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University athletes coach kids

Nicole Toczauer | Friday, October 28, 2011

What started out as a simple pick-up flag football game between Notre Dame’s men’s lacrosse seniors and community children last year has now developed into the Irish Experience League.

According to Director Kevin Dugan, manager of Youth and Community Programs, the Irish Experience League is a free five-week program for boys and girls in the local community and is led by student athletes and volunteers.

“The goal of the Irish Experience League is to use the virtues of the five pillars of Notre Dame athletics ⎯ excellence, education, faith, tradition and community ⎯ to positively influence children,” Dugan said. “These are the key fundamental principles we shape our student-athlete experience around.  We want to impact as many young children as possible with the virtues inherent with these fundamental building blocks of success.”

The league was a collaborative event between the Notre Dame Athletics Department and the Alliance for Catholic Education’s (ACE) Play Like A Champion program.

Dugan said the league began with 40 participants but doubled to 80 by last week. More than 40 volunteers helped throughout the course of the fall.

“Every week we would play flag football for one-and-a-half hours and then go through 30 minutes of Play Like A Champion character building lessons,” Dugan said. “Seeing student-athletes serving alongside fellow students, faculty and staff was powerful. I think their influence helped plant big dreams, goals and aspirations [in] these kids.”

Devon Dobson, a senior on the men’s lacrosse team, said he decided to join the program to reach out to the youth community in South Bend.

“Through Coach Corrigan and Kevin Dugan, we were able to partake in the program by coaching, officiating and playing in the flag football games each Sunday,” he said.

Dobson said the children came to grasp the importance of teamwork, fair play and good character through the Irish Experience League. The program shed light on the resources at Notre Dame and the positive atmosphere the athletes brought to the community, he said.

“The boys and girls of the Irish Experience took away the true meaning of ‘Play Like a Champion Today,’ which is the motto of the program,” Dobson said. “They gained a firm understanding in the value of team work and undertook confidence in themselves as individuals to succeed.”

Tim Abromaitis, a graduate student on the men’s basketball team, said the best part of the experience for him was the connection he felt with the participants.

“A lot of conversation centered around common interest in sports, but getting to hear about school and home life was also interesting and insightful,” he said.

The program also brought the Notre Dame and South Bend communities closer through fun experiences, he said.

“It was good how the program tied together all these different aspects with playing a sport all the kids love,” Abromaitis said. “I hope they enjoyed playing football with me as much as I did with them, but also learned some life lessons in teamwork, dedication and relationships.”

Dugan said participants not only left with a greater sense of what opportunities they could pursue in their future, but also built relationships between the internal and external communities around Notre Dame.

In the future, he said he hopes to see the Irish Experience League expand.

“We see this league growing to multiple locations around South Bend,” Dugan said. “We see it becoming a hallmark volunteer opportunity for the whole Notre Dame family.”