IOWA CITY — A simple gesture that has captured the attention and hearts of people around the globe will be recognized tonight at the annual College Football Awards program in Atlanta.
The “Kinnick Wave” will be honored as the recipient of the 2017 Disney Sports Spirit Award, given annually to college football’s most inspirational player, coach, team or figure.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will accept the award during a program where Hawkeye cornerback Josh Jackson is one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to college football’s top defensive back.
“It’s an honor to be among the final three,’’ said Jackson, who leads the nation in interceptions and passes defended this season.
Like the performance of Jackson, a first-year starter who emerged as one of the country’s top defenders, the Kinnick Wave evolved over the course of the 2017 season.
What started as a fan suggestion on an Iowa fan page on Facebook began with a heartfelt wave from fans in the stands at the Hawkeyes’ season-opening game against Wyoming.
It grew to include game officials, opposing teams and coaches and Iowa players waving toward the window-lined top floor of the hospital, where the children and their families gather to catch a glimpse of what is taking place inside the stadium.
Teams from Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio State made their way off the sideline and onto the field at Kinnick Stadium between the first and second quarters, turning around and waving to show their support for the children and their families who are waging their own battles at the hospital.
Even in the heat of a Big Ten battle, Fighting Illini coach Lovie Smith said his team was honored to participate.
“If we can bring a smile to the faces of children who are going through quite a bit, it’s well worth the time,’’ Smith said. “We wanted to be a part of it.’’
Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta said the impact extends well beyond game day in Iowa City.
“The wave has become a feel-good story about what the state of Iowa is all about,’’ Barta said.
In an early-season Iowa road game at Michigan State, a video was shown to fans of the Kinnick crowd waving during a game against North Texas the previous week and afterward, the crowd at Spartan Stadium participated in a wave of its own between the opening two quarters.
“It’s something that has captured the attention of a lot of people and it does mean a lot to the kids and their families,’’ Ferentz said.
This week, New York Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost mentioned during a Pinstripe Bowl press conference how the Kinnick Wave hit home for him in acknowledging the work being done at children’s hospitals across the country.
On the same day that London-based Laureus announced the new Hawkeye tradition is a finalist for the “Best Sporting Moment of the Year’’ on the planet, Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell was asked about the wave during an interview session prior to the Nagurski Trophy banquet in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Hopefully, it has a positive impact on the kids up in the hospital,’’ Jewell said.
Iowa football has a long tradition of supporting children hospitalized at the facility adjacent to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and located close to not only the Hawkeyes’ stadium, but to the program’s training facilities.
For decades, players have made regular visits to the facility throughout the year to talk with youngsters and their families.
Ferentz and his wife, Mary, have been long-time supporters of the hospital and the Iowa Ladies Football Academy, organized by a group led by Mary Ferentz which annually provides a day-long Hawkeye experience for women, has donated $1.8 million in seven years to the hospital.
Disney Sports vice president Faron Kelley said presenting the award to the Iowa program and its fans during the 6 p.m. awards night televised by ESPN is the result of an idea by one person that has made a difference in the lives of many.
“The impact these fans are having on the lives of those young patients probably can’t be fully measured,’’ Kelley said. “… The effect it’s having on those kids should be an inspiration to us all.’’