IOWA CITY, Iowa — As Peggy Henry arrived at Kinnick Stadium, her granddaughter, Leila, demanded her attention.
Leila was adamant about something, but Henry couldn’t make out what she said. Then two words came from her month.
“Children’s Hospital,” Leila said.
She needed to see the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital before anything else. She needed to see where they were going to wave after the first quarter.
It wasn’t this week. It was before the season opener.
Waving to the children watching the game from the hospital’s 12th-floor viewing area is Iowa’s newest tradition. How the wave gripped a 5-year-old girl before she did it explains why it’s quickly growing in popularity.
“Watching her throughout this knows we struck a chord with this,” Henry said.
Five-year-olds typically obsess over Pixar animated movies, dolls, trucks or ice cream. Come September Saturdays, Leila’s attention focuses in on the gray building across the street from Kinnick Stadium.
The new $360 million children’s wing took five years to complete. It opened in February. By May, Krista Young, an Iowa fan from Anita, Iowa, proposed the wave on Facebook in May. Hawkeye Heaven, an Iowa fan-centric website, pushed the idea as well.
At some point during the past four months, waving stuck with Leila. It’s one of those random things a kid remembers.
She wanted to say hi to the kids in the hospital. She needed to see it before anything else this season.
Leila wanted to do whatever she could to make the patients smile.
“It’s something simple, but it means so much” Henry said. “I was amazed she remembered it. The meaning of it really got through to her.”
Two-and-a-half hours before Iowa kicked off against North Texas, Leila stood in an Iowa yellow dress and hat while patiently waiting for the team to enter the stadium. The Hawkeyes were 30 minutes out from walking past. To bide the time, her grandpa put eye black stickers covered with the Tigerhawk logo on her.
Leila’s grandma talked with Marilee Oldorf. The wave popped up early in the conversation.
“It’s terrific,” Henry said.
Replied Oldorf: “I bet the opponents do the wave, too.”
They chatted for about five minutes, marveling at how the notoriety the wave gained during the past two weeks, amazed that ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt did a segment on it.
Leila watched the conversation, smiling as the women talked.
“I know it really impacts people, even those across the country,” Henry said. “We taped it. We watched it. It’s wonderful.”
Henry, from Omaha, Neb., sits in Section 117. When the Iowa fans wave after the first quarter, Leila turns to her right and raises her hands.
She did it on Saturday. The first time she waved, Amy Condon was watching on Sept. 2. Her son, George, is a little more than a month old. He was likely born with ichthyosis — a rare skin condition that puts an infant at risk for pneumonia, fluid loss and dehydration.
“It’s amazing,” Amy told Land of 10 last week. “You can see everything. It’s got to be one of the best seats in the house. You can literally see — if my friend were sitting right across from us in that [top] row of seats, I’d be able to wave to her.”
Instead, those in the Children’s Hospital waved to Oldorf.
And Leila, who is probably already looking forward to doing it for the Penn State game next week.
“I can’t believe the kind of impact it made on her,” Henry said. “She gets so excited for it. Imagine the impact it makes on the children up there watching it?”