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Guardswoman returns to field

Eileen Duffy | Monday, August 28, 2006

At some point, political correctness and dictionaries mated, and words like policewoman, mailwoman and alumna were born. Now Notre Dame has a new gender-specific term to adopt – Irish guardswoman.

Competing against 33 other 6-foot-2 or taller hopefuls, junior Tess Murray marched her way to one of five open spots on this year’s Irish Guard. She is the first female to do so since 2000’s Molly Kinder and only the second in the Guard’s 57-year history.

As long as they meet the height requirement and “are willing to march,” band director Ken Dye said, all candidates are welcomed – meaning gender is not a consideration. Murray herself refused to discuss the gender issue.

“In my opinion and in the opinion of the Guard, I am no different than any of them,” Murray said. “I don’t want to be the only one singled out … it’s not fair to anyone on the Guard.”

While most of the guardsmen declined to comment on the situation, junior Connor Martin said he believes Murray will be welcomed by the other guardsmen.

“Outside of [practice and games] we’re all just like, really good friends,” Martin said. “We have practice or places to be, so we end up getting food together and just hanging out.

“I think Tess will be a part of that.”

The negative reaction surrounding the selection of Kinder in 2000 has not occurred with Murray, Dye said.

“I’m sure it raised some eyebrows,” he said, “but it’s different this time around.”

Known for their traditional Victory Clog dance, the 10 stone-faced, kilt-sporting Irish Guardsmen are responsible for leading the band from Main Building to the Stadium on football Saturdays. They practice nightly with the band, and the two groups tried out together beginning Aug. 17.

Elizabeth Cuda, a senior saxophone player, observed Murray’s audition and said she was “a step above the rest.”

“She put more passion and energy into [her audition],” Cuda said. “I think that put her over the edge. You could tell she really wanted it.

“I talked to others afterwards, and we had no doubt that she was going to make the Guard.”

So she can talk the talk – but can she walk the walk?

Easily. Murray was a member of the band herself during her freshman and sophomore years, so rhythmic marching isn’t new to her. Senior saxophone player Gary Pritts said Murray was “clearly one of the best marchers,” and Martin echoed those statements

“She was one of the better marchers out there,” Martin said. “That’s why she made it.”

Being a member of the Irish Guard is more than marching, though, Dye said.

“You have to have a knack for rhythm, a flow, a style. There’s a stature that’s involved with being a guard,” he said. “It’s a unique style of marching.”

Some of the others vying for the spots lacked that ability, senior clarinets leader Justin Hendricks said.

“To be honest, Tess really stood out,” he said. “There were definitely a lot of guys who could just not march to the beat, frankly.”

When selecting the new members of the group, returning Irish guardsmen evaluate the candidates, said senior Kevin Coleman, captain of the Irish Guard.

“Every year the tryouts are judged on physical appearance, stature and marching ability,” said senior Kevin Coleman, captain of the Irish Guard. “The band directors then have final say as to who makes the Guard.”

Dye then leads a six-member band staff through another evaluation process, to “come to some kind of collective decision,” he said.

Murray ranked highly, according to Dye.

“Their evaluation of Tess was a strong one,” he said. “She was extremely well-prepared. … She did a good job.”

Hendricks embraced the decision to select a guardswoman.

“I thought it was really cool when it happened before – I’m excited that it’s my senior year and it’s happening again,” he said. “I hope that she does a great job and it’s something that can continue.”