When a Hawkeye football player scores a touchdown, runs the length of the field, or makes a fierce tackle, he’s doing more than giving opponents a lesson in humility, Iowa-style—he’s also teaching kids thousands of miles away about math, geography, and the finer points of the English language.
Nancy Gealow, a passionate Hawkeye fan and leader of the Houston Iowa Club, uses the football team as an unusual teaching and motivational aid for her bilingual fourth-grade class at Salyers Elementary School in Spring, Texas. Every week, her class of 15 Spanish-speaking students from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the U.S. gather eagerly around a VCR to watch the latest Hawkeye game and to cheer for their favorite players.
It may sound like fun, but there’s a serious purpose: the football field provides real-life examples of math problems such as area, perimeter, and distances; away games lead into discussions about American geography; and the players themselves help students learn the meaning of English words such as “smash,” “tackle,” “block,” “kick,” and “punt.”
“Watching the players helps them connect what these words mean,” says Gealow. “Seeing Bob Sanders forcefully tackle someone or Matt Roth about tear off someone’s head really teaches them the concept. It gets them excited to write.”
In another exercise to improve their writing skills, the youngsters penned—or rather, penciled—letters to their favorite players this past October. Running back Fred Russell (“Fast Freddy” as he’s known to the Texas fourth graders), kicker Nate Kaeding, fullback Edgar Cervantes, offensive lineman Robert Gallery, and several other players earned heartfelt praise from their far-away young fans. “Do you hurt the other teams? Do you break the walls?” one student asked Gallery.
Gealow sent the Iowa squad the package of letters, complete with drawings of Tigerhawk logos and black-and-gold crayoned exhortations to “Go, Hawks.” The autographed posters that coach Kirk Ferentz sent in return now claim pride of place in a classroom where A&M or Texas would be expected to rule.
Even though she graduated from another Iowa university farther north, Gealow’s been a lifelong Hawkeye fan. “Iowa has a high level of integrity in academics and in the sporting arena,” she explains. “I have tremendous faith that the players are getting an education and graduating. As a teacher, that’s very important to me.”
One of her students sums up the feeling the Texas youngsters have for
the Hawkeyes: “I seen you play. You rock.”