The Vinton fifth-grade soccer player honored for outstanding sportsmanship among players in a nine-state region responded to the news of her honor by telling her parents, “Why me? I don’t do anything special when I play. This is just who I am.”

Kenna Kurth, the daughter of Tim and Shawna Kurth, went to Chicago with her family this past weekend to receive the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) Section 6 Good Sportsmanship Award. Section 6 includes Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, North & South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. Kenna is a member of the Vinton U12 AYSO team.

Referees from each league recommend a player who displays outstanding sportsmanship, and those who make the biggest impression on the refs are considered for the regional award.

It began last fall, when referee Timothy Smith gave Kenna a sportsmanship award after the first game he officiated in which Kenna played.

I had the honor to issue a girl named Kenna a Sportsmanship badge,” Smith wrote on his Facebook page. “Her team was down 3-0 to my daughter’s team by half-time, yet she was still complimenting the opposing team on their play and encouraging her team to keep up their energy (and was instrumental in their comeback, a 4-3 victory).”

The ref recalled some specific actions that inspired him to give Kenna the honor.

She called herself twice on hand balls that I had to tell her to play on, and she checked on an opposing player who had taken a ball to the stomach. I could not believe how polite this girl was, and by half-time, I knew I would be nominating her for the award. After the game, she came up to me and directly thanked me for reffing. She was such an amazing girl, and her mom (the coach) was equally encouraging, demonstrating great AYSO principles while coaching her girls.” 

Smith asked the league to assign him to referee as many Vinton U12 games as possible.

This sportsmanship and great attitude led me to repeatedly look to sign up to ref their games,” Smith said. “And the best part is that Kenna’s sportsmanship has spread to the rest of her teammates. They all were encouraging the other team and each other. It was so incredibly awesome to see. Words can’t express how satisfying it is to see such behavior spread from one person to many.”

After the last game of the fall season, Smith, (whom the players call “TC”) received a box of cupcakes and a card signed by the entire team, with a hand-written note courtesy of Tim and Shawna.

This honestly hit me hard in the feels and brought tears to my eyes.” said Smith. “Numerous times I have had different girls and coaches seek me out to tell me they love having me as a ref. This appreciation helps validate in my mind that I am doing the right thing on the field and it means the world when people take time to express their gratitude. This card was going far beyond that and I will keep this in my fire-proof box to pull out and read when/if I ever have a bad run-in with a coach in the future. The kids – they are why all of us are out there volunteering, and knowing that we are having a positive influence on them makes it all worth it.”

Shawna recalls several times when TC would praise Kenna for her sportsmanship.

I lost count of the number of times he would come up to me after the game in disbelief in how consistent Kenna is with her honesty, and the respect and kindness that she treats everyone on the field with with,” says Shawna. “Had it have been any of my players receiving this award, I would have been proud beyond belief. But the fact that it was not only one of my players, but my own daughter, is such a proud moment, not only as a coach, but as Mom.”

Along with the fundamentals of the game, Shawna says she spends part of each practice reminding the players about sportsmanship.

I explain over and over that our ultimate goal isn’t a win on the court or a field,” she says. “While wining is more fun, it’s not our real goal. A true win is coaches treating their players with respect and grace; it’s remembering the players are children and it’s OK for them to make mistakes; it’s teammates lifting and building one other up, it’s knowing as a team how to lose gracefully, and knowing how to be humble when they win, it’s players showing kindness and respect to the other team regardless of the final score.”

Kenna wore that sportsmanship badge on her jersey for the remainder of the fall season. The Kurths thought that was the end of it until they received a surprising email around Christmas informing them of the Regional Award, and inviting them to Chicago for the presentation. The family spent this past weekend on an all-expense paid trip to Chicago for the AYSO Expo, which included the award presentation.

TC sent the family a congratulatory message when he learned of Kenna’s regional award.

Congratulations! This award is so very well-deserved,” he wrote. “I honestly look forward to reffing games where Kenna and the rest of her team are playing because, game after game, she sets the bar for what good sportsmanship is all about. In fact, this past Saturday, when she scored against my daughter’s team, I heard her tell her team good try and that they are doing a good job. She is so consistent with her sportsmanship, it is crazy! To this day, she still calls herself for every handball (most of which are ball to hands). In that same game, I called her for a trip, and when she turned around and looked at me with a puzzled expression, I knew I had blown the call. I asked her afterwards what happened, she smiled and said an opposing player had tripped over the ball. If it were anyone else, I may have doubted them, but with Kenna, I am sure that is exactly what happened. Please tell Kenna how very happy I am for her and how much I appreciate what a great role model she is for the rest of her team. They have all stepped up their sportsmanship on the field, and I firmly believe it is because of her trend setting.”

Kenna’s mom says her daughter has set an example for everyone else, on the soccer field and beyond.

I think it’s our job as parents and as coaches to make sportsmanship a priority, not only in our players but in ourselves as the adults that are shaping these young lives. If we all treated one another the way Kenna does when she is playing, our world would look so very different.  If a 10-year-old can model this behavior, shouldn’t we all be able to do so? I believe this is how we truly win not only in sports but in life. I’m so incredibly proud of my girl and can’t not wait to see how God continues to use her.”

See a video of Kenna’s award presentation HERE.