Beyond good sportsmanship

Doing good is part of the company culture at i9 Sports. Two teams in our youth sports franchise gave a young boy and his mom an experience they’ll never forget.

A boy in a No. 14 blue jersey, his back to the camera, takes a victory lap across a football field as a man in a red coach jersey runs alongside.

No. 14 Nicholas Habel, who has Down syndrome, takes a victory lap around the field with his uncle and coach, Hans Nielsen. Two i9 Sports teams worked together that day to create a special memory for Nicholas and his mom.

It’s easy to understand how a youth sports franchise would be a good thing in any community. But sometimes there are hidden impacts, good things that happen that may set off a ripple-effect of positivity. We hear those stories often from our franchisees and the people who work for them. This is one such story.

Hans Nielsen is a volunteer coach for our location in Orlando, FL, working for i9 Sports franchise owner Jeff Mackey. Nielsen first got involved when his son, Josh, started getting interested in sports, and he’s been coaching ever since.

In May, Nielsen got a visit from sister, Deb Habel, and her son, Nicholas. Habel, who lost her voice box to thyroid cancer a few years ago and is going through a divorce, was considering a move to Florida for a fresh start and to be closer to her brother. Nicholas, who has Down syndrome, has always adored being around his 12-year-old cousin Josh. “My nephew loves it when he and Josh play Madden Football together because they both love football and are big Dallas Cowboys fans,” says Nielsen. “Nicholas absolutely loves hanging out with my son. They were at Josh’s football game one day and I kind of had an idea in my head going into it, and I was like, ‘You know, this would be the perfect opportunity…’””

“Nicholas doesn’t have a daily group of friends he hangs out with like most kids his age,” Nielsen says. “He loves sports but hasn’t had an opportunity to participate like my son does or other kids do.”

It was only natural that Deb and Nicholas join the family for Josh’s game day on Mother’s Day weekend, and that gave Nielsen the chance to put his idea into action.

Nielsen and his assistant coach, Ken Van Casteren, talked to their team, the Cowboys, and the rival team they were playing that day, the Broncos, which is in the same i9 youth sports franchise. They arranged for Nicholas to join the teams in play and score a touchdown in the last moments of the game.

Nielsen had his son play quarterback on that play, and then he motioned Nicholas to come down on the field. He slipped a jersey over the boy’s head, and told him the team needed him. An excited Nicholas joined the huddle.

“Josh is telling him, ‘I’m gonna give you the ball and you’re gonna run.’ Nicholas plays the video game and he watches the Cowboys play on Sundays, so he knew exactly where he was gonna line up, and Josh gets the ball and hikes it to him. Nicholas starts running down the field, and all the players on the other team are chasing after him and trying to pretend like they’re gonna pull his flag and everything. You know, really make it special for him,” Nielsen says.

“He just had the greatest smile on his face when he came across that end zone. He throws the ball up in the air and he kinda circles around and prances out in front of the sideline and started giving all the parents high fives.”

In the stands, of course, proud mom Habel was crying.

It was a chance for Nielsen to give his sister a Mother’s Day she’d never forget, and to give Nicholas a chance to shine in a way that he didn’t often have a chance to. And it gave the children on both football teams the opportunity to practice good sportsmanship in a different way. They even gave Nicholas that week’s Sportsmanship Medal, and Nielsen notes, “They all deserved a sportsmanship medal that day.” Nicholas spent the whole ride home holding his medal and telling his mom over and over how happy he was.

The other coaches and teams on the field were more than happy to help the moment happen.

“You know, all the coaches, they filmed it, they were passing it around between their friends, and they’re all saying how great a moment that was. It was really cool to be a part of something special like that and I can’t thank i9 Sports enough for giving all of us the opportunity to do something this amazing and special.”

Our company culture

i9 Sports is different from many youth sports franchises because we focus on customer experience. We are passionate about the children we serve, and our mission is to help them succeed in life through the life lessons they learn in sports. We appreciate the fact that their parents pay a premium to place their kids in our sports programs, and we make it our goal to ensure that they feel like they get far more value than they pay for.

The two teams that worked together on Mother’s Day weekend to help a little boy achieve a dream and provide a mother with a memory she will cherish forever are the very ideal of good sportsmanship. All the children, Nielsen said, were excited to participate. They made Nicholas feel welcome and included. Many of them have been on i9 Sports teams for years, and along the way they’ve truly learned the benefits of working together.

Learn more about our youth sports franchise

Find out more about the i9 Sports franchise opportunity by filling out the form to download our free franchise report. You can also explore more about our youth sports franchise brand on our research pages.