NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame cheerleading program announced its Leprechaun lineup for the 2020-21 school year Tuesday, following a postponed tryout due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Seniors Conal Fagan, Lynnette Wukie, and Pat Johnson and junior Gabe Ramos will don the green suit and Irish country hat next season. Wukie will also be the first woman to serve as the Leprechaun. Fagan, a native of Derry, Northern Ireland, will enter his third season as the mascot and is the first native Irishman to play the part.
“I’m elated that we were finally able to welcome our 2020-2021 class of students to portray the Leprechaun to our family!” Head Coach Delayna Herndon said. “Their resilience and ability to adapt is incredible, which will surely show in their roles as we navigate this year. I’m excited for what they each bring and watching them grow!”
The 2020 tryouts, originally slated to be held in April, were postponed until September due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Each applicant, while wearing a face mask, performed individually in front of a panel of seven judges, in keeping with physical distancing regulations.
Fagan returns to the Leprechaun group, having cheered for the Fighting Irish for the past two years. Fagan, a native of Derry, Northern Ireland, holds the distinction as Notre Dame’s first Leprechaun to hail from the Emerald Isle. Fagan has begun the 2020 Notre Dame Football season leading cheers for the Irish.
“That feeling of pulling on the green jacket is like none other in the world. To walk out and hear “There’s a Magic” before the game gives me goosebumps every single time. This year may be different, but, in many ways, it makes me realize just how lucky I am to be at the Home of the Fighting Irish,” Fagan said of the experience.
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 may be a few thousand miles from home,” the native Irishman said, “and my friends and family may not quite understand football. And portraying the Leprechaun may be a bit different from my soccer days. But what I do know is that no matter where I am, I will always bleed Blue and Gold.”
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.
Last year, Wukie became the first woman to portray the Leprechaun, inspiring countless young Irish fans.
“Being a Leprechaun this year takes on a whole new meaning,” Wukie said of her selection. “As we continue to fight for social justice and try to navigate these unprecedented times, I feel like the Leprechaun can give back a sense of normalcy while also acknowledging how much work is to be done.”
In addition to her Leprechaun duties, Wukie has spent the 2020 Notre Dame Football season as the in-game host at Notre Dame Stadium and also co-hosts the show Black@ND.
“I want to continue to be proud of this University and, in doing that, I will continue to unapologetically speak up for racial equality, which I believe is a crucial part in being an ambassador for this university. This year will certainly look different athletics-wise, but the mission is the same: be a force for good.”
After a semester significantly altered by restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic, Wukie recognized the changing role of the Leprechaun
“I was excited to hear I was chosen again even in these weird times because putting on that suit again reminded me how much I love Notre Dame and love being the Leprechaun. All the emotions I had when I first got chosen came back and I am so excited to take on the year.”
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.
Pat Johnson, a senior from Mineola, New York, had always dreamed of portraying the Leprechaun, even as a small child.
“I grew up dressing up as the Leprechaun for Halloween,” Johnson said. “I always felt like the Lep was a superhero whose cape anyone could wear. I feel so incredibly honored to be able to wear that cape and to be selected for my final year at Notre Dame. Serving as an ambassador for Our Lady’s university is a privilege, and I have been blessed with such an opportunity.”
Johnson, a resident of Stanford Hall, is a Film, Television, and Theater and Marketing major, who has participated in cheer and Bengal Bouts while at Notre Dame. He has served as a student assistant in the FTT program, as well as a Communications Assistant for Notre Dame’s First Year Studies program.
“It was surreal,” Johnson said of learning of his selection. “I’m still spooked that I’m going to wake up tomorrow, and it’ll all be a dream.”
Ramos was selected to portray the Leprechaun after his first tryout for the role. The story of the Fighting Irish spirit has resonated with Ramos, a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
After his grandfather journeyed to the United States with seven dollars in his pocket, Ramos seeks to remember his strife and be an agent of change, inspiring others to achieve success.
“The opportunity to represent the Leprechaun is a beautiful synthesis of where I grew up and where I ended up. As a Latino growing up in Irish America, funnily enough, it took me moving 700 miles and to an entirely new landscape to finally find myself rooted in the people of my hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania. I truly count myself privileged to be a part of shaping such a significant part of the culture of a place I adore so very profoundly.
Ramos, a resident of Keenan Hall, is an Anthropology and Pre-Health major. Since enrolling at Notre Dame, Ramos has been an anchor for NDIgnite, an ExpaND Diversity lecturer, and is a member of both the Notre Dame Glee Club and the Notre Dame Undertones.
“I am thrilled to be part of a long-standing tradition of what makes the University of Notre Dame so incredible,” Ramos said, “to fight for what we believe in and have others harken our call.”