And at i9 Sports, sportsmanship is valued so highly there are weekly rewards for it.
The recreational youth league, which has programs in 280 communities in 28 states, designates a specific value of sportsmanship — being a good buddy, humility, leadership — for coaches to emphasize each week. At the end of the week, the player on each team who best exemplified that value gets recognized.
Parents also have to pledge to display good sportsmanship, and not use negative or derogatory language with officials, coaches, other parents or kids. They also pledge to keep fun as the main emphasis of the league.
"We believe there's great value in competition, healthy competition," said Frank Fiume, founder and CEO of i9 Sports. "But learning how to win with grace and lose with dignity is key."
That's a lesson that's been ignored for too long, McCabe said. With devastating consequences.
Four years after he was assaulted, McCabe still gets migraine-like headaches every day, has limited hearing in his left ear and has lost his sense of taste and smell. Yet he continues to referee — "I just love doing it so much" — hoping he can instill lessons of sportsmanship with the coaches and players he encounters.
But he wonders if it has any impact. Though his assault was big news in Rochester when it happened and again when his attacker was sentenced to 10 years in prison, McCabe sees the same poisonous behavior everywhere he goes. At a state championship football game he worked recently, one of the coaches complained constantly and threw his clipboard. At a boys lacrosse game, McCabe heard a coach tell one of his players to "bury" an opponent.
"Every time I try to talk to somebody I hit a brick wall," McCabe said.
"Unless something's done in this country, it's going to happen again," he said. "Until we teach kids how to play and respect officials, it's going to happen again."