Oct. 31, 2003
The University of Notre Dame softball team traveled to Ireland and England during fall break, helping develop fast pitch softball in two countries just beginning to play the sport. The Irish left on Friday, Oct. 17, and returned Sunday, Oct. 26, after nine whirlwind days of touring and clinics.
On Friday, Oct. 17, the team departed for Ireland via London Heathrow from Chicago O’Hare. A two-hour drive to Chicago to catch the flight, seven hours of flying and a day of time lost lay ahead for the traveling party. Upon landing at Heathrow, the group passes through English customs and faces a two-hour lay over before the flight to Dublin.
Upon arrival in Dublin, the group met up with the tour director, Dale Brannen from TranSports Athletic Team Tours. Dale points out a few historical sights on the trip to the Principal Hotel in the Temple Bar area of Dublin.
After checking in and freshening up, the group took a quick walk to Trinity College. A philosophy professor from the College gives a spirited tour of the campus, including the origin of each building on campus (including the story of a gun fight between students and a professor!). During our tour, a local wedding ceremony wrapped up in the Trinity College Chapel and the wedding party was taking pictures in the garden, around the Trinity Bell Tower (see photo gallery).
The softball team poses in front of Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill.
“We were finally there,” sophomore Kellie Middleton remembers of the first day in Dublin.
“The long awaited, and much anticipated softball trip to Ireland was finally here! Trinity College was beautiful, but the weather was somewhat colder than I expected.”
Saturday night each member of the party was free to enjoy the Temple Bar area in Dublin. With pubs stationed literally on every corner and traditional Irish music (mixed with a selection of American classics) filtering out into the streets from each one – it was quite an experience for everyone.
Sunday, day three of the trip, allowed the Notre Dame softball team to show off and share its skills with local softball players. Fastpitch softball is in its infancy in Ireland, but the island’s all-star team was in attendance and took advantage of a clinic by the Notre Dame team. Every player was eager to work on his/her fundamentals, helped out by Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf, assistant coach Charmelle Green, Notre Dame baseball volunteer coach John Gumpf and former Irish softball assistant coach and current University equipment manager Kathy Speybroeck.
“The trip provided just what we were looking for. Fastpitch softball is in its infancy in Europe and we were able to provide a good example of work ethic and fundamentals that are necessary to be successful.”- Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf
The Irish clinic attendees were especially eager to learn the fundamentals of how to dive for defensive catches, expertly shown by Notre Dame outfielders senior Nicole deFau, junior Megan Ciolli and sophomore Kellie Middleton.
After almost two hours of hard work in the clinic, Notre Dame matched up with the clinic players for a friendly game of slow pitch softball. Notre Dame easily won the quick five-inning contest, helped by a home run from freshman Stephanie Brown.
“We worked primarily on defense since their hitting is much different,” junior Megan Ciolli explains about the Ireland clinic.
“It was a very interesting experience, since we were teaching women and men older than us the correct mechanics of throwing. They were all very enthusiastic and wanted to learn.”
Back to the hotel after the clinic, the Notre Dame players met many of the clinic participants at a local pub to swap stories and enjoy yet another night out in Dublin.
Monday, day four of the trip, found the tour bus taking the travel group out into the Irish countryside. A visit to Malahide Castle was first on the itinerary (see photo gallery). The beautiful countryside of the castle grounds is a perfect example of Ireland and a quick tour through the castle highlighted its over 400 year history.
“Malahide Castle was fun and very beautiful,” sophomore Sara Schoonaert says. “Too bad we didn’t get to see the ghost (legend has it that a ghost named ‘Puck’ inhabits the castle).”
The fishing village of Howth (see photo gallery) was next on the agenda. It was a brisk day in the coastal town, but the group was given an hour to walk through the quiet town and enjoy a local lunch.
Irish head coach Deanna Gumpf talks to softball clinic participants while in Ireland.
Returning to Dublin, the travel group took a tour of one of the most famous breweries in the world, the Guinness Museum and Hop Store. The Guinness Museum has been updated in the last 10 years and is a great example of a modern historical tour. The history of the Guinness Company was highlighted, as the advertising history of the beer (Guinness has come up with some of the most memorable advertising schemes in European history) was a special highlight. Of course, everyone who goes through the tour gets a free sample in “Gravity”, the Guinness Museum’s bar at the very top of the factory – giving everyone a perfect view of the entire city of Dublin.
Just a quick show of how integral Guinness is in the Dublin community: the brewery pumps out four million pints of its product every day, two million of which are consumed in Dublin each day.
Monday evening was everyone’s last night in Dublin, as the team boarded a British Midland flight to London on Tuesday morning.
After arriving in London midday on Tuesday, a long and detailed bus tour of London was provided for the traveling party – giving everyone an idea of where the legendary tourist sites are located in the city. The bus pulled over in front of Big Ben and the Parliament Building for a photo opportunity (see photo gallery) with Westminster Abbey and Old Scotland Yard in close proximity.
The traveling party checked into the Kensington Close Hotel late that evening, the base of operations for the rest of the trip in London.
Wednesday morning the tour bus took the group to Madame Tussaud’s world famous wax museum. A great place for pictures, some of which were with movie star/professional wrestler The Rock (see photo gallery).
“I met up with my good friend, The Rock, at the museum,” Middleton quips. “I also was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, marched next to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and shook the hand of peace activist Ghandi. I used a whole role of film in that museum.”
The group then headed off to one of the highlights of the trip – the Tower of London.
The Tower of London holds several important buildings, including the home of the Crown Jewels (see photo gallery), the White Tower, the Fusiliers Museum, the Medieval Palace, the Wall Walk and the Tower Green.
Visitors are guided around the Tower of London by the Yeoman Warders (also called Beefeaters), who combine their traditional ceremonial role with that of a tourist guide. They provide a 60-minute tour, including stories of imprisonment, torture and intrigue. The story of Anne Boleyn is well known historically and the Beefeaters are quick to point out where she was executed and take you into the very chapel where she is buried.
The travel party also was able to see the Crown Jewels and visited the armory in the White Tower (see photo gallery), providing examples of full suits of armor and the old royal gun stores.
The travel group then hurried back to the hotel to change for an evening performance of Les Miserables – one of the most famous musicals in the world. The performance was memorable for every member of the travel party.
Thursday, day seven of the trip was another day packed with tours. The travel party visited Oxford University, Blenheim Palace (see photo gallery) and Stratford-Upon-Avon (see photo gallery) – the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
Friday the travel party was free of any tour requirements and given a chance to explore London in small groups. There was a lot of shopping and touring that day, with team members heading to the Imperial War Museum, the Science Museum, back down to Parliament. Several team members attended another musical that evening (including Stomp and Fame).
“The incredible shopping in London definitely brought out the active consumer in each of us,” sophomore Heather Booth says.
“I went with some of the travel party to Buckingham Palace (on Friday),” Schoonaert says.
“We also went to Westminster Abbey and then to Harrod’s (a famous – and very expensive department store) to get theater tickets to Stomp. I can’t believe the beats and sounds the performers were making with random tools found inside regular households.”
On Saturday it was back to work as the Notre Dame team put on another clinic. Attended by members of a newly formed young fast pitch team – the Irish were greeted by an enthusiastic group of young girls ready to soak in the fundamentals. Notre Dame started out with the basics – and the girls quickly responded. They also enjoyed their first lessons of fastpitch delivery from Coach Gumpf, widely regarded as one of the best pitching coaches in the nation.
After a long, detailed and enjoyable clinic with the younger players (see photo gallery) Notre Dame took on the Great Britian national fastpitch team in a five-inning exhibition. The game featured a combination of both team’s rosters, with the home team taking away a 3-2 victory.
Exhausted after a fun-filled and educational tour of both England and Ireland, the travel group headed back to the United States early Sunday morning.
“The trip provided just what we were looking for,” head coach Deanna Gumpf said.
“Fastpitch softball is in its infancy in Europe and we were able to provide a good example of work ethic and fundamentals that are necessary to be successful. Plus, the team members were able to contribute everything they have learned in high school and collegiate softball to players hungry for that knowledge.
“The trip also was a great bonding experience for the entire team. We are a closer team now then when we left and, in tribute to the dedication and responsibility of our team, we did not have one issue on the trip. The team represented Notre Dame very well.”
Senior Nicole deFau summed up the trip perfectly; “Being able to see two different countries in Europe was an absolutely wonderful experience – on that so many people can only dream about.
“We got a chance to see some amazing things and to share our gift – the ability to play softball – with players who desperately want softball to take root and grow in Ireland and England.”