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Matt Phipps chosen as new leprechaun

Rohan Anand | Monday, April 16, 2007

There’s a new leprechaun in town.

Senior Kevin Braun, who served as the mascot for the Irish football team this past season, handed over the title to junior Matt Phipps, who on Friday won the competition to become the University’s mascot. Phipps has also served on the varsity cheerleading squad for the past 3 years.

Seven male students performed stunts, led cheers at mock pep rallies and conducted media interviews in front of more than 100 students and a panel of judges Friday at the Joyce Athletics and Convention Center to compete for the gig of varsity Leprechaun for 2007-08 school year.

The Leprechaun has been the official mascot of Notre Dame since 1965.

Before tryouts began, Phipps said that he was excited but nervous “because of the tough competition.” But he was glad that he was at least assured a slot on the cheerleading team for the fall football season.

“Even if it still doesn’t work out,” he said before the competition. “I’ll still be wearing polyester on the field.”

He, however, won’t have to worry about that anymore.

Also returning as the Leprechaun on the blue squad next year will be sophomore Juan Muldoon.

Coincidentally, Phipps and Muldoon attended rival high schools in Dallas and have enjoyed their partnership on the cheerleading squad for the past two years.

“I’m thrilled for Phipps. He’s a fabulous guy, a great leader for the team and has the energy to do it,” Muldoon said. “I’m also really excited about the turnout; I couldn’t be happier. We’re both looking forward to working together next year.”

The remaining five men who competed included junior Tyler Elson, sophomores Rob Carroll and Brian DeSplinter and freshmen Dan Collins and Craig Bentzen.

Each contestant had his own unique reasons for wanting to be elected.

For DeSplinter, the position has been his dream for over a decade. His inspiration came 15 years ago when his brother brought him to his first football game.

“I feel like it’s all coming together,” he said. “Ever since I came here, I’ve wanted to be the Leprechaun. I was going to try out last year, but my beard wasn’t fully grown out.”

DeSplinter’s passion for the position wasn’t ignored by his fans. Like the other contenders, he amassed a base that came out to support his efforts. Students came dressed as leprechauns, bearing posters and taking pictures of their friends.

“I rooted for Brian because he’s so enthusiastic and always bouncing off the walls,” freshman Cathy Bowers said. “I think he would have been one of the best Leprechauns ever.”

Still, all seven were aware of the tough competition. At about 6 p.m., head coach of the cheerleading squad, Jo Minton, welcomed fans and introduced the panel of judges.

“We felt that because the Leprechaun is so important, we need to have representatives from all across campus judge for us,” she said.

The first challenge was to conduct “mock pep rallies,” as if it were in preparation for the Irish’s first home game – against Georgia Tech this coming season.

The next task was the media interview to see how each Leprechaun would speak on behalf of the Irish in public. First, the contestants had to introduce head football coach Charlie Weis, followed by Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung at a Pep Rally. All seven contenders impressed crowds with their knowledge about both individuals, seeming to intensify the competition.

Next, they had to speak as if they were on Good Morning America wanting to wish the country “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” from Spokane, Wash., at the NCAA basketball tournament.

“I like how they did a variety of scenarios because it gives us an idea of who’s ready to fill the shoes of an already great Leprechaun,” sophomore Erin Brennan said.

Though Braun has set high standards for Phipps and Muldoon, both feel that they are ready for the challenge.

“I’ll definitely be flipping and doing acrobatics all over the field next year, and be a little bit more involved in the stunts that cheerleaders do,” Phipps said. “I think it will be a lot more fun for the crowd to see these things.”

For the rest of the men who tried out, Phipps encouraged them to keep trying at it to achieve the dream, since it is a position worth pursuing.

“Even if I hadn’t make it, I loved the experience of trying out, and that one experience was nothing less than amazing,” he said. “Everybody did a great job, and I hope the younger guys will try out again because it’s an experience that definitely helps them.”