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 SYDNEY OCKER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the University of Iowa softball team, taking care of business in the community is just as important as doing so in the classroom or on the field.
In her eight years at the helm of the Iowa softball program, head coach Marla Looper has always put an emphasis on volunteer work. Each player on the team is required to perform a minimum of 16 volunteer hours during the fall and 10 hours during the spring semester.
The student-athletes are encouraged to branch out to find an organization they can volunteer with on their own.
“Everyone is passionate about something different,” said Looper. “Some love working with kids, some love working with the elderly, and some like working with animals. We started talking about spreading things out and letting the players choose who they want to help. That way, they can work in an area they are passionate about.”
During the first year, the team volunteered with organizations like Iowa City’s VA Medical Center, the Hope Lodge, and the University of Iowa REACH Program.
The team’s volunteering efforts do not stop with these groups. Once a year, the Hawkeyes host an awareness game for the organizations they have been working with. The groups have the opportunity to throw out a first pitch, and the student-athletes put together videos of what they are doing and how fans can help.
“Volunteering a big part of the Iowa softball culture because we know we couldn’t do what we do on the field without the community’s support,” said senior Sarah Kurtz.
She spends her volunteer hours at Oaknoll Senior Center where she has become friends with a resident named Laverna.
“It has been amazing building this relationship with her,” said Kurtz. “I help her with tasks around her residence and really just socialize with her. She’s become a big part of my weekly routine and I will truly miss it next year.”
The UI REACH Program is one project the Hawkeyes have embraced since year one. Each year, the Hawkeyes hold a kickball game with members of the program. The REACH Program is a two-year certificate program that provides a Big Ten campus experience for people with disabilities.
Senior Allie Wood is one of a number of softball student-athletes who put in hours with the UI REACH program.
“The students at UI REACH have impacted my life at the university just as much as being a collegiate athlete has,” said Wood. “I am grateful for the opportunity to volunteer with such an outstanding program.”
The emphasis on finding something to be passionate about and using that to give back sets the Hawkeyes apart. It gives the players a different sense of pride in both the community and program.
Kenzie Ihle is a senior on the team, but she’s new to the program. She transferred to Iowa this year and embraced the idea of community right away as she began her volunteer work at Hope Lodge.
Ihle’s decision followed in the footsteps of senior Angela Schmiederer, who has spent the past four years giving time to the Hope Lodge community.
“As a team, we want to give back to the community as much as we can,” said Schmiederer. “The Iowa City community is so supportive of Hawkeye athletics and student athletes. It is an honor to be able to spend some time giving back to the people and organizations within this town. It truly draws us closer to the community and the people involved.”
The Hawkeyes return to action Tuesday, facing Nebraska in a midweek doubleheader in Lincoln beginning at 4 p.m. (CT).