Yes, I was among the 1,000 or so hardy — or maybe foolhardy — fans who managed to attend the Feb. 1 Notre Dame vs. Syracuse women’s basketball game. The blizzard of 2011 was gearing up, and the icy wind and stinging snow pellets made even a short walk from the parking lot to the Joyce Center’s Purcell Pavilion a winter’s agony.
Once inside, the die-hard loyalty was clear.
“I dug out to dig Skylar,” read one fan’s sign.
That would be hometown hero Skylar Diggins, the 2009 Indiana Miss Basketball, now a sophomore guard at ND.
On another sign, the Becca meter, two fans kept track of the number of points scored by senior forward Becca Bruszewski, who at the start of the game was five points away from joining the 1,000-points club.
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Now I don’t care if you think women’s basketball is a poor excuse for the real thing or that the women’s game is too slow or the athleticism is lacking. I’m sure some sociologist could explain why women’s games don’t attract the attention that men’s games do, although don’t tell the UConn fans that.
But the ND women’s basketball games, which on occasion do sell out, are more than worth the price — $8 adults; $5 youth and seniors — and just as exciting and fun as the male version. They come complete with dramatic musical introductions of the players, lots of flashy videotron footage, hokey children’s contests (chicken toss anyone?) and such flying giveways as T-shirts and mini basketballs.
And to make the game part of some good works, the program participates in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Pink Zone breast cancer initiative. On blizzard night, several people had pledged money so they could walk on the Pink Zone treadmill. Other initiatives include fans pledging to donate a certain amount for each 3-point shot the Lady Irish make.
The team also comes with tournament-ready hopes. It’s been 10 years since ND captured the NCAA championship, but the possibility of another run under the leadership of coach Muffet McGraw always exists.
But maybe being underdogs when it comes to a fan base is what makes the ND women’s basketball spectator experience feel somewhat special, the sense of being part of a circle that not everyone has been smart or lucky enough to enter.
I don’t know. But I do know that when, with 7:55 left to play and the Irish sporting a 20-point lead, an announcement appeared on the videotron warning spectators that the weather conditions continue to be bad, I counted fewer than a dozen people heading to the exits.
The other foolhardy spectators stuck it out to the winning end, to the band playing the alma mater and to Becca Bruszewski, who indeed had passed the 1,000-mark that night, thanking fans for coming and advising them to drive safe.
Maybe the fans just didn’t want to face what awaited them outside. Or maybe they felt the best fan-feeling you can feel — that you really are part of the team.
Check out ND Free Pass for a spectator’s sampling of the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.