You should have seen it.
When I first walked into the building, my eyes went straight to the banners surrounding the stage. It was a humbling experience, being among such extraordinary people in a thrilling environment. For the short time I was there, seeing throngs of people in jubilation at what was happening in front of them was incredibly unique.
Dance Marathon at Iowa is a big deal. Many boast it is the second largest of its kind in the nation, second to the event in Happy Valley at Penn State. The banners? Homemade pillowcases decorated for individual children battling cancer. The roar of the crowd came from a faux graduation ceremony, where kids were recognized for being cancer free for five years.
Being shoulder to shoulder with college students and young families, it was heart warming to see the work and the result of thousands to create such an event, which entails 24 hours of standing, dancing and cheering. The 2012 event raised over $1.3 million dollars for the fight against cancer. 2013 bested that total by raising over $1.5 million. To borrow from ESPN’s Stuart Scott, who continues to battle cancer himself, seeing these totals continue to climb year in and year out is “downright redonkulous!”
While the main event in Iowa City was kicking off across the river, Friday Night wrestling at Carver-Hawkeye Arena played second fiddle to no one. A sea of black shirts watched as the #3 Hawkeyes withstood a furious comeback by the same Penn State Nittany Lions, who entered the evening ranked #1 in the country and are the defending national champions.
I probably would have scoffed at someone last June, if they told me that seven months later, I would be at Carver- Hawkeye Arena in single digit weather, waiting for the doors to open two hours before a wresting contest. Yet the electricity in the building, felt during the stirring rendition of our national anthem, was no laughing matter. I have been lucky enough to be present at many significant sporting events in my day, including watching #1 Ohio State Buckeyes fall at Camp Randall in Madison to the Wisconsin Badgers in 2010 (My first experience with JJ Watt). The feeling of anticipation at Carver Friday night may have trumped them all.
Anytime #1 and #3 get together in anything in sports, it has the makings for a special night. By the start of the match, the makings for a memorable evening came to fruition when top-ranked Matt McDonough defeated No. 2 Nico Megaludis in extra time, prompting the sold out blackout crowd to its feet.
The roof at Carver then blew off in the second bout, as second ranked Tony Ramos pinned an overmatched, unranked Jordan Conaway. The roar of the capacity crowd rivaled Wisconsin’s David Gilreath’s touchdown on the opening kickoff against Ohio State as the loudest noise I have ever heard.
The pattern of many hotly contested sporting events is that the home team gets off to early lead, playing with a furious pace in front of a raucus crowd, before their opponent begins chipping away at the lead and subduing the atmosphere in the process. Penn State’s bigger weight classes cut the deficit to three with one match to go. At one point during a match, I looked around the arena and noticed just how gassed the place was. The place was exhausted. People were slumped over in their seats, with hands on their heads. A few people seemed to have fallen asleep. In a match of this magnitude, it says quite a bit when you can hear the assistant coaches calling out to the athletes from the other side of the building. When match ten came around, and the outcome was on the line, the Hawkeye fateful rose to its feet and watched sixth-ranked heavyweight Bobby Telford secure the win for Iowa, prompting one final roar and a hearty rendition of “In Heaven There is No Beer.”
When I walked into the Iowa Memorial Union ballroom seventeen hours later, I saw the same exhausted look on the faces of the college students, decked out in a range of colors with shiny stockings and wristbands. Instead of slumping over in their chairs, people were standing around with droopy shoulders. They had expended so much energy in the early going that the sleep-deprived masses were nearing their end. However, walking in as a spectator and seeing the two thousand people rally was astonishing. When the children got up on stage and received their diplomas, the crowd roared for each individual. The best part about my short visit to such a wonderful event? When the marathoners were asked to cheer for the new “graduating class” as a whole, it sounded like I had never left Carver at all.
If you ask ESPN or any other national sporting news outlet about the topics for the week, most would revolve around the Super Bowl, which took place last night in New Orleans. With all apologies to Indiana’s victory against Michigan in basketball — another #1 vs #3 contest— performance enhancing drug use and family battle lines dominated the sports cycles. The beautiful part of being in Iowa City this weekend was that it was the perfect escape from the nonsense revolving around New Orleans and the comments made from Tuesday’s Media Day. Two of the best stories not found on national broadcasts happened in front of our eyes.
In borrowing a phrase passed down to me from my days at summer camp: “the people make the place”. To me, what made last weekend so special was the electricity in the air in and around campus. Friday Night at Carver was spectacular because the fans made the environment. At one point, I’m pretty sure a caution was called against an Iowa wrestler, much to the chagrin of the masses, because he probably could not hear the official’s whistle. Home-field advantage is such a clique in sports, but any athlete that walked into Carver-Hawkeye Arena last night, seeing the see of black, would be intimidated by the noise swirling the building.
That same passion has been pent up within the minds and hearts of the many marathoners, working diligently for the calendar year for the event. In speaking to one of the group leaders, one of her favorite parts of the entire event occurs annually, around 2 am Saturday morning when current students see the return of past leaders, who even six years ago were in their very shoes. The euphoria pours out for 24 hours at Dance Marathon, which includes listening to heartfelt stories of children wrestling with the deadly disease that unfortunately has touched so many of us.
It has become commonplace to hear advice to the extent of, “stick out from the crowd, be unique.” In most cases, it makes total sense to be an individual. However, whether being a proud member of a blackout Friday Night, or a spectator among many leaders at our university on Saturday, being amongst a crowd last weekend was the only place I wanted to be. And there is nothing faux about it.