By Scott Frano ’13
Hannah Storm Journalism Intern
The green mass of the Leprechaun Legion has been a fixture at Notre Dame home basketball games since the group’s inception in 2002. Now, the Legion is trying to make its presence felt across all varsity sports.
The Legion’s goal is to provide all Notre Dame teams with a true home-field advantage, said Legion President Matthew Cunningham ’13 and Vice President Kristen Stoutenburgh ’13.
“We’re the student spirit group on campus,” Cunningham said. “Our goal is to take student opinions and ideas and enact them, be the student voice of the athletic department. Try to build the energy at sporting events and get people excited about going to games and build that home-field advantage for all of our teams.”
The Legion, in its first year expanding outside of basketball, made its mark early this year by contributing to some of initiatives for the fall football season.
“Our Legion board helped with the playlists on third downs and kickoffs,” Cunningham said, referring to the music played over the stadium’s loudspeakers. “And our highlight of the football season was the Irish flag (in the student section) during the Michigan game. That came from us, and Legion members volunteered to help coordinate the whole thing. That was something we were pretty proud of.”
Out of all the sports, Cunningham and Stoutenburgh said the hockey team, which is routinely ranked as one of the best in the country, has the most need of Legion attention.
“I think we need to get hockey to where it should be,” Cunningham said. “The facility is awesome, it’s fast-paced, we’re really good, the energy and the sound system in the rink is great, and the band is really loud. I think building that student section energy and filling the student section every night would be great to see. And I think it’s very possible.”
The two leaders understand the issues they face in getting more students to games, including the tendency to forget about other sports during football season.
“Football takes over, and when football is going on, there isn’t as much interest in non-conference basketball games or hockey games not against ranked teams on a football weekend,” Stoutenburgh said. “It’s a great thing that everyone supports football, but there is such an attention on football that it can be harder to give what we need to the other sports also.”
“Notre Dame students are busy, too,” Cunningham said. “Everyone is in at least one club or activity or they play a sport or whatever the case may be. Our goal as the Legion is to create an environment that’s fun and people like to go to and they feel like they’re involved, it gives people a reason to go to games. If we can create the atmosphere, I think we can get people to go.”
Despite the snowy weather in South Bend recently, spring sports such as baseball and lacrosse are right around the corner. The Legion is already developing ideas to bring students out.
“We have our two spring sports chairs who have put together proposals on giveaways they want to see,” Stoutenburgh said. “They have an idea for Friday night baseball games being this big Legion event. Something cool that people want to go to with hot dogs and things like that. There’s a lot of planning in the works for it.”
The Notre Dame Athletic Department and the coaches of the various teams have been very supportive of the Legion in their expansion efforts. Basketball coach Mike Brey in particular has been a supporter of the Legion for years.
“The athletics department has been great,” Cunningham said. “They’ve been waiting for a student group to be the voice of the student body and the changes they want to see. They’ve been very receptive to things we’ve suggested. Coach Brey has always been phenomenal. He comes over and gives us high-fives after the games.”
Cunningham and Stoutenburgh hope that their expansion efforts this year will lead to better awareness of the Legion as not just a basketball-supporting club.
“This is our first year of the new Legion, covering all the sports,” Cunningham said. “I think part of it is just breaking the old perception and that takes time. So hopefully the freshmen that have come in this year, their initial perception of the Legion is at all sports, and then they will be sophomores and there will be new freshmen. Hopefully we’ll start to gain some momentum.”