Iowa State football players visit Mary Greeley, make a difference


Photo: Ryan Damman/Iowa State Daily

Defensive lineman Bailey Johnson, center, and offensive lineman Alex Alvarez visit with hospital staff. Alvarez and Johnson are roommates and have been volunteering their time at Mary Greeley since 2007.

Stefanie Buhrman

It’s noon on Friday at Mary Greeley Medical Center. The halls are bustling with lunch-time visitors. Near the entrance stand a group of ISU football players. Behind them are Paul Rhoads and his wife, Vicki.

As passers-by maneuver through the team, cheers of “good luck” and requests for them to “take care of things” can be heard. Although the wishes are well received, that is not what they came for. They came for smiles.

Every Friday before a home game, players volunteer their time during the afternoon to visit with patients, hoping to make their days brighter.

“I’ve been taught to give back,” said defensive lineman Bailey Johnson. “This is a chance for me to do that.”

This tradition started under Dan McCarney 16 years ago. Depending on class schedules, different players come each week. Some have been able to go every week, but for defensive back Leonard Johnson, last Friday was his first time.

“I wasn’t expecting to get personal,” Leonard Johnson said. “I didn’t think we’d actually stay in there and carry conversations and get to know people.”

Upon arrival, the group splits in half and are given a list of rooms to visit. One group starts at the top of the list and the other half starts at the bottom. This gives them a chance to spend a little bit more time in each room. They visit various departments, including pediatrics and oncology.

“It was a good experience for me,” Leonard Johnson said. “I know the people that we visit, not only do we touch them, but they had an impact on me.”

He plans on visiting every Friday home game from now on.

Bailey Johnson and offensive lineman Alex Alvarez have been visiting the hospital since the 2007 season. The roommates have seen the impact that they have on people.

“I keep coming back because I know people appreciated us coming up here and they enjoy talking to us,” Bailey Johnson said.

As the players meander through the hospital hallways, they visit with patients about the next day’s game, pose for photos with them and give out autographed programs, but it hasn’t always been so easy for Alvarez.

“The first time I came, it was nerve-racking,” Alvarez said. “I was a little bit nervous. I didn’t know what to expect because I had been in hospitals before, but not to see patients.”

At first, Alvarez was uncomfortable talking to the patients and he didn’t know what to say to say to them, but as time went on, he was able to relax and enjoy his time visiting along with his roommate.

“I enjoy seeing the people’s reaction when we visit them,” Bailey Johnson said. “Every time we come back, there’s someone that sticks out.”

Several patients are alumni of Iowa State and have family members who have also attended. Some are just Cyclone fanatics.

“Just the fact that we come and visit, you can see that their spirits lift up,” Alvarez said. “Even though they might not be in the best circumstances health-wise, you can tell it makes them feel good. It makes us feel good, too, to come to say hi to them. It’s a wonderful experience.”

At the nurses’ station on the third floor, the desk is adorned with Cyclone spirit. On top sits photo albums full of photos of past visits, where older players can see themselves years ago and the team can see players from the past who also helped with the visits.

Overall, the players enjoy the time they spend at the hospital and they see the good in what they do.

“Sometimes we take things for granted,” Alvarez said. “It’s still nice to see they’re so positive about their lives and keep on going.”