'Smiley' a fan of Hawkeye softball for 35 years


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

When Gary Bloore walks into the Hamburg Inn, every staff member greets him. He sits at the counter and strikes up a casual conversation with a waiter, who gives him a friendly pat on the back.

He's wearing a yellow baseball cap embroidered with "I love Ashley Akers" and cradled in the crook of his arm next to a softball program is a red cap that has Jenny Schuelke's name.

Bloore has just come from an Iowa softball game. During almost every home game, he sits in the first row of bleachers along the third-base side. He knows the name of every player, and in return, they know him. But most people don't know him as Gary Bloore; his name is "Smiley."

And he's called Smiley for a reason. The 64-year-old is content with his life, and no matter where he is or what he's doing, he has an omnipresent smile on his face, sharing his happiness with everyone he sees.

Bloore has worked for the University of Iowa for 40 years, becoming one of the most dedicated and passionate Hawkeye fans in Iowa City. He regularly attends Iowa football, men's and women's basketball, softball, baseball, and field-hockey games, always sitting quietly in the stands, smiling.

When asked if he was the biggest Hawkeye fan, Bloore shrugged and said, "I don't know. Maybe."

( Daily Iowan video feature )

Video in QuickTime format, click here for free player download

He was born a "blue baby," his sister Jean Kent said. Blue baby is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as "An infant born with cyanosis as a result of a congenital cardiac or pulmonary defect." It can cause delayed cognitive development.

But Bloore functions just as any other Hawkeye fan with a routine.

He eats at least one meal a day at Hamburg Inn, he works as a dishwasher in the Burge Marketplace, he sits in the stands at Pearl field and enjoys Iowa softball.

"Smiley's disability isn't something that's in the forefront of your mind," Hamburg Inn manager Liz Sanders said. "His disability doesn't define his personality. He is who he is, and his disability doesn't have anything to do with that. He's just Smiley — I've never really thought about him any other way."

Sanders has known Bloore for more than 10 years, since she started working at the Hamburg. Early on, he became a part of her life, because she interacted with him every day during his meals.

Sanders said Bloore tells her about going to watch his friends play softball — he's talking about the Iowa softball team, but he's not exaggerating the meaning of the word "friend."

"I talk to Smiley all the time," sophomore outfielder Akers said. "I can just stop and talk to him about anything. He's my friend, and he's been my friend for a long time."

Akers has known Bloore since she was a child; when she played softball, Bloore followed the team. She knew Bloore by name long before she started playing softball for Clear Creek/Amana High in Tiffin. By then, he had become a regular smiling face in the bleachers at her games.

When Akers came to Iowa, Bloore was in those stands, too. During her freshman year, in 2010, she started only one game and tallied six at-bats for the season, but she often entered the game as a pinch runner. Despite only stepping on to the field once a game or so, Bloore still sat in the bleachers at Pearl Field wearing his yellow "I Love Ashley Akers" hat he had embroidered at JC Penny.

"It made me feel so good to see him there to support me even when I wouldn't get in the game a lot," she said. "He's one of the fans I've always had, so I don't feel pressure to do good for him. No matter what, he'll be at another game, and he's there enjoying watching me play. He doesn't necessarily come to watch me do really well, he just comes to enjoy watching me play softball, and that means a lot to me."

Bloore also watched senior Jenny Schuelke play through high school and continues to watch her now. Throughout several years of watching Schuelke play, he has become not only a constant face in the crowd but also an extraordinarily positive and unconditional fan.

"Even if we lose or have a really bad game, Smiley is still there supporting us just like he always is," Schuelke said. "A lot of our fans are like that, but Smiley is just always very outspoken about it. He's not afraid to walk up to us and talk to us about the game. He's never shy to let us know he supports us."

Bloore looks like the "typical sports fan" with his Iowa jacket and baseball caps and buttons, Sanders said. But his support and love for athletics goes beyond that of an average sports fan; he forms personal relationships with the athletes he follows and keeps these friends for life.

"He always loved sports, watching the different games on TV as a kid," Kent said. "But when he got out to Iowa and he got that first job at the university, he was in seventh heaven because his whole life revolved around sports. He just loves being able to meet the players and be friends with them."

He watched Erin and Alissa Brandt play softball for Regina Catholic Education Center in the late-1990s and early 2000s, and as they have grown older, married, and had children, he has visited them in the hospital to congratulate them on their families.

"They're friends," he said. "Good friends. I like to have friends for a long time, so I can always talk to them."

When he walks through a public place, Bloore stops and talks to every friend he sees and even strangers who have a friendly face, Kent said. Bloore asks the people he talks to how they are doing and bids them farewell, always, by saying "It was nice to see you."

"He's very compassionate," Akers said. "He cares about everyone, everyone, everyone. He'll ask every single person he meets how their day is, and he actually cares about what they say. He's the most positive, happy person I've ever met because he meets new people and instantly cares about them, just like that."

After home softball games, a few players line up in front of the grand stand to sign autographs and answer questions from fans. Bloore always sits in the yellow box seats, holding his softball program and listening intently to what the players have to say.

Everywhere he goes, his compassion draws people to him. From the softball players at Clear Creek/Amana who throw him birthday parties to the waiters at Hamburg Inn to the stranger he sits next to at a softball game, his ever-present smile and optimism helps him make lifelong friends.

"He seems so confident with himself and the things that he likes," Sanders said. "There's no question that he's going to be smiling about everything he's saying or doing and fully supporting it with his whole heart. His whole character is completely submerged in exactly what you see when you talk to him — with being content and happy and making friends and sharing his smile with everyone he comes across."

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.