May 22, 2014
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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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
DAVENPORT, Iowa — Bill Barrett attended University of Iowa football games as a tot, waiting postgame in the northeast corner of Kinnick Stadium to collect chinstraps from Hawkeye helmets.
Six decades later, Barrett was attending the Greater Quad Cities I-Club spring banquet at Davenport Country Club, sitting at a table with UI head wrestling coach Tom Brands and graduate assistant football coach D.J. Hernandez.
“I enjoy the camaraderie of Hawkeye backers and getting a chance to talk with coaches one-on-one, getting to know them as people,” Barrett said. “I enjoy a good day of golf and a great meal with a lot of good people.”
Barrett graduated from the UI in 1972 with a degree in general science. He was one of approximately 100 that gathered May 19 to listen to the I-Club “gold team” consisting of UI head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery, Brands, Hernandez, and assistant women’s basketball coach Jenni Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald grew up a stone’s throw away in Long Grove.
While this I-Club group was in Davenport, the “black team” — headlined by head football coach Kirk Ferentz and head women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder — was in Waterloo. The two sets rotate locations every other year.
“It’s an opportunity for the athletic department and coaches to say hello and thank you face-to-face to our fans who do so much for the Hawkeyes,” said Darryl Borcherding, director of development for the University of Iowa Foundation. “To be able to do it face-to-face that many times around the state is an incredible experience. We owe that to our fans, and we love doing it.”
Borcherding thanked those in attendance for supporting the UI’s 689 student-athletes in 24 sports, for contributing to the athletic department’s self-generated $84 million annual budget, and for making the UI one of four schools in the country to have top 25 attendance in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and wrestling.
“It brings great energy to each of the locations we come to and keeps people thinking about Iowa. Our fans appreciate it, it’s a new message, a new group of coaches every year, and our fans love to hear it. They deserve it and we’re happy to keep telling that story.”
Director of development, UI Foundation
Between laughs, prizes, and autographs, few go away dissatisfied when the I-Club barnstorms through the area. On this night, attendees were entertained by the familiar voice of Gary Dolphin, play-by-play announcer for Hawkeye football and men’s basketball.
Dolphin opened with a jab at a rival university located in Ames, Iowa, and then provided a history lesson. Forest Evashevski was head football coach at the UI in the 1950s and he knew that if the Hawkeyes were to succeed in the Big Ten Conference, they would require resources. He went to Davenport to request the creation of the Quarterback Club, a forerunner to the I-Club.
“What we now know as the I-Club got its start in the Quad Cities,” Dolphin said.
A love affair between fans and the athletic department has since gained speed.
“It is the fans’ only connection flesh-to-flesh, handshake-to-handshake with guys like McCaffery and Ferentz,” said Dolphin, who is in his 18th year as I-Club emcee. “They pack these places. The passion is still there and that’s why they sell out Carver and Kinnick every year. Fans appreciate the fact that the coaches come out and spend a night with them.”
The I-Club Banquet circuit kicked off April 21 with the black team in Riverside and the gold team in Mason City. It ends tonight when gold travels to the Northwest Iowa Lakes I-Club in Okoboji.
“It brings great energy to each of the locations we come to and keeps people thinking about Iowa,” Borcherding said. “Our fans appreciate it, it’s a new message, a new group of coaches every year, and our fans love to hear it. They deserve it and we’re happy to keep telling that story.”
Dolphin shared advice that he received from renowned radio and television broadcaster Jim Zabel, who passed away May 23, 2013.
“Jim taught me valuable lessons,” Dolphin said. “He said, `Remember son, the two most petrifying words in the English language are cash bar.'”
The evening was not all jokes. Hernandez, who just completed his first season working with Hawkeye tight ends, already understands the significance of the I-Club and working with Ferentz.
“It’s great to be a Hawkeye, it’s great to be part of a family,” he said. “You work at other institutions and other universities and you really don’t feel that bond. You get a family feel when you come to these events. We would not be able to try to achieve greatness every year if it wasn’t for support of the I-Clubs.”
McCaffery talked beyond wins and losses, explaining how the Hawkeye family came to his side when his 14-year-old son Patrick was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. McCaffery shared how wrestler Tony Ramos, and members of the women’s basketball and baseball teams showed concern.
“Our family has received incredible support from across the state of Iowa. It’s truly an honor to be your coach,” McCaffery said.
Karole Snyder is on the board of directors for the Greater Quad Cities I-Club. An annual highlight for her is meeting UI support staff like Borcherding, executive director of development Matt Henderson, and assistant director of events Jayne Oswald, to name a few.
“I love all the speakers, but I also love getting to know the people behind the scenes,” Snyder said. “They keep all the other stuff going, too. I like meeting the people that we talk to on the phone once in a while.”
Barrett’s situation is an example of what keeps the I-Club tours popular. He became a Hawkeye fan by attending games with his father; years later he accompanied his father when the I-Club Banquet came to the Quad Cities.
“I see the same people every year,” Dolphin said. “We have a laugh, we have a drink, and then I meet new folks. They bring their kids. It is generational. Time marches on, but Hawkeye fandom continually turns over a new generation.”