Sticking with It

As Notre Dame men’s lacrosse approaches the sport’s pinnacle, a player from the student-funded, car-pooling club era looks back on the long, fun climb.

Author: John Murphy ’78

Nd Lacrosse 2 Nathanial George Chaminade man Pat Kavanagh ’23 is among the leaders for the men’s lacrosse team. Photo by Nathanial George

Reilly Gray
Reilly Gray ’23 is another product of the Chaminade pipeline. Photo by Nathanial George

In the beginning, Notre Dame men’s lacrosse was a student-organized club. It began in 1964 with devoted players who paid for their uniforms, lacrosse sticks, carpools to away games, meals and hotel rooms. Some of those early players were picking up sticks strung with catgut for the first time. Others, mostly from the East Coast, had grown up with the game.

I was in the latter group when I joined the team in September 1974 as a freshman from Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York — the first in what has evolved into a recruiting pipeline from Chaminade to a program that competes today for its first national championship. 

Some teammates from my era still play together on a senior league team called the HouNDs. Lacrosse alumni stay in touch through a club Facebook page, and we often text back-and-forth while watching the current team play on TV — if we’re not cheering them on in person.

My time on the team carries many fond memories despite hardships like sitting on the floor of the coach’s van as Rich O’Leary ’77MSA drove us to a game. Or worse, trading beer money for gas money to drive to an away game in a car borrowed from an older brother. But we shared a lot of laughs staying at low budget hotels in Miami, Atlanta and Colorado Springs.

In the fall of 1976, presidential candidate Jimmy Carter walked on to our practice field behind Stepan Center. I looked him in the eye and asked the burning question the country wanted to know: “How do you like lacrosse?” To which he answered with his southern drawl, “I’m from Annapolis and they play a lot of it down there.”

Lacrosse Semifinal Win
The author was there Saturday to capture the semifinal winning moment, and he wouldn’t miss today’s title game.

Given my history, I’m especially proud of the lacrosse they play at my alma mater Chaminade, and the talent the school has produced for the Notre Dame program. Of the 414 Chaminade graduates who have attended Notre Dame since 1974, 25 have played lacrosse. Eight are on this year’s roster, including record-setting star and points leader on this year’s team, Pat Kavanagh ’23, plus assistant coach Ryan Wellner. (Kavanagh’s brother, Chris, a sophomore and Notre Dame’s top goal scorer, graduated from a different high school.)

It has been a joy watching both the Chaminade and Notre Dame programs ascend from infancy to the premier, nationally recognized programs they are today. At both schools, we spent formative years cultivating our faith, honing our skills, making friends and living Chaminade’s slogan of Fortes in Unitate (Strength in Unity). I believe those shared attributes created the foundation for a successful future for both the Chaminade and Notre Dame programs. 

John Murphy V Ohio State
The author in action against Ohio State in 1977. Photo provided

Building on that foundation has required the dedication of many people, first and foremost the coaches. O’Leary nurtured the program from club days in 1971 through its transition to varsity a decade later, before handing the program to Kevin Corrigan in 1989. Corrigan has been the driving force in the 35 years since — including, I hasten to add, 16 years with assistant coach Gerry Byrne, a Chaminade graduate, at his side. Byrne is now the Harvard head coach.

With the leadership of legends like O’Leary and Corrigan, and the talent they have attracted over the decades, I’ve always believed Notre Dame men’s lacrosse would eventually hoist a national championship trophy.

I predict it will be today.

John Murphy lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and is a utility specialist in nuclear, solar and natural gas for Exelon.