Sept. 11, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The strides made by the University of Notre Dame softball program through the first four years of its Strikeout Cancer initiative have been nothing short of inspiring. Since directly taking up the fight against pediatric cancer in 2011, with a focus on leukemia awareness, the Irish have been directly responsible for raising more than $100,000 for South Bend’s Memorial Children’s Hospital and children throughout the state of Indiana suffering from cancer.
An ally of the Irish in the fight so far has been the Riley Hospital for Children located in Indianapolis, one of the busiest pediatric medical centers in the state of Indiana. Riley Hospital is one of the most comprehensive children’s hospital facilities in the Hoosier State in a variety of fields of medicine, including the treatment of childhood cancer.
When the daughter of Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf forged ahead in her own battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the summer of 2010, Riley Hospital was where Tatum Gumpf received her most important medical care. Tatum has been in remission since the fall of 2012, one of the many success stories to emerge from Notre Dame’s Strikeout Cancer initiative, and the Irish continue to do their part to support those who make such inspirational stories a reality every day.
The Notre Dame softball team will travel to the Riley Hospital this Saturday in conjunction with a number of weekend events the team is scheduled to take part in during the Shamrock Series in Indianapolis. Irish players will visit hospital patients at Riley as they have regularly done in past years, looking to provide a friendly and inspiring hand to children undergoing cancer treatments.
“The great thing is we have been going down to Riley prior to the Shamrock Series, because we definitely realize what Riley Hospital does in saving the lives of children all over the state of Indiana,” Gumpf said. “We were lucky enough to go down before this, meet with some of the kids on the cancer unit and hopefully brighten their day. When I heard the Shamrock Series was happening (in Indianapolis), the first call I made was to a hotel to reserve rooms for the team, and my second phone call was to (President and CEO) Kevin O’Keefe from the Riley Children’s Foundation because I knew he could help us get in to Riley on a Saturday morning when people aren’t supposed to be getting in.
“We realize that we can’t change the fact that those kids are sick and fighting for their lives at Riley, but we know that we can help their day be better,” Gumpf said. “That is our goal going down to Riley, putting a smile on their faces, have some fun with them, give them a great memory of Notre Dame softball.”
Given the impact that Riley Hospital had on her own family during her daughter’s battle with leukemia, it is easy to see why giving back is important to Gumpf. What has impressed the Notre Dame mentor about her team throughout, along with the general team enthusiasm toward the cause, has been the personal engagement and care her players bring to every visit.
“I know our team loves doing things like this,” Gumpf said. “With Strikeout Cancer, we are able to not only give to the hospital here at Memorial but also to jump on with Riley. We will go down there thinking that we are going to be helping those children, but they will be helping us more than we are helping them.
“It’s such a great opportunity for our girls to be able to learn from these kids because they offer so much, and are so amazing in their will, their determination and their drive,” Gumpf added. “They are just so strong, and we can learn so much from them.”
This Irish trip to Indianapolis has the added wrinkle of Shamrock Series festivities as a backdrop this year, leading up to Saturday’s Notre Dame football game against Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium. The softball team will conclude a day of service, both at Riley Hospital and at the stadium, by taking in the football game that night. Tatum Gumpf will be one of the ceremonial honorees affiliated with Riley Hospital who will take part during the pregame coin toss.
“What is so cool is how we get to celebrate all parts of Notre Dame athletics while we’re down there,” Gumpf said. “It’s not just softball, and being able to walk around downtown Indy celebrating Notre Dame throughout the entire weekend is really cool. I think we are going to be exhausted, but it’s going to be a blast.”
Lest anyone forget that Irish softball is not making the journey merely for community service and outreach. Notre Dame will officially open the 2014 fall schedule on Sunday at 11 a.m. (ET) against Purdue during the inaugural College GameDay tournament, sponsored by Bullpen Tournaments, at Grand Park in Westfield. The nation’s largest outdoor multisport complex, Grand Park will host its first collegiate softball tournament on Sunday featuring 13 teams from Indiana and Ohio.
The Purdue softball team will join the Irish during the Riley visit on Saturday, before closing the weekend with a second Notre Dame-Purdue athletics showdown at Grand Park field D-24 Sunday morning.
“The main reason we go down is for Riley, and the second reason we go is because we get to play,” Gumpf said. “It will be our first contest of the fall, and Purdue is a really good team. We won’t take it lightly, and we understand we are there on Sunday morning at Grand Park to get better. The scrimmages in the fall aren’t so much about winning. They are about playing great softball and learning about our team.”
Staying committed to the Strikeout Cancer cause is a yearlong effort for the Notre Dame softball program, and one that its players embrace indisputably. The work put in by the Irish on that and other community service endeavors has not gone unnoticed on the Notre Dame campus, either. Notre Dame softball has received The Trophy Award, presented to the varsity athletics team best displaying excellence in community service, in three of the past four academic years.
The lasting impact of the team’s contributions, however, is what drives the Notre Dame softball program.
“I guess I am a little selfishly motivated with why we do this,” Gumpf said. “I just know that when Tatum was really sick we had so many people that reached out and helped us. If we can give back to the doctors, the nurses, other families and children, if we can give back just a little of what we received, we are doing something good.”
A full game schedule and other information for Sunday’s College GameDay tournament can be found at visithamiltoncounty.com.
— Tony Jones, Media Relations Assistant