A look inside the Iowa Ladies Football Academy

'Fourth-and-goal' comes through, GPS-ing with players and a thumb catch

Anne Edwards grabbed a quick selfie with Iowa QB C.J. Beathard. (Anne Edwards photo)
Anne Edwards grabbed a quick selfie with Iowa QB C.J. Beathard. (Anne Edwards photo)

Anne Edwards, a Solon resident and good friend of the On Iowa, took some notes during last weekend’s Iowa Ladies Football Academy, a fundraising project put together by Mary Ferentz, wife of head coach Kirk Ferentz. According to the UI football Twitter feed, the ILFA has raised $1 million in its four years. The money goes to the UI Children’s Hospital. Thanks to Anne for her time and insight! Some great stuff in there. Sounds like a blast.

When the first Iowa Ladies Football Academy was held in 2011, the organizers set a goal to raise $1 million dollars for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in the first five years.

The event has been so successful that after the 2013 academy, it seemed possible the goal could be met in the fourth year, a year ahead of schedule. How is this fund-raising accomplished? Attendees pay a $50 registration fee and then agree to raise a minimum level of donations, which this year was set at $500.

Attendees set up personalized Web pages on the ILFA website to raise funds. Many women had their own creative ideas about how to raise money — bake sales, jewelry sales, volleyball tournaments, online auctions of donated Hawkeye artwork and Zumba classes were just a few of the events that helped raise funds.

After months of fund-raising, this past Saturday the fourth Iowa Ladies Football Academy was held with the theme of “Fourth and Goal.”

Could the million-dollar goal be reached a year early?

I’ve been lucky enough to have attended all four years of the academy. The first year, I went on my own without knowing a single other attendee. The second year, I signed up with a co-worker and a friend to whom I had been introduced by a Nebraska fan (go figure). With the help of Facebook and Twitter, by the third year, our group grew to eight and we tailgated before the event.

This year we decided to take our plans to the next level. Through social media we met more passionate Hawkeye fans and our group of friends swelled to 15. Saturday, we set up our tailgate bright and early in the parking lot outside Kinnick Stadium. By 8 a.m. we were ready to go.

Everything you could ask for in a tailgate filled our table and coolers. The Hawkeye Marching Band and other game-day music filled the air. It almost felt like a football Saturday on a crisp fall morning.

At 10 a.m. sharp we packed up our tailgate and headed to registration, which took place up in the stadium press box. We were given pink Iowa Ladies Football Academy shirts, backpacks to stow our belongings and color bracelets to divide us into groups.

Because of the predicted rainy weather, the organizers had to be creative this year in how our game day experience started. We began in the home team locker room, got to run out of the tunnel onto the Kinnick Stadium turf and then visited the infamous pink visitors locker room.

After several photo opportunities, we were loaded onto one of the team buses and driven to the football facilities. We visited the weight room and learned a little bit about the weight program and had the chance to sample some of the nutritional items that the team eats.

A few of the players were in the weight room and were gracious enough to allow their pictures to be taken with many of the participants. From the weight room we ended up in the practice facility where we each received a 2014 Iowa Football poster signed by Coach Kirk Ferentz. We took our posters around to various spots for player autographs and photographs. There were many impromptu photos, one of which was C.J. Beathard posing in front of a human pyramid formed by my group.

Next we were divided up according to our bracelet color and then visited different stations around the practice field, each devoted to a team specialty (offensive linemen, linebackers, running backs, etc.) Our team, wearing lime green bracelets, was nicknamed Team Alex in honor of a student of one of our group members who recently lost his life to cancer. Our first stop was with defensive coordinator Phil Parker, where we went through a drill with the defensive backs. I learned quickly on my first drill not to try to catch a football with just a thumb. This resulted in a trip to the first-aid station. My thumb and hand were taped up, and I went back out to the practice field as an observer for the rest of the drills.

I guess I’ll now be able to say I have an old football injury.

We spent time with each position coach and learned about their specialty. At strength and conditioning Coach Chris Doyle’s area, he spoke about the importance of nutrition and how the players are asked to stay on the perimeter of a grocery store. He said items found on the inside aisles of the store, or those that are boxed or bagged, shouldn’t be eaten by the players. Fresh fruits, vegetables and meat were emphasized as being good foods. Coach Doyle also spoke about how the players are basically tracked by GPS at all times during the day and night. At any point, he can find out how much sleep a player has had and what their heart rate is. The most interesting thing I learned is that each player has a sensor on the back of their helmet that allows the staff to monitor the G-forces they have been subject to on the field.

We wrapped up our day with an awards ceremony hosted by Mary Ferentz, Kirk’s wife. Current and former Kid Captains were announced, and the top twenty fund-raisers were recognized and allowed to select a prize from an assortment of donated items. Mary announced the 2014 fund-raising total of $252,710, which left the event short of the million-dollar goal by $29,000. But disappointment turned to cheer when she said she and Coach Ferentz would pledge the final $29,000 to reach the goal. One million dollars was raised in four years!

Although this year’s theme was “Fourth and Goal” and the initial fund-raising goal was met, Mary announced that the Iowa Ladies Football Academy will continue next year. I look forward to attending my fifth ILFA next year with many of my old and new friends, where we will start a new chapter in raising funds for the Iowa’s Children’s Hospital. We will be back to “First and Goal” with our eyes on the future of the children of Iowa.

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