Playing fair

. January 24, 2013.

When Chris Cristian was a kid, youngsters would get together after school on a warm spring afternoon for a freewheeling game of stickball.

Today, as parents know, you’re more likely to find glassy-eyed boys and girls plopped on the couch staring at video games. Cristian is hoping to change all that. The 47-year-old Ann Arbor resident is the franchise owner and program director of i9 Sports of Washtenaw County. “We do fly football with a focus on fun,” said Cristian. “It’s designed to provide recreational
sports for kids ages three to 14.”

From imagination to inspiration

The national group gets its name from nine core values, from imagination to inspiration, organizers hope to impart to the youngsters on the sports leagues. The youths aren’t the only people with character foremost in their minds. Parents who sign their kids up for i9 have to pledge to not use negative or derogatory language directed at coaches or children. Locally, boys and girls play in Ann Arbor’s Fuller and Olsen Parks in leagues with membership determined by age. In addition to fly football, a game where kids touch flags on opponents’ waists instead of tackling them, there are short-term basketball and soccer clinics.

Winning isn’t everything to Cristian and his organization. “We do keep score, but it’s not about pulling out all the stops trying to win. We want to teach our kids sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” he says. Helping kids discover the importance of courtesy, maintaining a positive attitude, respect and listening is one of the most important parts of the game. “We want to make sure the kids are learning how to win gracefully and how to lose with dignity. Playing sports is about having those particular things in life,” explains Cristian. “If they give 100 percent of their efforts, that’s being a winner.” Everyone on the teams plays. No one mopes on the sidelines, even if they aren’t a natural born football star.

For love of the game

Cristian understands from his own personal experience that you don’t have to be a top athlete to benefit from sports. “Sometimes what happens is kids get pushed so hard they turn away from sports. Kids who may not be an ideal athlete still can play,” says Cristian, who loved to run when he was a teenager, although he wasn’t the star quarterback. “My sport was track. I wasn’t as good at other sports,” he recalls. While scoring touchdowns isn’t the league’s primary focus, there’s plenty of recognition of youthful effort. The 100-200 youths on the five-member teams can earn sportsmanship medals, according to Cristian, himself the father of three young children.

“It makes them a well-rounded individual,” he says. “I want to provide that for my kids.” School teams have their disadvantages. At i9, there are no expensive road trips or fundraising obligations. Everyone gets a mesh jersey uniform. Cristian said he chose to run the program because he loves sports, enjoys working with little ones and hopes to make a difference. “We want kids to have fun,” he says.

To find out more about i9 Sports of Washtenaw, visit or call 734-302-PLAY (7529).