June 18, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa —It’s not often that the University of Iowa football team and its guest both leave Kinnick Stadium all smiles. For the past five years that scenario plays out for a day in June when Camp Courageous campers come to town.
According to Charlie Becker, executive director of Camp Courageous, 150 campers and staff made the trip to Kinnick Stadium on Friday, where they enjoyed a picnic-style meal, posed for photographs, toured the facility, received autographs and stepped onto the Kinnick Stadium turf.
“It’s been heartwarming for me from the outside looking in,” Becker said. “I talk to the parents when campers can’t sleep for days in anticipation of coming to Kinnick Stadium and being with the coaches and the players. It’s nice for the parents and everybody else to see the relationship and the bonding that happens almost instantly between the players and campers.”
The UI football program is steep in tradition and head coach Kirk Ferentz says the Camp Courageous visit is becoming a tradition for the senior Hawkeyes.
“It’s great for all the people from Camp Courageous, but it does more for us than it does for them,” said Hawkeye fullback Brett Morse. “They like us signing autographs, but we get more out of the experience — it’s a fun time. It makes playing for the Hawkeyes an unbelievable experience; it’s great to have all the support we do around the state.”
For preseason All-American defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the look on the faces of the campers makes his day special.
“When we work with the kids and seeing their faces and how happy they are to meet the Hawks,” Clayborn said. “It’s just a wonderful thing and I think I enjoy it more than they enjoy it. This is something special.”
Becker sees the personality of Ferentz rubbing off on the Hawkeye seniors.
“There’s nothing like seeing a great, big, huge football player pushing a camper in a wheelchair throughout the stadium,” Becker said. “The players are an incredibly kind-hearted group of individuals.”
“He won’t leave until that last camper gets an autograph, handshake and picture with the coach. For Kirk Ferentz to take a day off his super-busy schedule and spend it with the campers is just incredible.”
The UI football players and coaches traveled to Camp Courageous in Monticello the first year of the project and all parties agreed that the event was a success.
“There is nothing like coming down to Kinnick Stadium for the campers and staff and everyone else,” Becker said.
Which is what has happened the last four years. Becker said he can always count on Ferentz being one of the first to arrive and the last to leave.
“He won’t leave until that last camper gets an autograph, handshake and picture with the coach,” Becker said. “For Kirk Ferentz to take a day off his super-busy schedule and spend it with the campers is just incredible.”
Ferentz, who is entering his 12th season as head coach of the Hawkeyes, calls it a win-win situation for the campers and his players.
“Through an event like this, our players walk away with a better realization of just how fortunate all of us are to be involved in collegiate athletics and to be healthy and go out and do things that maybe others can’t do,” Ferentz said. “Everyone comes out happy.”
Everyone, including Matt, a camper from Dyersville, who waited patiently for an autograph from his favorite player, quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
“I’m a big-time Hawkeye fan,” Matt said. “Go Hawks!”
Camp Courageous was founded in 1972 when 40 acres of land was donated for the sole purpose of establishing a camp for the disabled. In 1973 five buildings were built from donated labor and materials. By 1974 the camp was ready for its first campers, which totaled 211. Today the camp is open year-round and has over 150 acres of land with 16 buildings. Annually, Camp Courageous serves more than 5,000 campers.