May 23, 2012, 2:47 PM EDT
When Father Sorin founded Our Lady’s University in 1842, he did so using the ethos of achievement, community and sensibility. 170 years later, his vision still holds true. His vision of a close-knit community working as one towards a common goal is an afterthought in most industries today. Yet, in the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to see up-close and personal the way in which those around the University of Notre Dame breed the culture of community, faith and family.
Haley Scott DeMaria, the University’s 2012 commencement speaker said, “There are three things that have sustained me, that have carried me through my challenges and have rejoiced with me. My faith, my family and my friendships. While academically, three “Fs” wouldn’t be celebrated; in life, they are to be embraced. Faith, Family and Friendship.”
These philosophies and teachings are no more evident than on the golf course with our men’s golf program.
As a casual fan of golf, you may only watch the ‘Major’ tournaments – The Masters, the U.S. Open, The Open and the PGA Championship – nonetheless in the game of golf there is a set of unwritten, old-school rules that have followed the hallowed game from its inception in the 15th century. Golf is one of the only sports or games in which you call penalties on yourself; in addition, golf also sets a different standard for etiquette while on the golf course. You can call me a detractor, but I always believed that when push comes to shove, competition comes before character on the playing field. Last week, while following the men’s golf team at the NCAA regional in Ann Arbor, I was unequivocally proved wrong.
Behind every great businessman, attorney, accountant, singer or athlete are their parents, and the members of the men’s golf team are no different. Trudging around the hilly, 6,800-yard course I found that each Irish golfer had at least one parent with them providing encouragement and a friendly face behind the ropes. I fully expected the parents to be pulling for their own, but what happened as the round went on befuddled me, each parent truly cared about all the golfers as if they were their own.
After starting the day in ninth place, after a day one 291, the Irish started moving up the leaderboard and were just a few strokes out of fifth place (the qualifying mark for entrance to the NCAA Championship) after completing the outward nine holes. But what was even bigger were the murmurs that started to spread round the course as senior Tom Usher made the turn at four-under par.
Usher’s parents, Colin and Cathy, made the trip all the way from Baildon, England to what ended up being their son’s final collegiate tournament. The camaraderie between all the golf parents is one of the most unique relationships that you will ever get a chance to witness. The 12-member team allows each parent to get to know one another throughout the year; which is clearly evident when you are exposed to their community.
“Look around you: your roommate, your classmate, perhaps your teammate or a professor.” Stated DeMaria, “Think of how much you have learned from them. They have made you a better person, as you have made them. That is who we are at Notre Dame. As anyone who has experienced the student section in the Purcell Pavilion, Compton Family Arena or in the football stadium knows, our strongest trait is our community.”
Unlike the large, professional tournaments, at collegiate golf tournaments there are no large scoreboards behind greens, or video boards feeding hole-by-hole scoring to the groups. This requires a vast variety of communication from the parents to one another and to the golfers who want to know where their teammates stand.
As Usher began his play on the inward nine holes, the chatter between parents grew even louder. His third shot on the par-five, 12th hole left him only a few feet for birdie. As the putt found the bottom of the cup, his parents, sister and fellow teammate Chris Walker’s parents gave him congratulations. Not only did the teams’ parents complement the great play of their kin, they also complemented their competitors on shots and helped find stray golf balls for anyone in the group throughout the round. Needless to say, I did not hear anyone’s parents yelling, “Noonan!”
It was not uncommon for me to glance at a parent and they give me a ‘thumbs-up’ or ‘thumbs-down’ sign depending on how their son was playing. If a parents son was playing poorly, another parent would console them by saying something along the lines of “Don’t worry, he has the game to get (the strokes) back.”
After the conclusion of their son’s round, the parents don’t just leave, they all watch the rest of the team finish out their round by the 18th green. The parents reunite at the end of the round by the final green when Notre Dame’s top golfer, Max Scodro’s parents join them as their son hits his approach shot into the green. There, the family’s cheer on all the golfers, no matter what color their shirt is or what logo is emblazoned on their golf bag. For they truly know the meaning of proper sportsmanship.
What shouldn’t be lost in this story is the play of the parents’ children – Usher’s record-breaking 65, Scodro’s seventh-place finish, Walker’s aggressive style of play, Niall Platt’s resiliency in shooting back-to-back 72’s and Paul McNamara’s surgical-like dissection of the golf course. Their hard work and dedication to the game gave them the ability to lead the Irish to their best finish in the event since its inception in 1989. But without the support of their teammates, their coaches, their parents and the Notre Dame community who knows how far this trail blazing group of student-athletes would have gone.
With the loss of three seniors – Scodro, Walker and Usher – the Irish will need to rely on some new pieces next year in their attempt to go farther than their regional round exit in the NCAA Championship. In the words of Father Sorin, “we will rebuild it, bigger and better than ever.”
The previous thousand words cannot encapsulate the true importance of feeling like you are in a true community of caring individuals. In my short period of time with them, the way I was treated by parents, players and coaches alike gave me the feeling that I was a part of something bigger than golf.
Father Sorin’s vision for a community of faith, family and friendships was a vision for his University that outlasted him and will outlast us. The platform in which the University wields is a great one, and the continued education and enrichment of the University to its students will ensure that their founders ideals will be bestowed upon the brightest minds of their generation through teachings from their professors, friends and most importantly, their parents.
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