As the athletics coordinator for the Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department in eastern Iowa, one of Grant Weber’s responsibilities is to oversee the youth basketball program. He’s been noticing a trend over these last couple of years.

“We don’t do numbers on our jerseys because they are reversible and (that would) add a lot of cost,” Weber said. “But we had a ton of kids at the beginning of the year ask if they could be 22.”

He said three parents paid for No. 22 to be put on their children’s jerseys anyway. “Luckily, they were all on different teams so we didn’t have too many Caitlin Clarks all on the same team,” he said.

Clark has become a household name across the country — a sensation in college basketball as she’s taken the sport by storm. When she’s not splashing deep 3s for Iowa, she’s starring in State Farm commercials. When she’s not casually flipping behind-the-back passes, she’s signing autographs. Her brand is synonymous with the sport from Iowa to Albany and back.

But as the Hawkeyes prepare for a Sweet 16 matchup with Colorado on Saturday, it’s the young girls in Iowa — Clark’s home state — who are feeling particularly excited. Jordan Bleil, the athletic supervisor for youth sports at the Coralville Parks & Recreation Department said the department has seen a 35 percent increase in participation among girls in the basketball program since 2019-20.

“I just had this skills and drills program,” said Adriana Mafra, the youth and adults sports coordinator Burlington Area YMCA, “and 80 percent were girls. It was amazing.”

Nevermind that Clark’s skillset is otherwordly, possibly the best these girls will see in their lifetimes — they are her and she is them.

“In Iowa,” said Justin Flaws, the head coach at Carlisle High School, “you grow up wanting to shoot logo 3s right now. It’s pretty cool.”

‘Something she’s never seen before’

Lennon Rink was 3 years old on July 8, 2021, when she started her first week of chemotherapy at the University of Iowa Hospitals.

Now a healthy 6-year-old — and a Clark superfan — Lennon has a genetic disorder called NF1 that caused gliomas, or tumors, on both of her optic nerves. She ultimately needed 80 weeks of chemotherapy through Oct. 21, 2022, finishing when she was 5.

When her parents first learned of their daughter’s diagnosis, they feared she might lose her vision. So they made it a point to expose Lennon to some of the world’s most beautiful sights: sunsets, oceans, Clark on a basketball court.

“It’s like watching a superstar,” her dad, Mike Rink, said. “It’s just a different type of person, player and athlete.”

Lennon is almost completely blind in her right eye but can see fully out of her left. She never had much interest in basketball until Rink started putting Clark’s games on the family’s television late last season. Now, she can’t get enough, gleefully showing her fellow kindergartners pictures of her at Carver-Hawkeye Arena or filling them on the latest intel she’s thrilled to have just received — that Clark has a boyfriend.

She draws pictures of Clark, writes about her often and has even started shooting hoops in the backyard.

“The other day … we were watching the Iowa game and she went out and she asked us to lower the hoop, and she went out and shot baskets,” Rink said. “She came back in and she said, ‘I made 24, Dad — 24 shots!’

“And she’s pretty good at it. I’m really surprised with her only having the one (functioning) eye. She’s more accurate than I ever would have thought that she could be.”

Lennon Rink has become a Caitlin Clark superfan. (Courtesy of the Rink family)

Rink said that Lennon has started to re-watch Iowa games on her YouTube Kids account and is always excited to inform her parents any time Iowa scores 100 points, only to sometimes realize: “I was at that game!”

The Rinks live in Ankeny, Iowa, about an hour and 45 minutes west of Iowa City, but have family within walking distance of the university who love to help get Lennon tickets. Recently, Mike snapped a picture of his daughter sobbing when she unsuccessfully tried to get Clark’s autograph after Iowa beat Illinois on Feb. 25.

The following week, her dad bought some last-minute tickets for the Hawkeyes’ March 3 matchup against Ohio State on Senior Day — when Clark broke Pete Maravich’s scoring record — and hoisted his daughter over the front row of the stands just behind Iowa’s bench so she’d have a better chance of scoring Clark’s signature this time. Lennon got the autograph, looking mesmerized to be in Clark’s presence.

“She was so amazed to see her and so excited and you can see that in her eyes,” Mike said. “She is seeing something she’s never seen before.”

Next week, Lennon will have her regularly scheduled quarterly MRI, when doctors check in on how she’s doing. But her medical team has told the Rink family that everything with Lennon “is looking great.”

Next up: rec league basketball. She’s already practicing.

“There’s more basketball in her life now,” Mike said. “Since watching her, we can’t go a day without a Caitlin Clark mention.”

Shoot like Caitlin

On a February night in Coralville, Iowa, Bryan Goettel went to pick up his 12-year-old daughter, Addy, from her friend Katie Heenan’s house. It was 6 p.m., dark and balmy.

But Addy wasn’t ready to leave just yet.

The two friends had spent part of the afternoon riding bikes before they got bored and decided to pivot to playing basketball in Heenan’s yard. They created a shooting game together, in which they would each attempt four shots apiece from progressively deeper spots on the driveway. But it wasn’t just any shooting game. They assigned variations of Clark’s name to different shooting spots.

“So we started with ‘Caitlin.’ And then ‘Clark.’ (Then) ’22.’ And then if you made a 3-pointer, because it’s her signature, it would be ‘Caitlin Clark 22,’” Katie explained.

The first shot — “Caitlin” — was a layup, Addy said. “Clark” was a free throw, before they worked their way back to the imaginary 3-point line.


When Bryan arrived to pick up his daughter, Addy — a “peanut,” Brian says, largely thanks to his genes — consecutively hit all four of her shots for the first time since they’d started playing the game about 90 minutes earlier.

“I felt like Caitlin Clark,” Addy said. “Inspired.”

Addy spent several of her first years of childhood outside of Chicago before the Goettel family moved to Coralville, about 10 minutes from campus. She met Katie as a fourth-grader at her new school, where Clark was routinely the hottest topic of conversation and the two became close friends.

“(Clark) just made me want to play basketball more and try my hardest at everything and have the passion to do it,” Katie said.

Both girls have seen Clark play live with their families — one of the many perks of living locally.

“There’s nothing that exemplifies more the impact that Caitlin is having on little girls than a moment like that,” Goettel of Addy and Heenan’s game. “Since really the beginning of the season, I’ve had this nostalgic feeling and obviously, selfishly, (I’m) enjoying the ride. But seeing it through the lens of my daughter is infinitely more special and powerful. I haven’t taken for granted one second how lucky we are.”

Friends Katie Heenan, left, and Addy Goettel invented a Caitlin Clark shooting game. (Courtesy of the Sarah Heenan)

‘I’m Caitlin Clark!’

Jensen Flaws was nearing her third birthday when she expressed her interest in basketball for the first time.

“At 3 years old, no kid is genuinely invested,” said Justin Flaws, her father, who coaches girls basketball at a nearby high school. “But I had just come home from school, and she ran and got the basketball and was like, ‘Hey, I’m Caitlin Clark!’ and went and made a shot. It was a cool moment for me as a dad because we hadn’t had that moment yet.”

That’s the thing about Clark, who in addition to creating core memories for fathers and daughters, is introducing this generation of basketball fans to the sport when they’re still toddlers.

Jensen first got exposed to the Iowa team largely because of some of her older cousins, who eat, breathe and sleep Clark’s daily happenings.

Flaws and his coaching staff have a small basketball hoop in the gym that they can lower to 3 feet for coaches’ kids to play with, but the real fun perhaps is in the Flaws’ family dining room by Jensen’s signature red and blue Little Tikes goal.

“We’ve got lines taped out in our dining room where the 3-point line is,” Flaws said. “So she knows exactly where it is.”

When she’s not putting up her own shots, Jensen can be seen in the stands of her dad’s varsity games, cheering on his players and holding up three fingers every time one of his players hits a shot from deep. Carlisle High finished eighth in the state for 3-pointers made and 10th for 3-point attempts this season, Flaws said, making a school-record 155 shots from deep.

“There’s no mistaking why the 3-point jump has happened,” Flaws said. “It’s noticeable in the fact that the 3-point line isn’t good enough anymore. It needs to be 3, 4 feet behind the 3-point line. The deep 3 is pretty cool now.”

It’s not just the shooting

Macy Comito plays for the same grassroots organization — All Iowa Attack — that Clark played for before she enrolled at Iowa. Comito, a 5-foot-10 point guard at Carlisle, where Flaws coaches, is the first to admit she might not be quite the scorer Clark is. (Who is?)

But the Class of 2026 prospect has long admired the way Clark facilitates as one of college basketball’s most impressive passers. “Her floor vision is a really big part of her game,” Comito said. “So I try to implement that into mine.”

Comito didn’t become a college basketball fan until middle school, but once she got hooked on the sport, she decided she wanted to learn how to throw a behind-the-back pass. Clark, who leads the nation with 8.8 assists per game, was part of the reason.

“It’s something you always work on,” said Comito, who currently has scholarship offers from Bradley, Eastern Illinois, Marquette, Drake, Green Bay and South Dakota. “But then to see it done in a game, it’s like, ‘OK. If she can do this, I want to try it.’”

It took Comito two years to perfect the pass, with her attempting it in a game for the first time as an eighth grader. Try No. 1 was unsuccessful. But it worked the second time she tried it — in transition with a two-on-one advantage.

“(Now) it’s an everyday thing for her,” Flaws said. “It’s just as easy as a bounce pass or a chest pass.”

Indeed, for as much as Clark’s scoring has inspired the young girls in Iowa, her passing has had just as much — if not more — of an impact.

Tyler Headlee has worked at Kingdom Hoops, another grassroots organization in Iowa, for the past 12 years. Clark had 28 points against Michigan on March 9, but it was her 15 assists that really amazed him.

“We talk about that with young girls all the time: ‘Some day, if you want to be a high schooler, if you want to play as a freshman, (if) that’s the goal, then how do you get on the floor?’” he said. “You get on the floor by being able to create other ways of impacting the game and a lot of those are her passing.”

James Postman, a seventh grade coach in the Iowa City Community School District, agreed.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed, especially with this year’s team, is their unselfishness. Moving and sharing the ball,” he said. “And I think sometimes that gets overlooked with Caitlin.”

Mafra, whose daughter, Aaliyah Guyton, committed to Iowa in September, feels the same way. “I don’t know if the young ones realize (Clark’s greatness),” Mafra said. “But they’re amazed by her shots, her passes. That’s something that is good, too. It’s not just her shooting. It’s the way she makes her team play.”

Don’t forget the senior citizens

It’s not just young girls closely following Clark.

Every Wednesday and Friday, the Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department hosts an outing for senior citizens to gather for the card game Pinochle. When the NCAA Tournament began, the seniors made it known to Weber, the director, that they wanted to watch Clark on the big screen.

“I had to go through a lot of trouble,” he said, laughing. “The room there doesn’t have a TV, (but) it’s got a projector. So I ended up getting the laptop out and signing into my personal Hulu account to try to get it for them because they were really wanting to see it.”

That’s the magic of Clark’s impact on her home state.

“I think they’re a little spoiled, too, because she’s here locally,” Postman said of his seventh graders. “One of the things that was amazing to me was seeing kids coming from all over the country to come see some of her games.

“I think our girls are taken aback by that. Like, ‘Wow — she is such a big deal.’”

(Photo of Lennon Rink and Caitlin Clark: Scott Dochterman / The Athletic)



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here