Watkins, who is also a fifth grade teacher, said one of the biggest benefits to i9 Sports is the sportsmanship value that is stressed throughout the season.

Each week a different value, such as paying attention, communication or teamwork, is the players’ goal. So beforehand, coaches tell their players what value to focus on during the game, and then the two players who showcased this value the most get a medal.

“This idea is to not only promote these values during the games, but to see how that looks in the classroom as well,” Watkins said.

Another benefit, Watkins said, is the convenience for parents and family members: it’s only one day a week with a 30-minute practice followed by a 45-minute game.

And Watkins isn’t the only one who appreciates the i9 Sports schedule structure, as Carrie Roberts, mother of two i9 Sports athletes, Ethan and Megan, said her first year in the program has been a great experience so far.

“I liked the philosophy,” Roberts said. “I liked that they played and practiced on the same day and that there are multiple age groups, so both my kids could play.”

Although Roberts said they entered the i9 Sports organization without knowing anyone, her children are excited about playing and enjoy it.

“They do understand it’s just for fun and it’s okay to lose,” Roberts said.

And for first-time coaches Randy and April Bridgeman, i9 Sports is their way of bonding with their 6-year-old daughter, Caroline.

“We just want her to play and enjoy it and the dynamics it offers,” April said.

They agreed that the positive play environment that emphasizes values that players can correlate into their classrooms eliminates the performance pressures children normally face on athletic teams.

“You have no idea what athlete they’re gonna be,” Randy said. “I just want them to understand the game so they can be active as adults.”

Although the fall sports – soccer and flag football – are coming to a close, Watkins said basketball and cheerleading will start in January at McPherson Elementary.

Watkins said they encourage parents to not only sign up their children to play, but to also volunteer as coaches because he wants to get as many people involved in this program as possible.

“I do hope to grow i9 Sports in other parts of the community,” Watkins said.

More information and registration can be found at, and Watkins can be reached at 773-245-7834 or

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