By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – When it came time for 12-year old Ty Naaktgeboren to introduce himself on national television, he paid tribute to a team very close to his heart.
“I’m Ty Naaktgeboren and my favorite college football team is the Iowa Hawkeyes. Go Hawks,” Naaktgeboren said on ESPN while participating in the Little League World Series as a member of the team from Sioux Falls, S.D.
Part of the tradition at the Little League World Series is for all the players to introduce themselves and to share something personal in the process. One player on Naaktgeboren’s said he liked pepperoni pizza.
Naaktgeboren said “Go Hawks” and that’s all it took to create a buzz on social media.
His video was posted on the Hawkeye Heaven Facebook page and then spread like a wildfire as one Hawkeye fan after another watched it with pride.
Durk Sterner did more than watch it.
He was so touched by Naaktgeboren’s devotion to the Hawkeyes that he wanted to reward him for it, and to say thanks for promoting Iowa on a grand stage.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Sterner, who works for the University of Iowa as a management services supervisor. “I don’t know why I just jumped in on it. You see a Hawkeye fan putting it on ESPN, go Hawks, he’s from South Dakota, and I thought, how neat is that, a big Hawkeye fan.”
Sterner asked on Facebook if Naaktgeboren had ever been to an Iowa football game and was told that Naaktgeboren had been to one game with his grandfather a few years ago, but that was it.
“For him to say that, and then I mentioned, well, let’s see if we can work something out and get him some more tickets for a game this year,” Sterner said.
Sterner got four tickets for Iowa’s season opener against Wyoming on Sept. 2 at Kinnick Stadium. It gave him great pleasure to share the news with Ty and his family.
Sterner now looks forward to meeting TY on game day.
And who knows, Ty Naaktgeboren could become the next great Hawkeye from South Dakota. He plays multiple sports, including football, basketball and baseball.
“You never know,” Sterner said. “We’ve done very well with some South Dakota recruits.”
Naaktgeboren’s love for the Hawkeyes can be traced to his grandfather, who lives in Pella.
“My dad is a huge Hawkeye fan, so Ty has always kind of just followed in those footsteps,” said Naaktgeboren’s mother, Chelsey. “I’m not a huge football person, but my dad loves Iowa Hawkeye football.
“So probably since Ty first had a ball; that was his first football, an Iowa Hawkeye football. So he has just grown to love the Hawkeyes through my dad basically. You should see his room. It’s Iowa Hawkeye, too.”
Chelsey Naaktgeboren wasn’t aware of the Hawkeye Heaven Facebook page until she started getting tagged in posts about her son’s video.
She appreciates that someone thought enough of her son to post his video on Facebook.
“Well, first of all I couldn’t believe that someone had posted that intro on Hawkeye Heaven,” Chelsey said. “So I was like, that’s pretty sweet that someone thought that was cool enough. I mean, Ty is just a twelve-year old. For him to say, go Hawks, that’s just Ty. He loves sports.
“He’s very shy until you get to know him. So for him to go out of his bubble and even really say anything, was huge.”
Chelsey was amazed by Sterner’s offer to get Iowa football tickets for her son.
“I said seriously?’ Chelsey said. “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Sterner asked what game would fit best into Ty’s schedule and his family chose the season opener.
“I said Ty would love it and I said this is more than generous of him to even ask, so we can make any day work,” Chelsey said. “We’re from Sioux Falls. We’re not terribly far.
“He’ll have a lot of family in the Pella area, so we like to go up there anyway.”
Chelsey waited until Ty’s team was eliminated from the Little League World Series before telling him about the tickets on Tuesday. She didn’t want to cause a distraction or overwhelm her son emotionally because Ty already had a lot on his plate just preparing for the games in Williamsport, Pa.
“I didn’t want to put that on him, too,” Chelsey said. “There is bunch going on there, it’s crazy.”
Chelsey said the players are treated like celebrities at the Little League World Series.
“It was super cool,” she said.
Ty was scheduled to return home to Sioux Falls late Wednesday afternoon after being gone for three weeks.
He now has quite a story to tell about not only playing in the Little League World Series, but about his upcoming trip to Iowa City.
“He’s super excited about it,” Chelsey said.