NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame cheerleading program announced its leprechaun lineup for the 2019-20 school year Tuesday, with the most diverse roster set to take the field, court and ice since the leprechaun became the school’s official mascot in 1965.
Junior Samuel Jackson and sophomores Conal Fagan and Lynnette Wukie will don the green suit and Irish country hat next season. Jackson and Wukie will become the second and third African Americans to hold the role, while Wukie will also be the first woman to serve as the leprechaun. Fagan, a native of Derry, Northern Ireland, will enter his second season as the mascot and is the first native Irishman to play the part.
“We’re so excited to welcome Sam, Conal and Lynnette as next year’s leprechauns,” head cheerleading coach Delayna Herndon said. “Each bring their own strengths and personalities to the role, and I’m excited to see them represent Notre Dame on the sidelines next season. As such a visible representative of Notre Dame, the leprechaun is a role model to fans across the country, and we hope this group can inspire people of all backgrounds to see themselves as a vital part of the Notre Dame family.”
Though not related to the famous actor, Jackson brings his own theatricality to the role of the leprechaun. Double majoring in film, television and theatre and American studies, Jackson excelled in eliciting crowd participation during his tryout with performance credentials that run deep. He has participated in nine theatrical productions at Notre Dame, and studied at The School at Steppenwolf in Chicago during the summer of 2018.
Jackson, a resident of Keough Hall and an Alabama native, credits Mike Brown (’01) — Notre Dame’s first African American leprechaun and current regional director for Athletics Advancement — with piquing his interest in pursuing the part. He also reflected on the opportunity as a way for him to create his own unique connection to Notre Dame.
“It’s a really amazing feeling,” Jackson said. “When I first came here, I was a big Notre Dame fan, but I didn’t have the history or legacy that my friends did. Being able to make my own experiences and memories here at this University and to be able to represent it — especially as a senior — is just the best feeling. I feel like I have solidified my presence and voice, and am now etching it into the very fabric of the University.”
During his Notre Dame career, Jackson has taken on leadership roles within the University’s theatre community; developed and pitched a faith-based restorative justice program call Fresh Start; served as a spoken word instructor with the Hugh O’Brian Youth World Leadership Congress; and spoken at TEDxUND in 2018 on the subject of “Dare to Let the Arts Transform You.”
Fagan is the veteran of next year’s leprechaun group, having cheered for the Fighting Irish during the 2018-19 campaign. A native Irishman, he holds the distinction as Notre Dame’s first leprechaun to hail from the Emerald Isle. This season, he has helped cheer for a wide variety of Irish sports and accompanied the women’s basketball program to the Final Four.
A St. Edward’s Hall resident, Fagan participated in soccer for Northern Ireland’s national program as a youth and competed in cross country and Gaelic football. As a freshman, he walked on to the Irish men’s soccer team before earning the leprechaun gig as a sophomore.
“I’m really honored to be back,” Fagan said. “When I first took up the leprechaun role, I didn’t know how much I would be excited by it and invested in it because back home mascots and cheerleading isn’t really a thing. Coming here and experiencing it first-hand is such a special thing to me and I think people can see that as well. Every time I put the suit on, it feels like I’m Superman or something, so it’s pretty special.”
Fagan is a political science and peace studies major with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship and hopes to combine his passion for sports with social justice. He is also a Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar, one of 15 scholarship recipients from around the world chosen for their outstanding public leadership for the class of 2021.
A rising junior from Pasquerilla West Hall, Wukie won her spot thanks to her passionate outlook and dedication to leadership. In her application, she cited her “need to lead,” as well as Pasquerilla West’s theme of “Powerful Women,” which she played a role in developing. As part of PW’s initiative, Wukie and her dorm mates set out to “empower every (woman) in the dorm to be proud of who she is” and have dedicated fund-raising efforts to charities supporting women.
The symbolism of her selection as the first woman and woman of color to fill the leprechaun shoes is not lost on her. As she said in a video accompanying her application: “Who says the Fighting Irish can’t fight like a girl?”
“I talked about being a role model (during the tryout process) because even through high school and into college, it’s always been important to me to be someone people can look up to,” Wukie said. “I think I hadn’t (yet) found that thing, like I wasn’t fulfilling my true purpose here to be that face and that role model, so when this opportunity came about I thought it was destiny. This is what I’m meant to be doing. … My rector told me, ‘Little girls are going to want to be you,’ so to be that role model for young women is really special.”
Wukie is a native of Elyria, Ohio, and is majoring in film, television and theatre with minors in business economics and musical theatre. She was a captain on her high school cheerleading and dance teams, and participated in show choir and musical theatre. Since enrolling at Notre Dame, Wukie has worked as a Digital Media Producer and Anchor for NDIgnite Connection with the Office of Outreach and Engagement and has interned with University Relations and Office of the Vice President, while also volunteering as a youth cheerleading coach and with at-risk children.