Sun Bowl Trip Special for Seniors in Band

On the Notre Dame campus, it’s not only the football players who start camp in August, putting in grueling days under the hot, humid Indiana summer before other students arrive. These students toil relentlessly Monday through Friday every week during football season, and “game day” for them is being on their feet sun-up til sundown.

They are the members of the Notre Dame marching band – The Band of The Fighting Irish.

There are the long hours of practice – marching and playing well away from the limelight. Studying the formations and the music. For many, additional volunteer hours teaching an instrument to a South Bend grade school student. Band members often have to pass up numerous other campus activities like residence hall athletics, clubs and projects…all to be a faithful member of The Band of The Fighting Irish. notredamebandinnewyork

The rewards are mostly communal. Unlike football players, Band members are rarely singled out and identified. No media interviews. No personal highlights.

It’s fun to hear of an instance where a couple of Band members, settling into a small Monday class after a particularly awesome halftime show that Saturday, get essentially a standing ovation from a dozen classmates.

Their fellow ND students know. They know of the dedication. They know of the preparation. They know how strong a family the Notre Band is.

The rewards do come, of course. They come in the form of special events, like the trip to New York City to perform at numerous functions prior to, and including, the historic revival of the ND-Army series with the first football game at the new Yankee Stadium.

And, in “normal” times, they come in the form of bowl trips. Getaways of three to five days in usually sunny climes – still filled with countless obligations and performances, but including more time for the Band members to relax and have some unstructured fun.

But when the Irish dropped a bewildering 28-27 home game to Tulsa on Oct. 30, things looked bleak for the seniors in the ND Band. They were facing the unthinkable – four years of marching and playing for the Fighting Irish, standing and cheering and screaming and playing drum cadences and songs all through every game, never giving up….. and zero bowl trips.

Their freshman year, 2007, well, the less said about that the better. Sophomore year, 2008, the Irish (football) players’ 6-6 season was rewarded with a trip to Hawaii, where they frolicked on the beach…..while Band members watched from their homes, after the decision to not take the Band along. Then junior year, 2009, another 6-6 year but with an 0-4 finish, a coaching change…and a decision to keep everybody home for bowl season.

After the Tulsa loss, the Irish were 4-5 and reeling badly, and two victories in their final three games seemed like a pipe dream. The Band’s seniors were hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst. And being philosophical about it.

Anna Mayer, senior from Urbana, Ill., is one of the clarinet section leaders this year.

“I think that our four years have taught us that our motivation for doing Band can’t be based on how much the team is winning or what fabulous bowl we’ll get to attend,” Anna said, “but on doing the best we can for the sake of each other and everyone out there that sees us as representatives of Notre Dame.”

Anna said, despite the team’s record the past four years, “I’m really glad I was here the four years that I was. It may be blasphemous to say I’m glad I was part of the losingest class in Notre Dame history, but I think it makes me appreciate this season, especially the tail end of it, that much more. (Some people) don’t realize how grateful all of us seniors are that a) we’re going to a bowl game and b) they’ve decided to take the entire band.”

Her sentiments are echoed by fellow senior clarinet Nathalie Coombs, a Russian and Spanish language major from Miami.

“I am very excited to go to the Sun Bowl and march for one last time as a member of the Band of the Fighting Irish,” says Nathalie, who chooses to focus on the Band’s bright spots over her four years.

“I am excited to make history with the Band. These past three years we have done exactly that. From the historic trip to the Coliseum in USC to the remaking of history at Yankee Stadium, it has been three years of waking up the echoes at Notre Dame. I am very blessed and proud to be a part of this.”

And as a Miami native, the Sun Bowl will be extra special. “I can’t see a better way to end my last football season as an ND student than with a Notre Dame vs. Miami game. I hope that it will be a great New Year’s Eve.”

Dr. Ken Dye, who carries on the long tradition of the Band of The Fighting Irish, says that the three great trademarks of the Band are family, tradition and excellence.

Spending any time at all around this amazing group of Notre Dame students, it is clear they are a family. That they take seriously their charge to keep so many ND traditions alive. And that they put in an enormous amount of work, to create excellent performances and great spirit to support the Fighting Irish.

And whether you are in the stands at the Sun Bowl, or watching on TV, when you see the Band of The Fighting Irish take the field, know that there are a few dozen seniors who are marching with a special feeling of pride and achievement.