By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Sometimes, it takes an outsider to make you really appreciate what you have.
It takes somebody who doesn’t have the same biases or the same frustrations to help put things in their proper perspective.
The Iowa Athletic Department recently finished its 2017-18 sports calendar year without winning a single Big Ten team title in any sport, but that only tells part of the story because this was an incredible year for Hawkeye athletics from an image and from a respect standpoint.
I might not have realized that without the help from a few outsiders, including a person from out of state with whom I struck up a conversation while filling my car with gas over the weekend.
He saw my All-Hawkeyes T-shirt and asked what it represented.
When I told him that I cover Iowa athletics with an emphasis on football and men’s basketball, he praised Kirk Ferentz for having class and dignity and said he still gets emotional while watching the Wave on television.
He didn’t poke fun at the Iowa football team for finishing just 4-5 in conference play or the men’s basketball team for finishing 4-14 in conference play or the wrestling team for finishing a distance third behind Penn State and Ohio State at the NCAA Championships.
He instead focused on another side of Iowa athletics, a side that shined brightly during this past sports calendar year and a side that is easy to overlook or take for granted when you live with it every day.
Every so often we need to be reminded that Kirk Ferentz is a good person who stands for everything that is good about college athletics. He is loyal, true to his beliefs and kind.
It seems fitting that Ferentz coaches at the school where the Wave originated because they deserve each other.
Ferentz has donated a substantial amount of money to charitable causes, and for those who aren’t aware, which seems like very few, the Wave was introduced this past football season to a warm and ever-growing reception.
The idea came from a fan who suggested on Facebook that those seated in Kinnick Stadium for games should turn and wave after the first quarter to the patients across the street at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
A simple suggestion would go on to sweep the nation as the Wave quickly became known as the greatest tradition in sports, while the University of Iowa quickly became known as the school that created it, and the place where sports helps to put things in their proper perspective.
Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon then added to that feel-good reputation in late February by purposely missing what is now the most famous free throw in school history for reasons that speak glowingly about the power of the human spirit.
According to a friend of mine who lives on the East Coast, I cover the school that puts things in their proper perspective thanks to sports.
He said that about Iowa the day Bohannon missed the free throw in late February.
If having the Wave wasn’t enough, Iowa has a men’s basketball player who endeared himself to the nation by doing something that was noble and selfless.
There was almost a 90 percent chance that Bohannon would’ve made the free that he missed on purpose against Northwestern because he is nearly automatic from the charity stripe.
But Bohannon missed in order to keep Chris Street’s name in the record book where it has been for more than 25 years.
Bohannon missed because some records just aren’t made to broken out of respect.
And he missed because good people express their feelings in different ways.
"That's not my record to have," Bohannon said after the game. "That record deserves to stay in his name."
Nobody would’ve criticized Bohannon if he had made the free throw to break Street’s school record of 34 consecutive makes.
But by missing on purpose, we saw an act of kindness that left a far deeper impression than breaking the record would have.
There were lots of people who were touched by Bohannon’s unselfish act that probably wouldn’t have paid any attention if the record had been broken.
We saw a young man pay tribute to another young man whose life was cut far too short by tragedy. Street never had a chance to make a 35th consecutive free throw because he was killed in an automobile accident on Jan. 19, 1993, and three days after having made his last free throw as a Hawkeye in a loss at Duke.
I remember leaving Carver-Hawkeye Arena after the Northwestern game on Feb. 25 beaming with pride because Bohannon made you feel that way. He reminded us that the human spirit can turn unthinkable tragedy into moments of triumph.
The pain and anguish from Street’s untimely death never will fade for his parents, Mike and Patty. But the suffering eases when nice people do nice things.
Jordan Bohannon knows what’s important in life, which brings us back to Iowa being the school where sports has a way of putting things in their proper perspective.
Offensive lineman Sean Welsh also showed tremendous courage by speaking publicly about his battle with depression before the start of this past season. Welsh went public because he wanted to spread awareness about depression and help others. He wanted to show those who were suffering that you can rise from the darkest moments of despair and find happiness and fulfillment.
Welsh overcame depression at Iowa to be a three-year starter and an All-Big Ten performer.
That’s what I’ll remember the most about this past sports calendar year, even more than the stunning 55-24 upset over Ohio State in football, is how Hawkeye athletics helped to show what really matters in life.
Winning certainly matters, too, and if a team doesn't win enough games at the collegiate level, there will be consequences.
But sometimes we get so wrapped up in winning and losing that we forget there is much more to life than the outcome of a sporting event.
The Wave is here to stay, while Kirk Ferentz is here until he decides when enough is enough.
Entering his 20th season as the Iowa head coach, the 62-year old Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in college football and will match Hayden Fry in longevity at Iowa this season.
Ferentz doesn’t win enough to make all of the fans happy. But he wins enough to be a Hawkeye legend and he represents his team, his university and the state with class and dignity, as I was recently reminded.