IOWA CITY – Spending time in a children’s hospital is not something anyone ever hopes for.
It can be a terrible experience that leaves children and their families feeling isolated from the rest of the world. But on six Saturdays in the fall each year, patients at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, which overlooks Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, know they are not alone. It’s when 70,000 fans, players, coaches, and staff look up and wave at the hospital at the end of the first quarter, only to let them know that people are thinking of them.
While the iconic Big Ten stadium wasn’t filled with crowds last Friday, there were around 100 people on the field. Hope College football team traveled to their street game at Coe College, Iowa, and head coach Peter Stuursma was able to pull some strings so the Flying Dutchmen could tour Kinnick.
After their walkthrough, they decided to join the Hawkeyes tradition. Since it wasn’t a game day for Iowa, they weren’t sure if kids would look out their windows. But that didn’t stop her from trying.
“We made our own little wave, not to steal their tradition, but to really recognize them,” said Stuursma. “Our boys are lucky enough to go out and play a game and it was our little way of paying homage to that [Iowa and those kids]. ”
The Flying Dutchmen lost in a 28-21 heartbreak to Coe the next day. The loss was hard to swallow, but the opportunity they had the day before was a ray of hope the team could take away from the road trip.
While the Wave was the culmination of the entire Iowa experience for the team, it was possible to step foot on a Division I field, but Power Five was something a lot of people never thought they’d get the chance. Ryan Young, a junior corner of the Flying Dutchmen, said the scale of it all was absurd.
“The first time we went outside I thought the field itself was tiny compared to the huge stadium and all the stands,” said Young. “But when I got in there, the lawn is so comfortable that you could have slept out there.”
Eric Hoogland, a sophomore tight end, grew up in a huge Hawkeye family. He’s been in the stands at the stadium for more than a dozen games. But Hope’s trip to Kinnick was something the Grandville native will hold onto forever.
“It was a dream to go through the tunnel and go out onto the field, the same field that so many of my favorite Iowa players played on that I grew up on,” said Hoogland. “It was also great to be able to wave to the kids at the children’s hospital, one of the greatest traditions in college football.”
These are the things college football is about. Winning and losing are important to Stuursma and the rest of the team, but it’s also about making memories with the guys you buckle up your pads with.
That’s why Stuursma wanted his boys to be able to hit the field in Kinnick so badly last week.
“We’re trying to give our boys experiences they normally wouldn’t have,” said Sturrsma. “I want to look for opportunities for our boys to see and do different things and our boys enjoyed it.”
Young has had a productive career as a defender at Hope and can recall unforgettable moments on the field in just two full seasons at Hope. But when he looks back on his days in orange and blue in 20 or 30 years, the first thought that comes to mind won’t be a big interception or a game-winning tackle, it will look up and wave.
He doesn’t know how many children saw the gesture that Friday afternoon. Regardless of the number, if a single child saw it and only for a moment understood that it was not alone in its struggle, it was worth it.
“Even if there was just one kid up there to see us, I hope it means the world to them,” said Young. “That was really great.”
—Contact Assistant Sports Editor Will Kennedy at Will.Kennedy@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByWillKennedy and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.