More than $35,000 has already been raised during Notre Dame softball's fifth annual Strikeout Cancer weekend, with all proceeds benefitting pediatric cancer patients

Oh, What A Night!

April 18, 2015

By Renee Peggs

Whatever happened late December, back in ’63, it had nothing on April 17, 2015.

Hundreds of people packed out the barn at St. Joseph Farm in Granger, Ind., for Strikeout Cancer Trivia Night, which has now become a signature part of the Notre Dame softball team’s annual Strikeout Cancer weekend.

Despite being nearly four hours in duration, the event still ended much too soon for many of those who gathered, and the barn still buzzed with energy and emotion after 11 p.m.

More than a few in attendance were at a loss when it came to summing it all up: the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the overarching sense of purpose, the hilarity, the food, the music, the money pouring in, the libations pouring, the dancing and cheering and joking and jeering, the hosts and sponsors, the athletes and parents and staff and spouses and celebrities, the Tweets and announcements, the prizes, the celebration, the honor… the love.

“How can you possibly capture this?” asked a local business owner. “All I can really say is, wow. WOW. Tonight was amazing. There just aren’t words to describe it.”

There was consensus: “You had to be here.”

Let’s start at the very beginning…

In 2010, Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf’s daughter Tatum was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The team and the staff rallied around the Gumpfs in the way the Notre Dame family does, as Tatum began her treatments with the pediatric hematology/oncology facility at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital.

Many Fighting Irish teams have held “pink games” in the fight against breast cancer, but somewhere along the way Gumpf’s staff approached her about organizing a fundraiser specifically for pediatric cancer.

Thus Strikeout Cancer was inaugurated in the spring of 2011. The team took the helm, planned and organized the events and raised more than $12,000 for the pediatric clinic at Memorial. In the second year, that number doubled. Prior to 2015, Notre Dame softball had raised more than $100,000 in donations with their annual events, setting and breaking its fundraising records each year.

Even more heartwarming, though, is the fact that Tatum, now nine years old, has been cancer-free since 2012.

Hit me with your best shot!

The ladies of Notre Dame softball know that cancer doesn’t fight fair, so they fire away with their fifth annual Strikeout Cancer weekend. The trivia night kickoff knocked it outta the park with record attendance, near record donations and (off the record) record beverage sales. Which perhaps contributed to the record donations.

Junior Casey Africano, a catcher/outfielder for the softball team, explained that, “This event is so dear to our hearts because of Coach Gumpf and all that her family has gone through. This is actually my favorite day of the year. I love it!

“It’s gotten so much bigger that [the softball team] needed to reach out to the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) for additional support. I’m really involved in the community service aspect of SAAC so I asked the reps if they’d be willing to help out this year, and we actually have about 15 of them out here tonight, serving tables, running scorecards, helping out in a lot of different ways, which is just really amazing considering that it’s Friday night in a really busy season for a lot of the teams.”

Africano mentioned the presence of numerous student-athletes in their IrishOn3 t-shirts. “This is an initiative that started just a couple years ago in order to encourage different teams to support each other’s events, and to have that support here tonight really means a lot.”

E — I — E — I — O

Old MacDonald had a farm, and so does Paul Blum, but the similarities end right about there: Blum holds a Ph.D. from Notre Dame and eagerly discussed some of the finer points of Socrates and the patristic fathers, in between attending to details of the silent auction. Together with his wife Cathy, Blum owns St. Joseph Farm, which hosted the Strikeout Cancer Trivia Night event.

“We have a lot of weddings out here, and church events and such, but we’ve never had anything quite like this,” Blum said. “What a fantastic opportunity, and a great cause.”

The 1,300-acre farm was originally owned and operated by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, purchased in 1867 to provide all the culinary and nutritional resources that the brothers at Notre Dame needed. Blum bought it in 2008, lives on a 40-acre homestead parcel and offers the barn as an extraordinary event destination.

Talkin’ with Davey, who’s still in the Navy

The Admiral was in the house. Er, the barn.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and NBA great David Robinson, who has probably never gone by Davey but did complete his service commitment through the United States Naval Academy, stood out amongst the large crowd… even though he was sitting down.

“My son is friends with all the girls on the softball team so I wanted to come out to support them,” Robinson explained. Sophomore Corey, a wide receiver for Notre Dame football, was also in attendance with his dad.

“I love to see these kids growing up this way, learning to relate to the community through giving back,” David continued. “No matter if you’re in sports or business or whatever you do after college, this kind of thing, having energy toward something like this, needs to be part of who you are. I’m here to encourage and support that.”

Started at the bottom, now we’re here…

Composed of employees from The Frame Factory, located in South Bend and owned by Sal Moya, Table 28 made everyone’s night.

Decked out in matching South Bend Cubs jerseys personalized with their last names, the members of Table 28 danced, shouted, sang and raised the roof all night… but sadly never raised their trivia score to move out of last place.

Their consistency in remaining at the bottom of the trivia scoreboard did earn them a prize at the conclusion of the final round: socks. Under Armour socks. Long, knee-length socks for each member of Table 28.

Utterly undaunted, they graciously claimed their prizes and broke into a brilliant revamp of LMFAO’s club hit: suddenly, the whole barn was chanting, “SOCKS socks socks socks socks socks… everybody!”

Moya, who lost his own father to cancer, provided corporate sponsorship for the second round of trivia and also sponsored his table.

They don’t have no award for that, but Moya, like rapper Drake, doesn’t need trophies.

“We are here to have the best time, and to fight cancer,” insisted Moya, eliciting a rowdy demonstration of agreement from his teammates. “Therefore, we are all winners!” More rousing support.

You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table

Well, sometimes you do.

Toward the end of the evening, emcee Stephanie Felicetti (from the office of Student Welfare and Development) announced that an erstwhile-anonymous member of the softball team had agreed to shave her head if trivia night attendees could gather $300 to donate to The Bald and the Beautiful. Moments later, so many people were shoving bills into Felicetti’s hands that she had to start piling them on the podium table, where co-emcee Brant Ust (executive director of the Notre Dame Monogram Club) counted. And counted.

In little more than a minute, nearly $1,400 had been placed on that table. Softball student manager Annmarie Lindzy revealed her identity and received an overwhelming show of support for her bravery and selflessness.

Almost immediately, a challenge was issued to double that amount, if Annmarie’s boyfriend would also agree to shave his head… and his rather striking facial hair. He accepted. The money poured in.

Notre Dame student-athletes demonstrate in a real way that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep. Such sacrifice may just save a child’s life.

Rikki, don’t lose that number

Even without the tip boards, raffle tickets and silent auction items, there were a lot of numbers involved throughout the evening.

The biggest and by far most significant was 35,000: the approximate number in USD raised in this single evening for local pediatric cancer patients.

There were countless ways this money came in.

A total of 40 teams of 10 signed up and donated to participate in the trivia competition.

Three tables auctioned off a date with one of their tablemates.

Nearly every person present participated in a heads-tails contest, at $1 apiece.

Also for $1, tables could arrange for the emcees to make some sort of announcement, usually of an embarrassing but affable nature, about someone else in the room.

For $2, participants could have their Tweets added to the live feed that showed on the big screen in between rounds.

Notre Dame accounting professor Michael Meyer had it down to a science. He’s had numerous softball players in his classes over the years and was thrilled by the invitation to support their Strikeout Cancer efforts this weekend.

He explains how he put together his trivia team: “These three are my students this semester. I needed someone who knows pop culture, because I don’t. These two are my neighbors; they told me they are excellent at trivia: they’re not. These two are friends of my wife: they’re not really contributing much. That’s my wife, and this other guy works with my wife. They’re really the only ones answering any of the questions. We are not doing very well.”

His dry humor and blunt assessment were even funnier given the obvious fact that he was thoroughly enjoying the night and sincerely motivated by its purpose.

Trav McCormack, a self-proclaimed huge Notre Dame fan, found himself on a team otherwise comprised entirely of women.

“I’m not sure how it happened, but I’m extremely lucky!” he admitted.

One of the scorekeepers admitted that they were receiving bribe attempts from several tables, “But we’re keeping it clean, I promise, everything’s on the up-and-up here.”

Steph Felicetti pointed to a number of most enjoyable moments from the evening, “Oh, but working with Brant, true professional that he is, definitely number one on the list.”

Sal Moya sang a little numbers song, still meeting with jaunty enthusiasm from his teammates: “First is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the hairiest chest… 40th is a bunch of winners!”

Don’t stop believin’

Every element of the trivia night event came together in a distinct message of hope. What began as an idea born of the desire to support one special family in its time of need has grown exponentially in scope and influence.

Together with Fighting Irish softball, the Notre Dame and Michiana communities join hands and hearts in a strong show of solidarity for the children of those communities who are fighting cancer. Generously they give of their time and energy and financial resources to make a difference in that fight.

Our hearts forever love thee, Notre Dame!