p(image-left). !/assets/26011/cschaal.jpg(Carol Schaal)!
Seven months, 20 Notre Dame athletic events and 17 blogs later, I’ve limped to the finish line in my race to view all the Notre Dame varsity sports in a school year. We spectators don’t deserve ribbons or medals or monogrammed letter sweaters, but I’m still bummed that I never did catch a free T-shirt.
As cheap thrills go, the experience was priceless. Who knew that women’s and men’s lacrosse varied so much? That some people take picnics to watch cross-country? That it always rains during the blue-gold football game? Or that referees in fencing could be almost balletic in their use of hand signals?
Thanks to this sideline exploration, I also learned that a flashy video scoreboard can add immeasurably to the excitement of watching volleyball and basketball; the not-so-flashy video board at Rolfs meant I could keep track of swimming and diving records about to be broken; an indoor track and field meet presents more spectator options than you can possibly sample — a pole vault here, a weight throw there, and please don’t walk through the long-jump pit — while rowing offers blink-and-you-might-miss-them watershed moments; and that golf, no matter how you slice it, is not the spectator sport for me.
The southeast corner of campus became my go-to spot for a stuffed duffel bag of ND sporting events. The impressive individual venues for soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball and tennis were testament to the fact that Notre Dame and its benefactors take athletics seriously indeed, even if some carry the lackluster name of “nonrevenue sports.”
And it was fun to stumble into a promotion, like the Famous Dave’s free meal before a lacrosse game or the free shot-on-the-spot personal photo and photo-frame at volleyball or team poster give-aways at any number of events. I missed some other freebies, like foam hats, soccer glasses, rally towels, trading cards and, sadly, a cowbell giveaway at hockey. Oh, don’t even ask me about those stupid T-shirts.
It is clear to me now that Notre Dame does think spectators are valuable. The $5 general admission/$3 children or seniors ticket-cost for soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball and softball makes those games a decent entertainment option for families — and something called the Clancy’s Kids Club, at $25 a year, gives kids free admission to those games and other goodies. Yeah, those kids get a T-shirt.
Once I began this spectator venture and wanted to know more about the teams and players, I was blown away by the coverage of all the ND sports at und.com. Live chats, videos, sports blogs, wrap-up stories and a connection to Irish alert text message updates were all there. As were annoying pop-up ads. Guess you gotta pay to play. Many Irish teams also can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
While this brave new world is a virtual cornucopia of delights, it still doesn’t compare to the highs of actually being there, yelling your fool head off when the opposing team starts closing in and you know, you just know, that you can _will_ that ball to drop or that puck to slide through or that runner to beat the throw.
I am well aware that my benchwarmer project was nowhere near as impressive as the student-athletes I watched, or the tireless student managers who seemed to be everywhere keeping track of everything. But I now know more about another aspect of the Notre Dame family. Yes, ND fans can be rude and crude and demanding and unforgiving. More important, they also can be supportive and friendly and funny and giving. So when the “Notre Dame Victory March” commands us to “cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame,” it’s clear the support staff deserves a hand.
_Carol Schaal is managing editor of_ Notre Dame Magazine. _Email her at_ "email@example.com":mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.