It’s amazing what a simple wave can mean to the patients at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital, a 12-floor structure that overlooks Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
After the first quarter of every Iowa home football game, people in the 70,000-capacity stadium face the east end and wave to the inhabitants on the 12th floor, dubbed the “Press Box.”
After years of gawking at the construction, which started in 2012 and was finished this past spring, an idea came to Krista Young, an Anita, Iowa, native. She posted her thoughts in May to the Hawkeye Heaven Facebook page:
"I think, with the new U of I hospital addition open, Kinnick should hold a 'wave to the kids' minute during every game. Can you imagine how neat it would be to have all those fans, players & coaching staff looking up at you sending a little extra inspiration?"
The idea took off from there.
What’s known as college football’s newest tradition debuted in Iowa’s opener Sept. 2 against Wyoming. It has transformed from a grassroots campaign to brighten the days of patients during home games to an organized facet of home games.
Young is still in awe whenever she witnesses it.
“It was just on a whim,” Young said of her idea. “I had no idea it would take off like this. I’m glad it did. … I didn’t think it would go anywhere. I just kept seeing photos and it just breaks your heart, and I thought ‘hey!’ It wasn’t an in-depth process. I’m not a rocket scientist. I just thought it might be neat, and it was enough of a spark to light this whole thing on fire.”
Gwen Stenio, the manager of the child life program at the hospital, said the impact on the children is palpable.
“It’s such a simple gesture, but it’s so powerful to me,” Stenio said. “I think that’s what’s been so amazing about it is that it’s something so simple, it doesn’t cost anything, but it’s been a real powerful, uplifting experience for our patients and families. And I feel like it does contribute to the healing that takes place with just the encouragement that takes place and the love and support that’s shown.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said his team will participate in the wave when the Buckeyes take on the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
"We're honored to take part in that,” Meyer said.
The relationship between the Iowa athletics program and the hospital has been strong for years. The Hawkeyes’ “Kid Captain” program, started in 2009, honors past and current patients at the hospital before every football season. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and his wife, Mary, donated $1 million to the hospital’s neonatal research division in August.
The connection is as robust as ever with the wave tradition.
“From the first game to now, it’s just been amazing all that’s come from it as well, just the number of people that are reaching out to the hospital in others ways because of it,” Stenio said.
Young, who once thought her idea would be lost amongst a sea of Hawkeyes fodder on a Facebook page, now just hopes it carries on. The staff and patients at the hospital can’t thank her enough for her contribution.
“It has given the kids not only something to look forward to on home game weeks, but also just at the moment that it happens it’s such a genuine feeling of support and care that’s extended to the kids and the families that it’s almost tangible,” Stenio said. “They can feel it, the support that’s being shown. I think the size of it, 70,000 people in the stands and everyone waving, it’s pretty incredible.”