June 20, 2011
Ladies Football Academy Photos | Ladies Football Academy Video
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.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It was part Football 101 and part fantasy camp. And when the first-ever Iowa Ladies Football Academy concluded Saturday evening, it raised $150,000 for the University of Iowa Children's Hospital.
Nearly 300 women participated in the academy -- a six-hour look at game day life of a Hawkeye football player. Current UI players and coaches led interactive drills on the turf of Kinnick Stadium.
"I learned how each position seems like they're a group of best friends that all work together and they have their little antics against the other positions on the team," said Melissa Jones of Burlington. "I learned that they have to be smart people and they make it look a lot easier when we're in the stands and they're on the field; especially that O line and those quarterbacks. They have to know a lot of stuff."
Speaking of quarterbacks, the frontrunner to be the starter for the UI this season -- junior James Vandenberg -- was well-represented by relatives Saturday. Both his mother Ann and his grandmother Jerre drove up from Keokuk to participate.
"I like getting close to the players," Jerre Vandenberg said. "I knew a number of these players because James brings kids home a lot and at least 12 have been to our house. It's also nice to see kids like (Marcus) Coker that I didn't know and get to work with him. And of course coach (Kirk) Ferentz is such a class act. I love visiting with him for a few seconds."
Unfortunately for Jerre, her evening came to a premature end when she injured an ankle during an agility drill. She clutched an ice pack for the majority of the session.
"I'm on the injury list now," Jerre said. "It was one of the first drills and I was jumping between those yellow things, you know. Then I tripped and fell. I didn't even have a ball. I was just trying to move my feet. But by far I would rather be injured than to have James injured."
One of the participants, Jess Hebl of West Branch, had the most impressive play of the evening when she stripped redshirt freshman De'Andre Johnson of the football and made the recovery during a running backs drill.
"I learned how each position seems like they're a group of best friends that all work together and they have their little antics against the other positions on the team. I learned that they have to be smart people and they make it look a lot easier when we're in the stands and they're on the field; especially that O line and those quarterbacks. They have to know a lot of stuff."
Melissa Jones of Burlington
"That was probably the best part of the night," Hebl said. "He took a fun photo with me earlier, so I decided to pick on him. I like the drills. Actually doing what the players do and participating with them is exciting. I love football and I work at the hospital. I'm a big supporter of the Children's Hospital and this is a great cause and I knew it would be a great time."
In an address before the drill sessions, Ferentz light-heartedly revealed that the UI coaching staff had some anxiety about educating the women.
"We're going to create 300 more experts to critique what happens on Saturdays and get on the radio shows and chat rooms," Ferentz said. "There is a little trepidation on our part."
He then emphasized that the event was "all about the kid's hospital" and complimented the committee on crafted an excellent game plan for the inaugural academy.
"I've been teasing them that it's like they're planning the Normandy invasion for crying out loud with all the hours that they put in," Ferentz said.
Ferentz's wife, Mary, handled the bulk of the organizational chores.
"Juan Castillo is the new defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles," coach Ferentz said. "I was visiting with him a little bit and he said Mary should be the coach of an NFL team. I said he was probably right, except all the players would quit because she's way too tough on them."
Of course, that was another joke by the head Hawk, who referred to Mary as his "lovely wife" and the "real head coach."
UI receivers coach Erik Campbell directed a circuit with assistance from Hawkeyes Jordan Cotton, Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manly and Marvin McNutt. It was one of the more animated groups on the Kinnick turf.
"It was a great day for a great cause and the women had a lot of fun," Campbell said. "They brought a lot of energy and they caught the ball. For coaches, it was a fun day."
Sally Harper of Davenport grew up in Kalona and has missed very few Hawkeye home games since the late 1950s.
"This is football. I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about it," Harper said. "Game day -- a beautiful fall day, the sun shining and people tailgating. You walk in here and the crowd is roaring and you see this beautiful green field. It's the most exciting thing I can think of. This is absolutely awesome. You follow these players for years and how exciting to be here on the field."
Harper also supports Care for Kids -- a fundraiser for the Children's Hospital in the Davenport area.
A highlight for most of the "campers" was the interaction with players.
"It hopefully gives you some exposure to the quality people we have in the program," Ferentz said to a loud ovation.
Then he had another tongue-in-cheek message.
"Almost everything has been great except I see some problems for us this coming week," Ferentz said. "Our players will be worthless for the first couple days, especially the last two guys you saw -- Mike (Daniels) and C.J. (Fiedorowicz)."
Daniels (squat) and Fiedorowicz (bench) demonstrated proper weight room technique under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
"Our guys don't get treats or applause when they do something they're supposed to do," Ferentz said. "You have totally ruined their mindset; we'll have to get them back to earth this week."
As is the case for all Hawkeye home games, the Ladies Football Academy also had an honorary captain: Alivea Carnahan, a student at Cedar Rapids Prairie. Two years ago, Carnahan was starting a fire to make Smores; her shirt caught on fire and burned 19 percent of her body -- mostly the stomach, chest and arms. She spent 11 days in the UI Children's Hospital.
"I've been able to return to a normal life and for that I will always be grateful," Carnahan said. "I owe the University of Iowa Children's Hospital a big thank you for helping us through this journey. The people at the Children's Hospital spend every day helping kids like me. Every day is game day."
Pam Passmore was the fund-raising leader, collecting $6,470. For her effort, Passmore received a tailgating package including 10 tickets on the 45-yard line and two VIP parking passes for Iowa's game against Pittsburgh on Sept. 17.