Jesse Harper (left) and Knute Rockne (right) founded the Monogram Club in 1916.

The Century Club

Sept. 18, 2015

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Boeing, BMW and the Monogram Club.

“Alex, what are things founded in 1916?”

Maybe that clue will never make it to Jeopardy! but it has been nearly a century since Boeing took to the air, BMW to the road and the Monogram Club became the vehicle for connecting the past and present of Notre Dame athletics.

This weekend, the Monogram Club launches its 100-year anniversary celebration and throughout the next 15 months, the Club will showcase its unique and exceptional history, its current impact on Notre Dame athletics and its vision for the next 100 years.

If the initial plan had worked, this celebration would have occurred two decades ago.

In 1896, Frank Hering, the first full-time Irish football coach, envisioned a Varsity Club that would promote sportsmanship and camaraderie for the fewer than 100 student-athletes who competed in four school-sponsored sports: football, basketball, baseball and track. However, Hering’s Varsity Club failed to survive in those early and relatively unorganized days of intercollegiate athletics.

In 1916, Notre Dame athletics director and head football coach Jesse Harper, along with assistant coach Knute Rockne, revived Hering’s concept and formed the Notre Dame National Monogram Club. Harper wanted the University’s varsity letterwinners to unite in promoting spirit, unity, leadership and sportsmanship. He also sought to bring former student-athletes back into the University’s fold as members of its Monogram Club.

Now there are over 8,000 living Monogram winners spread over the world and the Club hopes to connect with them during the 100-year celebration, which will highlight the Club’s support of the five pillars of Notre Dame athletics: tradition, faith, education, excellence and community.

While student-athletes are the most visible representatives of Notre Dame athletics, the Club also includes student managers, cheerleaders, student trainers and video technicians since they all are dedicated members of the Fighting Irish family.

Whether it’s a hall-of-fame athlete, a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher, Notre Dame athletics has helped mold some impressive individuals. Those student-athletes will always be connected to the sport they played, however the strength of the Monogram Club is that everyone is part of a larger team.

“Through my time on the Monogram Club board I have met some of my closest friends at Notre Dame; from a baseball player from the 70s, to a lacrosse player from the 80s, to a tennis player from the 90s, I have made friends across the sports and across the decades,” says Haley Scott DeMaria (’95, swimming), Monogram Club President since 2013.

“Our 100-year celebration kicks off just as I am wrapping up my term as president of the Club. These events give me time to reflect on what the Club means to our membership both past and future, and for me it can be summed up in one word: relationships. The Monogram Club’s strength and meaning stems from the relationships built among our members; whether they are professional, personal, or spiritual, these relationships with each other and with our university are the foundation of our Club.”

Service work, scholarship funding, networking and advising the current generation of Notre Dame student-athletes are some of the many ways the Monogram Club strives to ensure anyone who competed for the Fighting Irish over the past century has the adequate resources for their lives beyond campus and the competition arena.

The Monogram Career Network, which began in 2014, is still in its infancy, but has already shown to be a valuable program that connects Monogram-winning alumni with current student-athletes and other alums who can provide career development and mentoring.

“Anything that connects current and former student-athletes is invaluable,” says Notre Dame Vice President and Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick (’76), an honorary Club member. “That connection helps us to make good on the promise we make to students when they come here that they will join a community that will be with them for the rest of their lives. Monogram Club members play a critical role in helping us deliver on that promise when they build those relationships, when they make themselves available, when they’re a resource in any way, but especially in terms of furthering the careers of students at Notre Dame.”

The Monogram Club has distributed more than $4.5 million through the Brennan-Boland-Riehle Scholarship Fund and its postgraduate scholarship. The Club also provides support for Notre Dame athletics initiatives and programs benefitting current student-athletes. The most recognizable symbol of those who have joined the exclusive fraternity is the letter jacket, which is issued to first-time Monogram recipients during the Club’s bi-annual letter jacket ceremony.

The Club also provides funding to teams for unique trips and experiences when they are away from campus through the team hosting program. Recent excursions have included an African safari for the men’s soccer team and the softball squad’s Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb in Australia.

Much like its fellow centenarian Boeing, the Monogram Club continues to help people reach new heights.

— Sean Carroll, Monogram Club Communications Associate