IOWA CITY, Ia. — Time away from campus is precious for an Iowa football player.
There’s the regular season, of course, usually followed by a bowl game. There’s winter conditioning, then spring practice, summer conditioning and preseason August camp.
So no wonder Mary Ferentz was worried when she realized Hawkeye players weren’t scheduled back until June 6, but her sixth annual Iowa Ladies Football Academy was locked in for June 4.
For an event that sells itself as a day in the life of a Hawkeye football player — for women only — doing it without the players could've been a problem.
“There was panic in the house,” said Ferentz, the face of the LFA and wife of head Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz.
But there was no problem. Saturday’s academy blew away records: 414 participants and $346,613 raised for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, a passionate cause for the Ferentzes. Participants must raise at least $500, with each dollar going to the UICH. One woman brought in more than $8,000.
And yes, almost all of the Hawkeyes were there, including star quarterback C.J. Beathard and cornerback Desmond King, two days earlier than they needed to be.
“Not only do they volunteer and take their time,” Mary Ferentz said, “but they came back from their breaks early.”
Coaches said they didn't mandate attendance.
But (shhhh), here’s the secret to the players’ volunteering: They like it.
Beathard, for example, brought his mom, Susan, back from Tennessee to participate.
“It’s the word of mouth, as much as anything. The guys that have done it have had a great experience,” Kirk Ferentz said Saturday after the event's conclusion. “They pass that on to their teammates. It’s illustrative of the kind of players we get to work with. They think a little bit bigger than themselves.
“I’m obviously very pleased they showed up.”
For the Iowa coaches, it’s an all-day investment — providing building tours, answering questions and supervising drill work.
Naturally, the players give autographs and snap photos. But primarily, they're tasked with making sure each woman gets a full-fledged workout. They run the ladies through blocking, tackling, passing and even kicking exercises with sweat and a smile.
Well, lots of smiles.
“It’s a really good experience for them, too,” Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s a two-way street, activities like this. It’s a great learning experience.”
The LFA has now raised more than $1.5 million (surely 12-2 and a Rose Bowl helped this year's numbers boost). The first $1 million went toward the towering structure (which opens soon) that you see behind the East stands at Kinnick, and the next million is going toward research.
By the way, next year’s LFA is Saturday, June 10 — solidly after Iowa players return from their post-finals break.
“We’re thrilled to death. It was a great day. It was perfect,” Mary Ferentz said, before adding: “I was so worried.”
As Saturday’s seven-hour event wound down, the ladies in attendance got to hear from 11-year-old honorary captain Christopher Turnis, who has had more than 40 surgeries and has spent upwards of 1,000 days hospitalized with various, difficult-to-treat conditions.
It was a good day for Christopher. Instead of lying in a hospital bed, he was sharing his story from the Kinnick Stadium FieldTurf.
It was a good day for pediatric research, too.