Camp Courageous day grows Hawkeye connectivity

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IOWA CITY -- Allen from Washington walked right up to Kirk Ferentz and smiled.

Allen had a Hawkeyes cap on with an Iowa T-shirt that had No. 47 on it. The conversation ranged from the Hawkeyes, of course, to lunch to cookies. The won-loss record never came up, just Allen's smile. That stayed the whole time.

Saturday was the Camp Courageous visit to Kinnick Stadium. Camp Courageous is a year-round recreational and respite care facility for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities, brain injuries, hearing and visual impairments, autism, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and special needs.

It's life and 17 Iowa seniors greeted campers with autographs and connections.

"Mark was the best," cornerback Micah Hyde said. "We were up in the press box looking over at the hospital (University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics). He said how he's always in the hospital. He always pulls his IVs out and the nurses come in and he tells them, he's sexy and he knows it.

"He was a really funny guy. I definitely connected with a bunch of campers."

Iowa football has an active community outreach. Over the last three years, Iowa football players have put in 3,430 community service hours. From May 2008 (when major flooding hit Iowa City) through last year, UI football participated in 59 service projects and averaged more than 1,143. After spring practice ended in April, players have put in time in reading programs at area schools and Saturday's visit with Camp Courageous.

Some of the little moments Saturday were incredibly precious.

"This day is always funs," Ferentz said. "The pure enthusiasm, the pure enjoyment, it's pretty special. It's unfiltered. This is an unfiltered experience right here."

Iowa football's relationship with Camp Courageous started in 2005, when a group of Hawkeyes jumped into couple of vans and trucked out to the camp in Monticello. Charlie Becker, the camp's executive director, asked if it'd be OK for campers to visit Kinnick. The last seven years, Iowa has played host to a lunch, autograph session, tours of the lockerrooms and press box and some time on the field.

"It's pure," Becker said. "There are no hidden agendas, this is as pure as it gets. In talking to the parents, they almost all tell me the kids lay their Hawkeye gear out and can't sleep the night before. It's almost Christmas for the kids."

None of the players wore those giant white headphones or texted their girlfriends. There was true engagement and interaction.

Defensive lineman Steve Bigach met a young man who wanted to play linebacker.

"It just impresses you how excited they are about everything in life. It's pretty awesome," Bigach said. "You get put into a position by your athletic ability to reach out to people, this is a really good thing.

"If you get put on that pedastal and you're not helping the people around you, it's not worth it. If you see a smile on a kid's face because you shake his hand or sign an autograph, that's a big deal."

Quarterback James Vandenberg met a little running back named Owen.

"He was flying through the press box halls up there," he said. "We got to meet a lot of really good people. A lot of folks really wanted me to walk them down the tunnel, that was something we all thought was cool."

Iowa football players have finals in front of them next week. No one looked at their watch and wondered if they shouldn't have a book in front of them.

"I met a kid named Donald," center James Ferentz said. "We were up in the press box and he said it was one of the best days he's ever had. That was really rewarding. Just to hear that, it really makes it worth it."

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