By: BRANDEE BRITT
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The spring semester doesn’t officially start until Tuesday, but the University of Iowa women’s basketball team found itself in a different type of classroom this winter.
Over the past two weeks, the Hawkeyes utilized their winter break to visit nine elementary schools to meet with thousands of students across the Iowa City area.
Sophomore center Megan Gustafson says the response to their visits was overwhelming.
“I spoke at two school assemblies,” said Gustafson. “One was in the morning and one was in the afternoon, but the kids were just as excited to see us at both times. They would scream and yell like crazy for us.”
The team divided up into groups of two or three to talk to various classrooms and school-wide assemblies. The topics of discussion included the importance of teamwork, respect, exercise, nutrition, and balancing work in the classroom with the demands of athletics. The Hawkeyes then opened up the floor for questions.
“I personally loved the questions that they asked,” said freshman Amanda Ollinger. “Sometimes they would be really goofy questions like ‘Do you like pizza?’ then there would be some good ones like ‘Why did you decide to play basketball or why did you choose to go to Iowa?’ You never knew what to expect and I enjoyed answering those.”
After some discussion, the team brought out the basketballs and called on volunteers to compete in games like knockout and P-I-G, before giving high fives and hugs to each student as they made their way back to class.
“It’s obvious that they really look up to us,” said Gustafson. “Some of them have been to a lot of games, and now we’ve had the chance to interact with and build relationships with them. We aren’t just that person on the court anymore. They can see us as everyday people now and look up to us on a more personal level.
“Just seeing the look of excitement across their faces was so satisfying. It’s cool that we’ve been able to provide that for the kids.”
For Ollinger, a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the team’s impact on the students hit home.
“I didn’t have anything like this when I was a kid,” said Ollinger. “It’s nice to be able to provide motivation for kids. I wish I had that. Now it feels good to know that I’m doing something that someone else looks up to me for. That’s rewarding and you can’t put into words how much it means to you.”
The Hawkeyes return to Big Ten action Tuesday, when they travel to Rutgers for a 6 p.m. (CT) road contest. Iowa returns to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Jan. 21, for a 2 p.m. game against Minnesota.
To purchase tickets visit hawkeyesports.com, visit the ticket window in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, or dial 1-800-IA-HAWKS.