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Woman tries to get in step with Irish Guard

Karen Langley | Wednesday, August 31, 2005

While the Irish Guard will remain all male for the 2005 season, the legendary kilt-clad group saw a rare female hopeful at tryouts this August, despite the fact that no women had auditioned for the Guard since Molly Kinder became its first female member in 2000.

As sophomore Tess Murray packed for marching band tryouts 13 months ago, her mother mentioned a group that might be of interest to the 6-foot-2 freshman. The Irish Guard led the band into Notre Dame Stadium each home game, and its members had to stand at least 6-foot-2 tall. Though Murray had never before seen the Guard, she began to consider trying out.

While freshmen are not allowed to audition, Murray was able to watch the group at band practice each day from her vantage point in the saxophone section. By the end of the season, she was determined to try her chances at joining them in the fall semester.

Murray, along with 16 other Notre Dame students, arrived on campus Aug. 18 to begin a four-day tryout. Since the seven returning Guardsmen automatically regained their spots, only three of the auditioning students had the opportunity to make it. The band directors choose the new members with input from the returning Guard.

“You start out learning to march,” Murray said. “It’s really not that different from marching band tryouts. They taught us how to do the basic moves.”

While the activities of tryouts resembled those for marching band, the Guard tryouts drew a group of participants that was much taller and entirely male – except for Murray.

The Irish Guard, which is run under the band and the Student Activities Office, gained its only female member when Molly Kinder made the cut during the 2000 season.

Assistant Band Director Sam Sanchez said there have been only four women, including Murray, who have ever auditioned.

Murray was aware of the traditional all-male nature of the Irish Guard and of the problems Kinder encountered when she made the Guard after her second year of tryouts.

In a February 2004 article in The Observer, Kinder said the other members of the Guard treated her “with a standard policy of segregation and disregard.”

Kinder’s negative experiences on the Guard did not make a difference in her decision, Murray said, especially since Kinder had said that she did not regret her choice to join. But Murray remained nervous about interacting with the all-male group.

“Once I got there, it was better than I expected,” she said. “It’s like any other group of guys. Was I treated like one of the guys? No, but it was awkward for everyone. I was trying to decide if I should act like a guy, but I shouldn’t have to because I’m a girl.”

While the 2000 Guard was not receptive to a female member, the current Guard was open to the idea, Sanchez said.

“When I was outside observing them, it seemed that they were treating her the same as any other individual,” he said. “With Molly there was a bit of bias.”

Sanchez said the 2005 Guard was trying its best to raise the group’s image.

If she were to make the Guard, Murray said that she would have asked only for tolerance.

“I wouldn’t be asked to be treated better, and I wouldn’t ask to be treated worse,” she said.

Brian Martin – captain of the Irish Guard – said that all prospective members were treated equally regardless of gender.

“We don’t make any favorites,” he said. “I think in terms of tryouts, which is the only place I have any experience in this situation, I don’t think that there is that much more difficulty for a guy or a girl. Marching is difficult to learn and hard on the body.”

There is no set formula for a Guardsman, he said.

“It all just depends on who is the best marcher and who is the best fit for Irish Guard,” he said. “It’s not just about marching. When you are at attention you also have to look the part. That’s the whole reason you have to be 6-foot-2″. It’s supposed to be an intimidating thing.”

The identity of the Guard played as big a part as gender relations in her tryout, Murray said.

“I came from the marching band,” she said. “I view the Irish Guard as being a part of the band, and they don’t. They’re supposed to be our version of the flag corps, but they see themselves as a separate group that happens to lead the band.”

Though Murray would have lost her spot in marching band had she made the Guard, band leaders were excited that she auditioned.

“We’re hoping she will audition next year. She did very well, but there were only a few spots,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez said tryouts are extremely competitive for anyone, though the degree of difficulty varies each year depending on the number of returning Guardsmen.

“Often people don’t make it their first year,” he said. “None of the four band members who auditioned this year made it. There were a number of people who tried out for the third time. Molly Kinder didn’t make it her first year, but her second year we took five people and she was number two.”

Murray said she plans on trying out again next year.