Michael Todisco is a player at the University of Notre Dame and a reporter for the school newspaper, The Observer.
Gambier, OH — The University of Notre Dame is defined by a particular set of attributes. Amongst these characteristics are the sparkling golden dome, a strong Catholic convention, and a commitment to academic excellence. However, above all Notre Dame is defined by many by the long athletic tradition at the institution. Ranging from the likes of Joe Montana to Carl Yastrzemski, the alumni from Notre Dame are littered throughout the history books of almost all sports.
Growing up, I always admired the pristine golden helmets of Notre Dame and the fervor with which the Irish faithful supported their teams. When it came time to apply to colleges, I knew exactly where I wanted to be. When my acceptance letter came in the mail, I began counting down the days until I would first step foot in Notre Dame Stadium to cheer on the Irish and become part of the athletic tradition.
“Go Irish” is the rallying cry of athletic program. The student body passionately shouts these words at nearly every event to encourage our fellow students on the field. However, this cheer is a one-way street, from the student body to the athletes. While I had shouted the phrase dozens if not hundreds of times, it had never been directed at me. While I attended the University of Notre Dame, I still was not Irish.
My sophomore year I decided to join the squash club. With experience in tennis and racquetball, I quickly picked up the sport. The strongest players from the squash club are elected to be on the team, and when the first team tournament rolled around, I was told I would be on the roster.
The team boarded into two cars early on a Saturday morning and began the haul to Kenyon College to compete in the Midwest Round Robin. Upon arrival at Kenyon, we had little time to admire the beautiful Gambier, Ohio campus. We were late for our first match, and rushed into the ultra-modern athletic complex to compete against Denison College, who was ranked No.24 in the preseason CSA rankings.
We were overmatched. Six of our nine competitors had never played competitive squash, and our No. 1 player contracted the flu the night before and had not made the trip. Against the odds, somehow I found myself in a competitive match. After losing the first two games, I had battled back winning consecutive games to force a fifth game.
With my whole team behind me, I proceeded to the fifth game. I went down early and turned to my team for support. My coach gave me a confident nod and shouted, “You got this Mike. Go Irish!” Although I barely had time for reflection, the moment made a profound impact on me.
Although I ended up losing the match (four of them for that matter), the experience at the Midwest Round Robin was unforgettable, capped by a memorable trip to Steak N’ Shake. Adorned in our Notre Dame warm up suits, a woman and her children approached our table. “May we take a picture?” she asked. “I’m such a big Notre Dame fan, and my husband would never believe I saw you all if I don’t have a picture.” Maybe the football players were accustomed to such treatment, but the experience was wholly new and unexpected to me.
The squash tournament at Kenyon was a unique and transformative experience. Through the opportunities provided by squash, I had become part of the athletic tradition at Notre Dame; I had become Irish.