*This storyline was voted as one of the top storylines of 2017 by Gazette staff. Other top storylines include sexual harassment at the Iowa Statehouse, the debate over the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and the purchase of Rockwell Collins.
IOWA CITY — Along with the highly anticipated new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, this year delivered an unexpected national acclaim for its relationship with the community.
From ESPN to the Walt Disney Company to thousands of Facebook and Twitter feeds, legions of Americans — many unattached to Iowa — took notice of a new tradition inside Kinnick Stadium, home to Hawkeye football and neighbor to the new $360 million UI children’s hospital.
During the first game of the season, just after the first quarter, fans turned their gaze from the field to the 14-story hospital and started waving. Looking down on the 68,000 pairs of eyes and raised hands were dozens of children, many undergoing care for serious illnesses.
“To see so many people participating — this wasn’t like some of the people stood up,” Leigh Ann Kennedy said. “This was the entire stadium, and we could see it all, and it was amazing.”
Kennedy’s 8-year-old son was among those hospitalized that weekend, and he wasn’t feeling well that morning. But “the wave” perked him up, his mom said.
Administrators had the hospital’s proximity to the football field in mind when they created a “press box” on the 12th floor specifically for viewing Hawkeye games. But the wave developed separately, with a social media campaign and then hordes of fans.
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The new tradition caught fire nationally, with players and coaches and even opposing team fans at Hawkeye away games, participating.
Disney Sports in November announced it was giving the Iowa football program its Disney Sports Spirit Award.
The new children’s hospital’s debut in February was not quite as smooth. It was supposed to open in December 2016 but was delayed due to construction setbacks.
Families and patients since, however, have raved about its amenities and quiet atmosphere.