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Despite field rush, damages are minimal

Kate Antonacci | Monday, September 13, 2004

Despite the excitement caused by Saturday’s victory over Michigan, many people at the game had something bigger to worry about – student safety and the condition of the field.

For students, the victory win meant doing something they’ve always wanted to do.

“Realistically, around halftime it became a serious thought, and I got goose bumps,” O’Neill sophomore Chris Tarnacki said. “It’s something you see on TV all the time and it’s so special to be a part of.”

But for stadium employees and ushers, storming the field is not as exciting of an idea, mainly because of safety reasons.

Manager of Stadium Personnel Cappy Gagnon said rushing the field often causes safety issues.

“The big problem with rushing the field is that the height of the wall to the asphalt is about 8 to 9 feet and that’s a little far to jump, but it’s really far to jump if you have someone pushing,” Gagnon said.

However, once the student body started flooding out of the stands, Gagnon and his team changed their approach.

“While our policy is that we will not permit a field rush, once we determine that we can’t stop it, we move into our assist role,” he said. “We’re living in the real world. We use a term for what the ushers do – crowd management. We don’t say crowd control. A crowd of 80,000 can’t be controlled by a few hundred ushers.”

Problems also arose when students began taking up pieces of the field.

“I saw and stopped two students who were digging up chunks of turf,” Gagnon said. “What people didn’t realize is that what in one sense is a souvenir is also a place of work for the football team. You can’t grow turf in a few days, so you end up patching a few places.”

“You don’t want to create a situation where a football player will sprain an ankle or something even worse.”

The last time the students stormed the field was Sept. 14, 2002, after a 25-23 victory over, once again, the Michigan Wolverines.

At Saturday’s game, similar punishments were enforced for students who went overboard.

“I took one ticket booklet away. I took a driver’s license from a student who couldn’t produce an ID,” Gagnon said. “He was tearing up a piece of sod, and he was intoxicated. I would have taken his booklet, but he claimed not to have it or a student ID. There was one booklet taken from a student who was smoking on the field and wouldn’t put it out.”

There were also fears that the field storming would cause injury.

However, assistant director of Medical Services Outreach Ruthann Heberle said there was not a single reported injury from storming the field.

“It has happened in the past, but Cappy does a really good job of not trying to force an issue,” Heberle said. “He assisted them over the wall and they just peacefully and quietly walked out.

“It was just a really wonderful game, all-around. We only had one transport and that was after the game was over and that wasn’t related to the weather or the game or anything. We were busy, but just with minor things like splinters and bee stings.”

Generally, Saturday’s game was no different from any other in terms of health issues and damage to the stadium.

“Whenever we have a hot, humid game it’s harder on the elderly and people who either don’t drink enough liquids or drink too many liquids, so we had the usual amount of that,” Gagnon said. “From my perspective there weren’t anymore than we would have expected.

“I think, off the top of my head, there were maybe three or four broken benches, almost always in the student section. It’s just a hazard of standing on benches.

“In a game like that you’re not just standing, you’re jumping around, but there was minimal damage.”

In past year’s, ushers also have had to combat the marshmallow throwing that usually takes place within the senior student section.

Gagnon and the rest of the stadium personnel were on the lookout for marshmallows being thrown during halftime, but it didn’t appear to be as large as in past years.

“We didn’t catch any student with marshmallows,” Gagnon said. “The last home game last year we caught a bunch. Hopefully it will fade out of existence.

“It really doesn’t sound like a whole big deal to throw a few marshmallows around, but we can’t be in the situation from a liability standpoint to endorse throwing anything.”

Saturday’s victory and storming of the field was an event that, in many students’ minds, will go down as a great Notre Dame moment.

Tarnacki said this game was something he will not soon forget.

“The memory I will never forget is walking out of the tunnel, seeing Touchdown Jesus,” Tarnacki said. “There is nothing like that anywhere else.

“That was one of the best days I’ve had ever. Everything was just so special.”