TAMA, Iowa -- Army ROTC Cadets from the University of Iowa and the Iowa State University of Science and Technology ran through eight cities to hand off and receive the Cyclone-Hawkeye football series game ball, Sept. 8.

About 60 cadets from U of I and ISU participated in the estimated 120-mile journey, which involved running in formation through each city before driving to the next location.

"None of the cadets out there are required to do this," said Sgt. 1st Class Rich Crouse, military science instructor, 3rd Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command. "They volunteered their free time."

The cadets engaged with local communities and collected donations for food banks. The runs included several visits to high schools, elementary schools and a nursing home.

The cadets said they felt the event was not just important for the Army but for the communities too.

"I think every time we are out in the community, it makes the Army seem a little more approachable for people who have not really had much experience with the military," said Cadet Nathan Dittner, U of I ROTC battalion commander. "It could also make people consider joining in the future."

Half way between the two universities, the U of I Hawkeyes passed the game ball to the ISU Cyclones who will host Iowa's largest rivalry football game this year at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 in Ames, Iowa.

Each school ran about 10 miles and were cheered on by hundreds of people.

As two of the few military organizations in central Iowa, ROTC leadership said it is important for them to engage with the community.

"We've been doing this for 30 years," said Lt. Col. Zach Buettner, professor of military science. "It may be some of the only exposure to the military many of these communities see."

Buettner said the event was not all just about school rivalry; it was about cooperation and teamwork.

He said the event brings together school pride and patriotism in a way that engages the community and benefits the Army.

"The community knows we are not just out here representing the Hawkeyes," said Buettner. "Most of these cadets are committed to further service to the nation, and that's also what people see."

Lt. Col. Ethan Dial, professor of military science, ISU, agreed with Buettner, adding that he hopes the event encourages more people to join an Army ROTC program.

Buettner said he thinks it is good for the cadets to be involved.

"I think our cadets are special because they decided to become that 1 percent who decided to commit to the armed forces to serve the nation," he said. "They don't necessarily stand out in a big way on campus, but when they get out here and someone shows appreciation for what they've chosen to do -- I think that can make a difference."

Participants in the event said they thought it went well.

"I think it was really successful, and I think it was a good showing from the community," said Cadet Matthew Woodford, a squad leader for the U of I ROTC program.

The annual tradition began in 1986 as a fundraiser for a U of I ROTC cadet who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The event is no longer a fundraiser, but has since become a tradition for the two schools.

When the tradition began cadets ran the entire distance from Iowa City to Ames, each group with runners covering more than 60 miles on foot. Later the decision was made that running on the highways was too dangerous.

Crouse said ROTC programs at universities are important for the Army's future force and readiness because they provide Soldiers with a quality introduction to the armed forces.

"Essentially what you are doing is taking that kid with a high school mentality and very low knowledge and teaching them what it means to be a leader," he said. "It's way beyond the, 'do you have a pulse? Let's put you in,' mentality. It's more like 'do you align with what the Army needs? Are you that leader, athlete, scholar that we are looking for to lead our sons and daughters of America?'"

Buettner emphasized that producing quality and engaged officers is essential to the readiness of the Army, and that he believes U of I and ISU provide good environments for early leadership development.

ROTC programs at the U of I, ISU and Northern Iowa University provide about 60 percent of the commissioned officers for the Iowa National Guard.

The Iowan National Guard provided the busses and drivers for the event.