June 18, 2003
The following first appeared in the June 18, 2003 editions of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
Nobody on the Iowa women’s basketball team could predict the impact of the act.
Helping to build a house for Habitat for Humanity just seemed like a nice thing to do. Then, the structure took shape.
“It was amazing,” Iowa forward Becca McCann said. “We walked in and we could see from one side of the house to the other. By the time we left, you could see where each bedroom and bathroom and closet were.
“We felt like we’re building a home for a mom and her two little kids.”
The Hawkeyes performed this act of giving last year in Cedar Rapids. They often can be found giving back to their community.
“I think we gained more than we gave doing something like Habitat for Humanity,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “When our women put together a wall and raise it, what a team-building experience that is. It gave me goose bumps to watch them do that.
“You learn how good it feels to volunteer.”
Bluder requires her athletes to give back to their community. It’s something discussed during the recruiting process.
“I don’t think that people naturally know how to volunteer,” Bluder said. “Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I want to do something good for somebody else.’
“But if you learn to do it, it becomes a part of your life.”
The Hawkeyes reaching out to their young female fans is especially important, Bluder said. While boys see role models on TV all of the time, heroines are fewer.
Bluder reminds her players to talk to young fans. The coach feels that accessibility represents a huge part of role modeling.
Iowa views its relationship with the Girl Scouts as an important mission. The team honors the organization at one home game each season. Thousands of Girl Scouts attend it.
Bluder chaired the local Girl Scouts fund-raising dinner this year.
“It’s such a great organization for girls,” Bluder said. “It teaches them leadership skills, and that’s not all about sports. It’s just great for them to learn to be strong and have values.”
Lessons are being learned by the Hawkeyes. They often perform charitable acts without being urged by their coach.
Under the leadership of forward Jennie Lillis, Iowa players made Valentine cards for distribution at University Hospitals. Children and adults received the handmade greetings.
During their rounds with the Valentines, the Hawkeyes met a sick little boy. The patient made such an impression on them that they bought a basketball, signed it and gave it to him.
“(The coaches) knew nothing about that until they asked us to sign the ball,” Bluder said. “To me, that was better than winning a game because our players learned to do that on their own.”
The Hawkeyes frequently visit the Children’s Hospital of Iowa. They leave a large impression with the patients.
“One of the coaches will call and say, ‘Is there a time when we can bring the whole team over?'” said Gwen Senio, a certified child life specialist.
“If we’re lucky enough to get the whole team, we’ll take them around room to room and let them see as many kids as they can, especially the ones that we think can really benefit from it.”
Senio said the children cherish the visits and the souvenirs given to them. At a tough time, the patients feel that somebody cares about them.
“It also really lifts the spirits of the parents,” Senio said. “Many of the kids that we see come here for very life-threatening situations. It’s very discouraging.”
McCann remembers when a young boy being discharged stayed in the hospital until he received an autographed basketball he had requested.
“He waited like three or four hours until we got out of practice,” McCann said. “He really wanted that ball we promised him.”
The dire condition of many patients saddens Iowa players. The Hawkeyes still project a positive attitude in hopes of lifting spirits.
“I love children, and it’s really sad to see kids that aren’t able to run around and play and just be normal kids,” McCann said. “I’ve learned that you can tell them that you’re thinking of them and that you’re pulling for them. That helps.”
The Hawkeyes also reach out to fans after each home game. They sign autographs on the concourse at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Autograph sessions are fun after victories. They are much harder following losses.
“When you fail, and everybody in the gym knows that you failed, it’s tough to go and be cordial,” Bluder said. “But athletics teaches you how to deal with success and failure. And you’re not going to win at everything in life.”
These experiences add to student growth during college. And the lessons extend well beyond athletics and academics.
“You can give money,” Bluder said. “It’s real easy to do that. But to give your time, that just shows a different type of commitment. It shows that you’re personally involved.
“You gain much more from that.”