i9 Sports and coronavirus: Franchisee spreads messages of hope & humor
Fort Worth franchise owner finds a way to give joy to others — and gains an unexpected benefit along the way
Micah Nisley has been running her Dallas-Fort Worth-area i9 Sports franchises since 2010, and like the rest of us, she’d simply never encountered anything like the coronavirus pandemic before.
“I didn’t know how on a personal level I would get through this at the beginning,” says Nisley, mom to 4-year-old Knox and 2-year-old Marley. “I didn’t know how it would be. I was scared and trepidatious.”
Like many people, she was struggling to sleep and found herself waking up every morning at 3 a.m., just staring at the ceiling and wondering what the next day might bring. And like many more, she tried to keep busy. She and her husband and business partner, Tom, cleaned every room in the house. They moved on to the attic to put some things away, and that’s when Nisley came across their alphabet signs.
She and her husband had purchased nine sets of alphabet signage so they could post holiday messages like “Happy Mother’s Day” and Opening Day welcome signs at their i9 Sports venues in the Fort Worth area. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I can do something with this.’” Up went Tom. Down came the five heavy boxes of letters. Nisley called on friends to help her come up with some creative ideas.
A new way to spread joy
The first message was something she knew everyone would relate to: “Send TP.”
And it evolved from there. She printed out a blank calendar and plotted out five weeks’ worth of messages. Some were funny, others inspirational. She ditched those 3 a.m. ceiling-gazing sessions for a quick coffee before heading out into the yard to change that day’s signage.
“As an i9 Sports business owner, I am in the business of bringing joy to my community,” Nisley says. “It’s what I’m used to doing, and not being able to do it — I had to figure out a way, even if it was small-scale, to bring joy to the families in my community.”
The unexpected benefits
Nisley set out to cheer up others. She was somewhat unprepared to be cheered up herself.
All her neighbors were out walking every day, so she knew the signs would be seen. “I wanted to keep putting out signs in the yard until we could return to a little bit of normalcy. I wanted to make everybody’s day a little bit brighter.”
She began to meet and get to know those neighbors, who had all been mostly strangers before. She had extra alphabet signs so she was able to pull off some surprise birthday greetings for a child who lived a few houses away or a neighbor turning 60 just up the street.
“Every morning I got my coffee, figured out what I was going to do with my signs, put stakes in the yard. I got blisters on my hands,” she says. “Being outside I got to meet so many neighbors because everyone’s out walking, constantly. People would come by and say thank you for the signs and thank you for brightening our day, people that I would never get to meet otherwise.
“I told my husband it honestly helped me get through this a lot,” says Nisley, who struggled for weeks when lockdown first began. “It helped my psyche. It gave me something to do every morning. Even if I wasn’t going to get to do anything else, I accomplished this one thing. It was intended to help the neighborhood and brighten everyone else’s day, and I think the outcome was that it helped me a lot personally, too.”
Looking toward the new normal
Texas officially came off of lockdown on May 1, and Nisley and other i9 Sports franchisees are working together to figure out how to move forward. The Nisleys have pushed their typical June start date for the summer season to mid-July. Youth sports will definitely be back, but things won’t be like they were before.
They’ll be strongly recommending that only one parent/guardian per player be in attendance on game day, if possible, and they’ll also ask spectators to monitor their own social distancing. Instead of two teams of five, children might play in two teams of three. They may replace some game play with clinics and camps, where kids can still excel but won’t have as much contact. Read the complete list of the safety measures i9 Sports is implementing from a national standpoint.
“Everything’s a little bit different. We’re going to run smaller teams; we’ll have hand sanitizer stations. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we can return to play safely,” she says.
In a post-pandemic world, business owners like Nisley have no choice but to brace for the constant changes and learn how to navigate a new kind of marketplace.
“We’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to move forward. Even people in Dallas are dealing with different circumstances than where I live in Ft. Worth,” Nisley says. “But at i9 Sports, we’re all working together to move forward. We always do. We work together as a family and a team.”