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The Racqueteers

Mar 18, 2013, 9:21 AM EDT

"The Racqueteers" - Sam Hyder, Katie Ferrello, Chris Hebig, Will Murray, and Max Cruz.

Mirriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “racketeer” as “one who obtains money by an illegal enterprise usually involving intimidation.”

I define “racqueteer” as “one who helps a tennis player/team obtain victories by an entertaining enterprise involving team-support and/or opponent-intimidation.”

Notre Dame women’s tennis has their own racqueteers. They’ve been attending home matches at the Eck Tennis Pavilion since the match against Purdue, and have gone to every match since.

The Racqueteers don ridiculous outfits and yell very funny chants. (I’ll list a few, but I guarantee it’s better to see/hear them in action.) They do the football kick-off roar for serves (Oooooooooo-OH! IRISH!), the Rudy chant, “We Are ND,” and “Let’s Go Irish.” They even began personalizing chants for players. For example, I’ve heard a Forrest Gump-inspired “We love you, Jenn-ay!” for junior Jennifer Kellner and a Toni Basil-inspired, “Oh Britney, you’re so fine! You’re so fine, you blow my mind. Hey, Britney!” for junior Britney Sanders. They even did an Irish Jig that nearly tipped the bleachers in the gallery. Really. Bystanders had to hold them down. And somehow they’ve found a perfect balance between the etiquette required of tennis-spectators and the rowdiness supplied by super-fans.

I asked the group how they began. Sophomore Sam Hyder with help from (Notre Dame alum, former track & field star, and senior Chrissie McGaffigan‘s boyfriend) Max Cruz told the story:

Hyder: Chris [Hebig] and I are sitting in a LaFun booth one day and we see an ad for women’s tennis, men’s tennis, and track, and we decided we wanted to support a team that doesn’t have a large fan-base, and we wanted to go out and give them a lot of overwhelming support that they’re not used to, and we decided that the best sport for that was women’s tennis because they work really hard and don’t get appreciated like the football or basketball teams.

Max Cruz interrupts: They’re [really] good every year!

Hyder: Exactly!

Cruz: And they’re a good-looking team!

Hyder: That’s not—

Cruz (jokingly): I’m sure it wasn’t a motivator at all!

Hyder: It wasn’t a motivation at all.

Cruz: I don’t know about that! Haha!

Hyder: Anyway, we went out to the Purdue match, and we decided to dress in costumes to get a little more crazy, just overwhelming amounts of support….We started recruiting other members by just informing our friends and trying to get them to go. I got a couple of guys in my dorm, Zahm, to go to a match, we got some friends of ours through [Navy ROTC], and we basically put the invitation out there for anyone in the world to come!

Hyder said the costumes are “always kind of spur-of-the-moment. I woke up like 15 minutes before the match and grabbed a couple things that worked. Sometimes, they’re a little raunchy.” (The outfit he grabbed was a sombrero and a Mexican poncho.) He also later added that, “Unfortunately, our motives are questioned because the team is plagued with such beautiful players, and our motivation behind this movement had nothing to do with this. We’re in it for the support of a hard-working Irish team whose skill is recognized on the national level, and who deserves a rowdy home crowd to come home to every other week. And boy, can we get rowdy!”

This rowdy, raunchy, and spirited group of guys know how entertaining they are, but probably don’t realize what a big difference they’re making at the tennis matches. I, for one, can say that until the Racqueteers started showing up, the matches were quiet. They were never boring, but other than the sounds of tennis shoes squeaking on the courts and the “pop” of the ball hitting the racquet or floor, there wasn’t much to be heard. That’s pretty different now.

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Tailgating before the match against Duke.

Head coach Jay Louderback explained, “They have brought the football student section to women’s tennis. Our matches can be very intense and exciting, [and] this group helps raise the level of excitement. Our players feed off their cheering.”

Anytime you hear them chanting, you can see a player or two look up in amusement and appreciation. “We absolutely love having the guys at our matches [because] they bring a positive energy to our matches and pump us up. The opposing teams that play us at home seem very confused, but enthralled by our costumed fans,” McGaffigan said. “Their cheering and enthusiasm is contagious to the rest of our fans. They are the best and we are so grateful to have them at our matches. At our last match [against Duke], they were tailgating before we even got there to warm-up on a cold morning!”

It’s true. Hyder and Cruz had told me there would be a tailgate that morning, so I stopped by to see if it would really happen. I wasn’t disappointed. Even more Racqueteers had shown up, hotdogs and bacon were on the grill, leprechaun Johnny Romano was in uniform, and players’ parents were talking about how awesome it all was.

Cindy Gleason was one of those parents. (Her daughter is freshman Quinn Gleason.) She told me, “They add a lot to the matches. It’s so much fun, [and] the excitement—it just really adds a lot. They did the Alma Mater after the match [against DePaul], and the girls were just in heaven. They just had so much fun! And parents, too. All the fans. We loved it!”

These guys are helping to do just what the tennis teams seek to do every match: Protect the Eck. They’re just doing it in a more flamboyant way than the teams can. The women’s tennis team has home matches against Michigan on March 27 and Memphis on April 7, so you still have time to come witness the Racqueteers in person and join ranks with them. If you can, you should.

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Big Bird, a Mexican wrestler, a mowhawked-construction worker, Elmo snuggie, the Cat-in-the-Hat, and a shirtless-tuxedo overlook a match between McGaffigan/Kellner and Duke.

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