Dillon Pep Rally Brings Back Tradition
Jordan Gamble | Wednesday, October 14, 2009
After 40 hours of script writing, 10 hours of rehearsals and two years of waiting, the Dillon pep rally is back.
Dillon Hall senior Keith Ruehlmann is the head writer for this year’s edition of the campus tradition, which was cancelled last year. Along with other writers and the hall president, junior Kevin Doyle, Ruehlmann has been working on the show since last spring.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worthwhile,” Ruehlmann said.
The show’s absence last year was jarring because it has been a campus staple on the Thursday before the first home football game for so long. The official tally is a nice, round 40 years, but Ruehlmann and Doyle admit that it is difficult to track down the date. This year, though, the pep rally is on Friday.
For one thing, the pep rally hasn’t always been held on the expanses of South Quad. In the early years, Ruehlmann and Doyle said, the show was tucked into Dillon’s courtyard that faces South Dining Hall. As it grew more popular each year, the stage was moved to accommodate a bigger audience.
Senior Brendan McQueeney was Dillon’s hall president last year and a writer for the 2008 event that was ultimately cancelled. He explained that the show is a mix of intense preparation and spontaneous energy.
“It’s much like the Keenan Revue, in essence, where we comment on student life. There’s normally a solid storyline: little skits about Notre Dame, little skits about the world in general that we act out to entertain the entire campus,” McQueeney explained.
Integrated into that format are special guest speakers – usually the football coach, maybe safety-enthusiast Officer Tim McCarthy. Football players from Dillon Hall – such as Brady Quinn in 2005 and 2006 – also make appearances and the drum line, cheerleaders, pom squad and leprechaun lead the crowd in cheers. This year, with a bigger audience and a bigger stage, the entire marching band and football team will participate.
“The team only has 30 minutes to allocate to any pep rally, so we’re trying to tie them into skits as best as we can,” Ruehlmann said. “We want to keep it the Dillon pep rally – not just our guys, [and then] a regular pep rally.”
The uniquely-Dillon elements include the customary stage-dive and crowd surfing by rector Fr. Paul Doyle and a choreographed dance by the hall’s resident assistants that closes the show.
Another of the pep rally staples is “Crackhead,” whose entire act consists of smashing plates on his forehead, usually in time to techno music. This mythic figure is actually Joe Parker, a 2001 Notre Dame graduate who first started obliterating china in the name of school spirit in 1999. When the pep rally was cancelled last year, McQueeney said Parker was still prepared for the show to go on.
“He wanted to rent a hotel and have the pep rally there,” McQueeney said. “He wanted to start his own school where he would be dean” to keep the event going.
That kind of devotion to the pep rally begins freshman year.
“We really use it [the pep rally] as a bonding tool for the freshmen, because we have it the first football weekend. It’s a really good tool to continue Frosh-O and that ideal of dorm unity and bonding,” McQueeney said.
The freshmen involvement starts with auditions for the “Teen Wolf,” the pep rally’s stunt advertising mascot. Upperclassmen select two freshmen to take turns dressing up in a werewolf or gorilla costume and handing out flyers at campus hotspots. Then, immediately before the pep rally starts, the freshmen will group in the Dillon chapel before Teen Wolf leads them in a run around the audience gathered on South Quad.
It might sound silly, and it definitely looks that way, but the Pep Rally veterans insist that the rituals form the dorm’s identity.
“The main point of the rally for us is to introduce the freshmen to what our vision of Dillon Hall is,” Doyle said.
“It’s like the passing of the torch,” said McQueeny. “All the upperclassmen are in it, all the freshmen are watching. You pick up the fever in it, you get pumped. The Dillon Hall Pep Rally really kicks off the season.”
McQueeney is excited and happy for the pep rally’s revival this year, but also nervous. Last year’s cancellation and the move to Friday night have ratcheted up expectations within the dorm and across campus. With no “official” pep rally in the Joyce Center this year, Dillon Hall has to take responsibility for pumping up students, alumni and football fans alike.
Although the audience may be bigger and more diverse this year, Ruehlmann said it didn’t figure much into the writing process.
“I don’t think it’s going to feel any different to the students,” Ruehlmann said. “Our freshmen are still going to be in the front, the rest of the students are going to be sectioned off to be right behind them. The alumni will be out back there. Onstage, the majority of it will be the same skit show we’ve always done. It’s still catered to the students.”
“The enthusiasm, even amongst the sophomores who didn’t experience it last year, is overwhelming,” Doyle added.
“There’s a buzz around it, especially in Dillon,” McQueeney said. “It’s so integral for dorm community and what Notre Dame is all about. In my opinion, our academics are great, but the shining thing about Notre Dame is the dorm community and how well integrated everyone gets into the dorm.”