Oct. 11, 2016

By Jennifer Prosser (’18)

In a packed Club Naimoli on Wednesday, September 28, 13 Notre Dame varsity programs signed a new member to their respective rosters at the annual Fighting Irish Fight for Life signing party. Thanks to a partnership with South Bend’s Memorial Children’s Hospital, student-athletes spent an evening of fun and games with their new teammate – a local pediatric oncology patient – and their family and friends.

Hosts Bo Brauer (hockey) and Tyler Newsome (football), started the night by welcoming individual signees to the stage, announcing their team and introducing them to the Notre Dame family. They each signed letters of intent, just as each of their varsity teammates had done to start their Notre Dame careers. Brauer and Newsome then asked the kids and the players some questions before taking a team picture to raucous applause.

Jeremiah Young, a third-year participant and this year’s coveted football recruit, was asked what his favorite position is. When he responded “scorer,” cheers erupted in the audience and laughs came from his new team.

“He’s going to help us turn things around,” said one teammate in response. “He said his favorite position is scoring, and we always say to win a game you have to score more points than the other team.”

Later, Young’s father recounted how his past experiences with the women’s lacrosse and women’s golf teams had been equally welcoming.

“It’s been a really nice program,” he said. “The girls have been really good and we’ve had a lot of fun. One year when he was in the hospital, they would come out to see him to spend some time with him and play some games. It’s been really nice.”

“They put a lot of time and effort into this,” the senior Young expressed about the night. “We really appreciate it.”

The event’s significance was not lost on the players, either.

“The kids obviously look forward to this a lot,” junior lacrosse player Mikey Wynne said. “It’s so simple for us to just show up and have a little conversation with them, let them wear some of our gear and stuff like that. If we can make a kid smile who’s going through such a tough time, just by showing up and being here for an hour or two, it’s the easiest thing for us to do.”

The personal impact, however, seemed to go both ways.

“My favorite part of the night was seeing the happiness on the children’s faces as they signed their letters of intent to be a part of their team,” said Newsome. “It just spoke to the level of blessings that we do have here. We oftentimes get so caught up in school and everything that’s going on, but when you break it down and think about it we’re so blessed. It’s awesome to have someone that is so grateful for every opportunity. To have him be a part of our team reminds us to be grateful for the stuff that we have and not to take anything for granted.”

The signing party marks the beginning of the teams’ seasons with their new teammates, but many more events follow. There is an annual Christmas party with all kinds of games, including hockey, putt-putt, basketball and inflatables. Every basketball season there is at least one game where the families are the celebrity guests. And, of course, the signees are always invited to their team’s games.

Hannah Bell, a bubbly 11 year-old, is returning to the softball team for her third season with the program. She has attended almost every game and scrimmage throughout her time with the team, and has a designated spot in the dugout for her dual role as batgirl and good-luck charm.

“Every time I get nachos we win the game,” explained Bell enthusiastically.

“And then we all have to eat one nacho,” added senior teammate Karley Wester.

Wester and Bell will spend their last season with Notre Dame softball together, as the former will graduate in May and the latter will finish treatment in December. Bell may have to miss a game this season for her Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii, but the team whole team will still celebrate their successes from afar.

“This year is special for us,” Wester said. “The first year we had Hannah on our team she wasn’t healthy enough to come to the signing party, so we had to FaceTime her in from the hospital. But last year and this year she’s here and healthy and ready to go. It’s been cool to see her progress through it all.”

The softball program’s established teamwork definitely showed as Bell and her team won several Minute-To-Win-It Games in the second half of the night. As Newsome and Brauer challenged teams to games of cup stacking, tissue pulling, trunk shaking and more, the camaraderie between the student-athletes and their new teammates was evident.

“‘I’ve been part of Fighting Irish Fight for Life for a couple of years now and it’s a really great program,” track and field senior Scott Milling said. “At events like this one and the Christmas party, you can see on the kids’ faces how much they enjoy it. It’s cliche to say, but even though we’re the ones serving and giving to them, I think we as the student-athletes get the most out of it.”

Together, the student-athletes and their teammates learn what it really means to fight like a champion the Notre Dame way.