Dec. 5, 2008
By MaryKate ConboyNotre Dame Sports Information
If someone were to ask Julie Scheidler, how she arrived in Notre Dame, she would respond, “It’s all in the family.”
Julie Scheidler, sophomore defender and midfielder on the number-one ranked women’s soccer team, continues her family (SM `79) is one of over 20 relatives who spent four years living under the Golden Dome or gracing the beautiful grounds of St. Mary’s campus. For Julie, it’s hard to separate love of Notre Dame from love of family.
“That’s just how we were raised. We’re all just huge Notre Dame fans.” Most families gather for holidays and birthdays, but as Julie explains, “we’d go over to my grandparent’s house for Notre Dame football games and make a whole day out of it. And if you got to go to the games, it was huge; just the coolest thing ever.” But today, it is her family who returns to Notre Dame not only to relive cherished memories but also to watch one of their own forming her college memories not in the football stadium but on the soccer field.
Family Road-Trip to Notre Dame
For some, the road to Notre Dame is one of unlikely probabilities, but for Julie, her road was a straight–if sometimes–difficult journey following in her family’s footsteps. Julie admits that it’s a struggle to remember which came first–love of soccer or love of Notre Dame, but perhaps her confusion is understandable. She confesses that “when I was young, I would say I’m going to play soccer at Notre Dame, not knowing if the Notre Dame team was good but just wanting to put the two loves together.” She understood that the college application process would need to include schools other than Notre Dame, but she knew in her heart that “I wanted to play at Notre Dame.” She remembers the experience as “nerve-wracking,” but “when it finally happened it was a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.” Since that time, her Notre Dame experience has been one of fulfilling and then forming dreams, but these dreams are products not only of her family’s loving support but also of her competitive drive.
To anyone watching Julie at a Notre Dame women’s soccer practice, she appears more like a grade-schooler enjoying herself outside rather than a varsity athlete preparing for a playoff or championship game. But her comfort on the field is a reflection not of a lack of effort but of the ease with which she handles the ball and works with her teammates. She is the player running back and forth shouting encouragement to her teammates, yelling for the ball, or just laughing at herself. Watching her play, a spectator understands why she appeared in all of last year’s 26 games. But under the light-hearted nature, every observer also notices her innate competitive drive. Growing up with three brothers and a sister, “competition” was synonymous with “playing a game.” Julie laughs saying that “My mom is probably the most competitive person I know, although my dad is too. You can’t just play a game in my house. It automatically turns into a competition.”
First introduced to soccer in her town recreational leagues, she entered the sport following the examples of her three brothers and sister. She quickly learned the value of the unique blend of talent and determination. But if her family nurtured this competitive drive, then the women’s soccer team has helped to channel this energy and determination into constructive play on the field. While the games under the lights at Alumni Field are a long way from the indoor basement soccer games with her siblings, Julie’s energy and enthusiasm have not changed from that same five-year-old who fell in love with soccer as she fell in love with Notre Dame.
Family Tradition of Excellence
Although Julie’s love for soccer was natural and perhaps even unconscious, this love was not always shared by her extended family. She once struggled to convince others in her family to embrace her sport. Once-upon-a-time her grandfather J. Thomas O’Brien (’53) “hated soccer. He absolutely hated soccer but loved Notre Dame football.” Her grandfather’s interest eventually shifted from football to include other Irish sports–including the Irish women’s soccer team. Today, Julie has “converted him to being a pretty big fan,” and Julie’s strong performance on the field combined with the undefeated record of the team has only strengthened her grandfather’s defense. While some may laugh about Julie’s grandfather’s former harsh opinion of the sport, he was a needle in the haystack among Julie’s family members whom she describes as “all-around super fans.”
As the Notre Dame women’s team has risen to first place in the nation, Julie’s family has embraced the team in much the same way that the team first embraced Julie. Julie sees her teammates as an extension of her large family, and her family clearly shares her opinion. While Julie openly describes her family as “welcoming and warm,” her teammates have come to the same conclusion. En route to a game against Cincinnati, her parents hosted the team for lunch. Later in the season in preparation for a game against Villanova, her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia also extended a similar invitation. Julie sees such hospitality as natural because “we have such a big family. We have family members everywhere, and they’re all ready to help us.” Julie thinks that her family’s example has also helped her teammates to see her not as Julie the soccer player but as Julie the daughter, niece, and granddaughter because the team has “come to realize what a big part my family plays in my life.” In Julie’s opinion, her family’s warm embrace is nothing other than a knee-jerk reaction not to her team’s success but to members of a larger Notre Dame family.
“It’s all in the family”
Julie understands the importance of her family’s support. While she describes her parents as “normal parents [who] know not to yell too much,” she also acknowledges that the same rules do not apply for her brothers, sister, and cousins who “form a fan group” in the stands during games. But she also knows that these “fans” provide her with the motivation to “put it all out there and to show them what I’ve been working so hard on.” She smiles broadly when remembering the first time she put on the Irish practice jersey. She thought about her family, but she also thought about her own journey to Notre Dame and knowing that “I finally made it.” And as the team prepares to play at the NCAA College Cup this weekend, Julie may not realize it but her “families”–those that bleed blue and gold at school, on the field, and at home–will watch her and know that this Irish girl has earned her place in a new home among her teammates and among her classmates at the University of Notre Dame, and for Julie, this is a “dream come true.”