116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — For nine years, the University of Iowa’s football program has welcomed women to campus for a day to learn about Hawkeye football from coaches and players while raising money for the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
With the uncertainty of the pandemic, the final in-person event has been postponed until June 11, 2022. But Mary Ferentz, wife of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz, still thought there was room for an alternative to keep fundraising toward their $3-million goal, including the final $1 million to endow an additional child life specialist to the staff.
So, this summer, the Iowa Ladies Football Academy will go live online at 7 p.m. on June 10, and it’s open to all football fans.
And while Zoom fatigue was a concern, Mary hopes the event she’s curated this year will still provide a special experience that fills a void fans have felt after not being able to attend games this past fall.
“Everybody's been so starved for football, and really everything, so it’s just like: what can we do, given the subject matter, to make it interesting?” Mary said. “We think the secret of Ladies Football Academy’s success is that you have access to play with coaches and facilities. So if we could build a virtual program with those principles, let’s do it.”
The virtual event is only 90 minutes, and will include a Q&A with head coach Kirk Ferentz, a players panel and a “Philm” Room with Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker. The event also will culminate with a new music video by former Hawkeye-turned-country singer Dalles Jacobus.
The price of admission still is a minimum tax-deductible donation of $50 to the hospital, but what’s new this year is the event is not just for women — it’s open to everybody.
“It’s virtual and hopefully a lot of men will tune in because we’re not just catering it to ladies, we’re catering it to football fans,” Mary said.
By mixing it up with candid conversations and education on the game, Mary thinks it will be a unique experience for fans looking for a variety of insight into the program.
“The beauty of it is you go to games and they're down there in their helmets, they look like these big indestructible, elite athletes, but underneath it, they’re somebody’s son or somebody's brother,” Mary said. “Philm Room is a little advanced, it’s critiquing their own performance.”
Each session also will be filmed from different football facilities on campus that fans normally don’t get to see. That’s part of what makes the Ladies Football Academy special — the opportunity to go places that fans normally don’t. Previously, participants registered in the press box, toured the home and away team locker rooms, while also running through drills on the turf at Kinnick Stadium.
Mary expects, as the co-host with Racheal Niensteadt, Director of Patient- and Family-Centered Services at the hospital, she’ll broadcast from the press box while Kirk will do his Q&A from another location. Players will do their panel from the team meeting room. Fans will still get to see the locker rooms.
Registration is open until 5 p.m. on June 10, just before the event, but Mary encourages early registration, since the online nature of the program allows a maximum capacity of 3,000 participants. But she hopes to meet her goal of registering that many for a worthy cause.
Child life specialists are not billable positions at the hospital, meaning they are solely funded by philanthropic contributions. The first $2.4 million raised from the event helped fund a combination of the new children’s hospital building expenses and pediatric research.
“These are people (child life specialists) who are highly trained that take care of the social and emotional needs of hospitalized kids,” Mary said. “They put together all the play activities, like the game-day setup for The Wave. All the services call them when they (kids) have a really scary, painful procedure, usually they are the people that will distract the child to get them through it and, oftentimes, reduce or eliminate the need for drugs.”
In addition, 50 silent auction items will be up for bid on Friday. The auction is open to all fans, regardless of their participation in the virtual football academy event. Some items included will be a dinner with members of the Hawkeye staff, a ticket package to the home opener against Indiana, including a two-night stay at the Marriott in downtown Iowa City with outdoor club seats and parking and a similar ticket package with terrace seating at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a basketball game. Other items include Hawkeye football gear, memorabilia from Hawkeyes who have played in the NFL, a weekend at Legacy Acres Hunting Ranch, an exclusive event reservation for a party of 20 at Elegance on Fifth, along with gift certificates to the store.
While women will go another summer without their own on-the-field experience, Mary looks forward to next year’s final in-person Ladies Football Academy.
"It’s been such a good thing and it takes about three years to raise $1 million,“ Mary said. ”But 10 years is a milestone and we thought: what can we do to make it special? We make it our last.“
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