In most ways, the University of Iowa’s IHUC (Iowa Hawkeye Ultimate Club) jerseys are incredibly standard: the team’s chosen color, they have a logo on the front and a unique number on the back to identify the individual player who is wearing it.
But if you see IHUC on the fields this weekend at Easterns, you will notice something about their jerseys that make them different from most: on every IHUC player’s sleeve, encircled in black or gold, is the number 16. Ask any member of Iowa’s roster, and he will tell you that the digits are a symbol of his place in Gleason’s Army, a term used by the team to remember a fallen leader and teammate.
In 2004, Iowa finished tied for 5th-place at College Nationals. Having qualified for Nationals in four of the previous six years, it was a great era for the program. But in 2005, the team failed make it back when it finished 5th at regionals; in 2006 and 2007, IHUC hit an all-time low, finishing 13th and 11th at Regionals.
In 2008, IHUC captain Brian Gleason took the reigns of his struggling team in hopes of bringing them back into the fold of the national elite. Gleason was well known within his local community for introducing players to the game, increasing camaraderie, and pushing the program to reach new heights, and with him at the helm, the team was confident that with it could regain its once-prestigious place in college ultimate. And, of course, Gleason would wear his number, 16, all along the way.
But on, January 11, 2008 Gleason’s life was cut short in a tragic automobile accident. He was 25.
In the spring of that year, Iowa took its first major step toward rebuilding when it made the semifinals at Central Regionals. But despite going on an 8-0 run against Wisconsin, the eventual national champions, IHUC was unable to close the game out on universe point.
In 2009, Iowa began traveling to prominent tournaments around the country and threatening to break back onto the national scene. The team won Warm Up: A Florida Affair, and was considered to be a strong contender leading up to Regionals. But again, Iowa’s hopes for making Nationals were cut short, this time by a heartbreaking loss to Minnesota in the final game to qualify.
Last year, IHUC was as deep and as hungry as ever. After losing to Carleton in the Regional Semifinal, the team sat down and to talk. The leadership wanted to explicitly spoke about the 16 on each of their sleeves.
Out of that team meeting came the term Gleason’s Army. “It is a reminder that each player, even those youths on he team that never had the chance to meet the fallen captain, is playing for something greater than individual glory,” says IHUC player Alex Rummelhart.
The team-first mentality, the hard work, and the rebuilding process– all bearing the fingerprints of Brian Gleason– would come together in the next day’s final game to go to Nationals. Up against Carleton College GOP, IHUC would grind out a 15-13 win that launched them into the Championships for the first time in six years.
At Nationals, Iowa went 4-3 and finished tied for 9th.
In 2011, IHUC still wears #16, remembering Brian Gleason in their hopes to take the next step forward. “Gleason’s Army is a focusing point,” says Rummelhart. “It is an army without heroes, without superstars, without arrogance, and it is what drives IHUC forward.”
Iowa’s goal, like many teams, is to forge not just an elite squad for this year, but an elite program that consistently produces greatness. As the team fights on for years to come, it do so in memory of the captain that started it all: #16, Brian Gleason.
Many thanks to Alex Rummelhart for telling this story. For the news report on Gleason’s tragic death and the remarkable good that was found in it, visit Cedar Rapids’ KCRG.