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Fry Fest ushers in Hawkeye fever

BY ISAAC HAMLET | AUGUST 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Eighty-four colored and adorned Herky the Hawk statues have stood vigilant over the Iowa City area for four months, diverse as the people who pass them. Now their watch draws to a close — but not without a bit of fanfare.

On Friday, the annual “Fry Fest,” located at the Iowa River Landing, Coralville, will pay tribute to Herky, the Hawkeyes, and, of course, legendary coach Hayden Fry, who turned a lackluster Iowa football team into Big Ten contenders starting 36 years ago.

Fry Fest, a tradition in its sixth year, is a celebration of all things Black and Gold. This year’s festival includes concerts, a panel of former football players, the world’s largest Hawkeye Tradeshow, a pep rally, and the Herky on Parade Final Farewell in which some of the statues will be auctioned off.

“I think that as far as students go, it’s a fun way to throw yourself into the Hawkeye Nation and get excited for the year to come,” said Allie Howarth, the director of special events for the Iowa City/Coralville  Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. “The community really comes together and celebrates this time of year.”

The festival will precede the first football game of the season, Saturday against Northern Iowa, offering new students and others a chance to immerse themselves in the Hawkeye culture. The Fry Fest staff spent months preparing these Iowa-focused programs.

“Some of what is challenging each year is trying to create new and better events,” said Laurie Haman, the vice president for communications, PR, & marketing for the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. “We have to come up with an interesting and relevant theme that we think the community will respond to well.”

This year, the focus of the festival is on some former Hawkeye quarterbacks under Hayden Fry. A panel featuring nine of them —including Iowa legends Chuck Long and Chuck Hartlieb — will be held at 2 p.m. Friday on the Tigerhawk stage, followed by an autograph session.

“It took us months [to organize the quarterback panel],” Haman said. “We started speaking to them pretty early. There were a few people we contacted who had conflicting plans, but most of the quarterbacks were willing and excited to come back.”

Two other events will be produced: the Fest’s first Ultimate Hawkeye Trivia Challenge and an attempt at setting the world record for the largest cornhole tournament, in which registered cornhole (or “bags”) teams will compete to toss corn bags into a hole 30 feet away.

Josh Schamberger, the president of the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, said the idea for the tournament occurred as a result of looking at past events as inspiration for future ones.

“Several years ago, we broke the world’s largest Hokey-Pokey record to celebrate Coach Fry,” Schamberger said. “After big victories, he would have the team do Hokey Pokey in the locker room.”

The event will also mark the retirement of the Herky statues that have decorated Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty since May.

Of the 84 statues, 49 have already been claimed, and 25 will be distributed to the winners of a silent action, the proceeds of which will benefit the United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties.

Visitors unable to purchase a Herky on Parade can find other Hawkeye products and attire at the World’s Largest Hawkeye Tradeshow, which will feature 75 vendors in the Coralville Marriott’s Exhibition Hall. The first 250 visitors will also be entered into a raffle to win a free Herky statue.

“Vendors have everything black and gold,” Howarth said. “You name it, it’s there.”

The night will end with a series of country-music performances, including Grammy-nominated musician David Nail, Georgia singer/songwriter Craig Campbell, and Iowa-native Jake McVey, who will perform at FryFest for the first time. McVey has made Fry Fest one of his roughly 300 performances this year.

“I’ve always wanted to be involved with [Fry Fest], and I’m really excited to perform this year; any chance to come back to Iowa is great,” he said. “A lot of the prep work [for shows] has to do with planning and living two weeks ahead of schedule. It can be tough to balance and maintain, but it’s worth doing.”

Like game day at Kinnick Stadium, Fry Fest is prepped to attract Hawkeye fans from around the country.

“You can’t get much more Iowan than Fry Fest,” McVey said. “It’s a great way to kick off the first football game of the year.”


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