Hawkeye Home Game Challenge


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Barbara Thomas and Margaret Adams are two Iowa City residents on a mission: attend at least one home event for each University of Iowa athletics program during the 2023-24 academic year.

“I have lived in Iowa City for four decades, but I had never been to men’s wrestling,” says Adams. “I am sure everyone will be aghast at that, but part of it is time, even when you follow the team and live here. I’ve raised kids, worked full-time, had church activities… you get enmeshed in everyday life.”

Adams and Thomas say they cheer for all Hawkeye teams and frequently attend football and men’s basketball games, however they rarely used to attend events for Iowa’s other 20 Division I athletics programs.

This year was different. Since fall, the Hawkeye Home Game Challenge has produced a winning percentage of .889 that spans 17 different Hawkeye sports.

“Beginning this summer, I had more time to do things,” says Adams. “I used to live on the west side, so I could have ridden my bike over to Grant Field all these years. Did I? No. Now, watching field hockey is something I know and have done. I will go more regularly.”

Thomas, who is the Executive Director for Outreach Events at the UI Tippie College of Business, says she naturally took to the role of project manager.

“I am probably the organizer bunny,” says Thomas. “I organize programs and special events professionally. It’s deep in my skillset to organize, check the calendar and schedule a date.”

“She’s been the organizer,” Adams interjects. “I’ve been the sidekick.”

“Which makes me feel like I should have a black and gold cape,” Thomas replies with a laugh.

“Which makes me feel like I should have a black and gold cape!"

Barbara Thomas

The duo kicked off their season on Aug. 20 with a Hawkeye soccer victory over Kansas City. During the match, Thomas pitched her friend the idea of attending 19 more home events before the end of the academic year.

“We’ve started running into people who ask, ‘what number is this?’” says Adams. “‘How many do you have so far?’ A lot of people are following it.”

The Challenge traces its roots back to last winter, when Thomas attended a men’s wrestling dual for the first time with her family.

“I thought it was fascinating, because it’s a different crowd, different atmosphere, and there were so many things I didn’t know,” says Thomas. “I didn’t even know how many periods there were per match.”

Fortunately, Carver-Hawkeye Arena was sold out with passionate fans eager to proselytize. Thomas learned about match periods and scoring, challenge bricks and colored Velcro straps.

The match started with a first-minute pin by Spencer Lee (‘23). Thomas remembers the roar of the crowd.

“That was quite an introduction to the sport of wrestling.”

It got her thinking: how many other major collegiate sports experiences were right in her backyard?

“Why had I not experienced this?” asked Thomas.

Her husband, Michael Thomas, encouraged her to pursue the Hawkeye marathon. The idea was still in the front of her mind last summer when she bumped into Adams at the Farmers Market.

Thomas knew that Adams was mourning the recent loss of her husband, Rich Adams, whose battle with cancer ended in June 2023. The couple had been forced to quarantine for nearly two full years. Now, Adams was tasked with reacclimating to the “real world.”

“After my husband passed, it wasn’t about filling time, but finding more opportunities to do things,” says Adams. “Getting out into the real world and re-establishing relationships. I do love sports, and I do love doing this stuff. It has been a fun way of getting back out, reconnecting and finding fun things to do.”

Thomas, who primarily knew Adams from workout classes, insisted that the two spend quality time together soon. Thomas had recently overcome cancer, herself, and recognized a friend in need.

“In truth, when you know someone from Jazzercize, you know them about this much,” says Thomas, pinching two fingers together. “I am the type of person that I like to try to touch base when people are going through things.”

The Hawkeye Home Game Challenge soon had a name and a small social media following. Through her position at the college of business, Thomas is plugged into an extensive network of University of Iowa alumni friends on Facebook.

“I have a lot of Tippie alumni who are my friends on social media,” said Thomas. “It’s been a neat response.”

Thomas shares photos to Facebook and Flickr after every event. The average post garners dozens of engagements, but perhaps most rewarding are comments online and in-person from fans who are inspired to experience new Hawkeye sports.

At least one person said they would adopt the same goal as a New Year’s resolution.

“When you have kids and work full-time, life is very busy,” says Thomas. “I couldn’t have done this full project then. It is easy to get into a rut of doing the same things all the time. I think that the element of discovery has been good for us. I’m glad others have been inspired.”

The venture has brought many new experiences.

“In certain sports, fans share camaraderie for that sport,” said Thomas. “You may start a conversation with people and learn more about the sport and their appreciation for it.”

At field hockey, Thomas arrived ahead of Adams and was subsequently drenched in rain. A man named Kevin kept Thomas company through the downpour.

“I don’t know Kevin’s last name,” says Thomas, “but he was wearing a baseball cap that said University of Iowa Field Hockey. He provided all kinds of information about the rules of the sport.”

Thomas got to be the expert analyst for Adams the rest of the day. The rain cleared, and the Hawkeyes won.

“At swimming and diving, we met some parents who had driven from out of state,” says Adams. “We briefly explained what we were doing, and they were excited that someone new was taking interest.”  

The group took their photo and encouraged them to see the Hawkeye Home Game Challenge through to the finish.

That goal has been made feasible thanks in part to supporters who shared tickets for many of Iowa’s most sought-after events. Some of the pair’s best seats have been for men’s wrestling, shared by a friend named Brad Baldes, and for men’s basketball, courtesy of Patricia Tippie.

The biggest highlight? Possibly floor seats for women’s basketball against Minnesota on Dec. 30, from Catherine Zaharis. A Hawkeye superfan and emritus faculty member for the Tippie College of Business, Zaharis is a longtime season-ticket holder.

Headlined by superstar Caitlin Clark, women’s basketball has sold out or set attendance records for all 30 non-neutral site games during the regular season. Tickets at home can be particularly difficult to come by, but the Hawkeye Home Game Challenge seemed to have received VIP treatment.

“Sometimes, it was like ‘pinch me,’” says Thomas. “Caitlin was right there and shoots a three, right there in front of us. We were right there.”

Adams concurs, “There were a couple times during the game when I was a little starstruck.”

The Hawkeyes cruised to victory that day against the Gophers. Those memories and more were made possible thanks to the generosity of friends and fans.

“We have been very lucky,” Thomas insists.

Usually, Thomas scours hawkeyesports.com for early opportunities on the schedule to check off each sport. Coordinating schedules and getting to sports with few home events is the top priority.

“What if there’s a huge snowstorm?” says Thomas.

Other times, spontaneity is sometimes the play. One day on her way home from church in October, Adams spotted rowers on the Iowa River. Thomas hurried to meet her with folding chairs.

“You know what the big surprise is?” says Thomas. “How many live national anthems there are. Even at cross country, I did not expect an actual person to be out in the field with a microphone singing the anthem.”

Adams and Thomas note other surprises, such as the diverse venues and fan environments; volleyball and field hockey were cited among the standouts.

Another discovery: student-athletes across the broad range of sports whose abilities and personalities shine brightly. Sometimes a name sticks, and other times, “the scrappy field hockey freshman” has to suffice.

“She scored maybe four or five goals that week,” says Thomas. “Again, I couldn’t tell you her name.”

Thomas meant freshman Dionne van Asalum, who in fact scored eight goals the week of Sept. 9. The rookie was a three-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and two-time NFCA National Offensive Player of the Week in 2023.

“I love Molly Davis’ spunk and spirit,” continues Thomas. “I look forward to seeing Austin West compete in track and Marcus Morgan pitch. Those are great athletes that I know from my days as high school sports mom.”

Living in a Big Ten town has its perks, especially for sports fans.

“There is so much you only get to experience in-person,” says Adams. “At football, we had a gorgeous fall day, saw the marching band and participated in The Wave. To do that in person was special.”

Perhaps the real lesson from the Hawkeye Home Game Challenge is applicable no matter where you live.

“One of the great benefits of this is that our friendship has become much deeper and much stronger,” says Thomas.

The cross country meet in September marked just the second convening of the Home Game Challenge. When evening fell, conversation long outlasted the race.

Sitting in folding chairs, they cheered on the grounds crew pulling up stakes. The weather was beautiful. It was a fun, simple night. The sort of night that grief tells you is never coming back.

“After my husband passed in June, I sold my house and bought a condo,” says Adams. “All of the sudden in August, it was like ‘now what?’

“I am involved in my church, and I am joining Rotary International. Still, it gave me something to look forward to. It has been fun to do, and it has been great to develop our friendship. It was about always looking ahead toward new adventures.”

The spring season lies ahead, but what is next? Thomas and Adams are considering a 2024-25 tour of the arts at the University of Iowa. Preliminary proposals include Dance Gala, Hawkeye Marching Band Extravaganza, UI Theatre programs, events at Hancher Auditorium, visual arts exhibits, School of Music performances…

“I always tell people that Iowa City is a great place to raise kids,” says Adams. “You have all this wonderful stuff to do, but you can go to Hy-Vee and know the cashier or ride the bus and know the driver. It was a great place to raise kids, and they grew up going to Hawkeye games.”

Thomas looks forward to keeping the adventure going.

“We knew each other this much, and now we know each other this much,” says Thomas.

Two pinched fingers widen to become outstretched hands.

“We have a lot of similarities. We both love the Green Bay Packers and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Our friendship has grown through this experience, along with our enthusiasm for all Hawkeye teams and our niche sports knowledge.”

Sport Date Result
Women’s Soccer 8/20/2023 W (Kansas City, 2-0)
Men’s Cross Country 9/1/2023 1st/5 (Hawkeye Invitational)
Women’s Cross Country 9/1/2023 2nd/4 (Hawkeye Invitational)
Men’s Golf 9/5/2023 2nd/13 (ANF Fall Classic)
Field Hockey 9/10/2023 W (UMass Lowell, 5-1)
Softball (Fall) 9/23/2023 W (Illinois State, 6-0)
Rowing 10/22/2023 N/A (exhibition)
Men’s Basketball 11/7/2023 W (North Dakota, 110-68)
Women’s Wrestling 11/12/2023 4-0 (Trailblazer Duals)
Women’s Swimming & Diving 11/30/2023 2nd/8 (Hawkeye Invitational)
Women’s Basketball 12/30/2023 W (Minnesota, 94-71)
Men’s Wrestling 1/19/2024 W (Purdue, 34-6)
M/W Track & Field 1/20/2024 N/A (Larry Wieczorek Invitational & Multi)
Women’s Gymnastics 1/26/2024 W (Southern Utah, 195.800-195.425)
Women’s Tennis 2/18/2024 vs. Drake
Men’s Golf 4/14/2024 Hawkeye Invitational
Rowing 5/4/2024 vs. Drake (exh.)
Baseball TBD TBD
Softball (Spring) TBD TBD
M/W Track & Field (Outdoor) TBD TBD
Women’s Golf TBD TBD

12.44 wins* / 14 applicable contests = .889 winning percentage

* Assumes maximum of one win per sport; tournament finishes take opponents defeated divided by total number of opponents (ex.: 2nd/4 = two wins against three opponents = .667)