Dec. 25, 2011
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The holiday “happy juice” that brightened Christopher’s Tuesday was compliments of the University of Iowa football team.
Christmas came early for several children at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Dec. 20, when a handful of first and second-year Hawkeye football student-athletes stopped by for more than an hour to deliver gifts, socialize, and play games with ill children. The act of goodwill is nothing new within the UI football program, which is well known for logging extensive community service hours.
On this day, Chigozie Ejiasi, director of player development for the football program, summoned the assistance of eight student-athletes to participate — and nearly double that number showed up.
“That shows how much the guys want to give back and help those kids at the hospital,” Ejiasi said. “It’s a tough thing being at the hospital during Christmastime; our guys realize it’s a great opportunity for them to go over and help out.”
Two days after the visit to the UIHC, the Hawkeyes departed for Arizona, where they continue to prepare for the 2011 Insight Bowl and the No. 19 Oklahoma Sooners. But first, they enhanced the day for dozens of children in Iowa City.
“Somebody asked who gave (Christopher) happy juice…the football players did,” said Christopher’s mother. “It makes a huge difference in his entire stay. He met quite a few of the players, and it means a lot to him. He’s pretty excited.”
Christopher, who resides in Dubuque, spent nearly 80 percent of the 2011 calendar year in the UIHC, so this wasn’t his first encounter with Hawkeye athletes. The thrill of meeting his heroes never fades.
“It’s the worst possible thing when you think about kids being in the hospital over the holidays,” said Kathy Whiteside, child life specialist for the Children’s Hospital of Iowa. “Anything that can brighten their lives while they’re in the hospital is what we want, and the Hawkeyes are people they respect and look up to. For them to visit is really important.”
After playing air hockey with Hawkeye tight end Ray Hamilton and other players, Steven, a young patient clad in black and gold suspenders, called the experience “amazing.”
“I hope I can stay up to watch the bowl game,” Steven said. “Hopefully they win.”
Chrystal, another patient, received a large stuffed pink monkey from the Hawkeye players. She said their visit and words of encouragement lifted her spirits.
“It felt good,” Chrystal said. “It was really nice of them to bring a gift. It brightened my day.”
The excitement level of the children was impossible to miss. Ejiasi said some of the patients on the floor he visited were ready to jump into the toy bin. The visit was a boost to parents as well.
“There were several parents who thanked the players for coming over and taking the time,” Ejiasi said. “It was beneficial to both the players and the families.”
James Morris, an All-Big Ten Conference linebacker who has made 105 tackles this season, handed out a few assists Tuesday.
“This is a great experience, anytime we can spread Christmas cheer, that’s awesome,” Morris said. “We feel like we’re a big part of the community and we’re just looking to give back anyway we can. A lot of these kids are in pretty unfortunate situations. Anytime we can come in and help them, or make that a little easier, it makes us feel good and we know it makes them feel good.”
For freshman running back Jordan Canzeri, this was his first trip to the hospital during the holiday season.
“It’s heartwarming to know that we’re making a difference by being able to talk to them and seeing their experiences as Hawkeye fans,” Canzeri said. “It’s good to hear their stories of how one football player inspires them and makes them happy.”
Tuesday at the UIHC was a day of smiles and wonderment…for children and the student-athletes.
“Our patients absolutely love the Hawkeyes and they talk about them all the time,” Whiteside said. “For them to actually get to meet the players is a treat for them, but also we think it’s important for the Hawkeyes to understand what the kids at the hospital are going through, and get a first-hand look of what it’s like to be in the hospital over the holidays. We’re happy it works out and the players can come.”