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Amanda Michaels | Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Before Molly Kinder left home for her freshman year at Notre Dame, her mother alerted her to the presence of a group of extremely tall men on campus called the Irish Guard – clearly steering her 6-foot-2 daughter to a pool of suitable SYR dates. Weeks later, when Kinder watched the kilted Guardsmen march proudly across the field at her first football game as a student, it was love at first sight – but not the kind her mother expected. In that moment, unaware of the incredible struggle her decision would bring, she realized she did not want to date a Guardsman. She wanted to become one.Three years later, with many hurdles behind her and more ahead, she marched out onto the field as the first and only female member of the Guard.Her long journey started at the beginning of her junior year when, after a summer of rigorous physical preparation, she did not make the final cut for the 1999 Guard. She did, however, manage to integrate herself into a group originally “shocked” by her appearance, and, not dissuaded in the least, Kinder vowed to earn a spot on the Guard the following year.While working in Santiago, Chile the following summer, Kinder practiced her high-knee marching through the busy streets – creating “quite a scene”, as she recalls – and kept a picture of the Guard in her backpack to remind her of her goal.The second audition, Kinder said, was far more comfortable than the first. She “felt a great deal of camaraderie with the aspiring and current Guardsmen.” She was confident that, had she performed to the best of her ability, new band director Ken Dye would not overlook her because of her gender. However, not all were as open-minded as he, as she would learn the night before results were posted. The captain of the Guard, who was told in advance that Kinder was to be chosen, made an unannounced visit to her room to discuss the possibility of her making the group.”In our nearly two-hour conversation, he firmly laid out the many challenges I might face if I were to be a member of the Irish Guard,” she said. “I would later learn from another Guardsman that the talk was motivated by a desire to persuade me not to join the squad.”This situation was just an indication of what she would face over the next year. Amid a media frenzy, she tried to balance the traditional secrecy of the Guard with the public’s interest in her experience. This created a tension that she said contributed to her difficulty integrating into the group.Though her friends, family and fans were not shy in expressing their support, the once welcoming Guardsmen now seemed to be closing her out of the group. Despite compromises aimed at making the transition as smooth as possible – including the concession that she would not perform the Victory Clog, acknowledging the uncomfortable physical dynamic when the Guardsmen “brushed chests” during the celebratory dance – the nine men treated her “with a standard policy of segregation and disregard” she said.”I think the guys didn’t ever think I was going to make it,” Kinder said. “I was taken aback by the instantaneous change in the manner in which they interacted with me [and] their rebuff intensified as the days progressed – particularly after that first weekend, during which I later learned that the group of nine had gone on an ‘initiation’ excursion [which excluded Kinder].” Though Student Affairs warned her of integration issues when she was first accepted into the group, Kinder was offered no further support and, in accordance to the promise to “keep Guard talk under wraps,” was left alone during this challenge. Kinder said the most intense moment came during the inspection before the first home game, when former Irish Guardsmen are invited to come up and do their own inspection after the captain completes his. Kinder considered these former Guardsmen to be her biggest opponents. Because of concerns over how the men would react, extra security was brought in but was never used.”I was basically ignored,” she said. “But while I was standing there at attention, this guy came up with his daughter and he says, ‘Molly, this is my daughter. She hopes to be in the Irish Guard someday.’ I will forever be grateful to him. He broke the ice, and after that, the guys toned it down.”Though that first game was the “best thing [she’s] ever experienced”, the exclusion by Kinder’s fellow Guardsmen never got easier. “I thought there was no way they would keep on excluding me,” she said. “I showed up every day with a smile on my face, I showed I was willing to compromise by respecting traditions, I showed I could march as well as them. I kept that attitude for two months – my goal became to find a reason to smile at practice.” It was during an away game at Pittsburgh when, after being left alone while the rest of the Guard went to dinner, Kinder decided that she had dealt with enough.”I sort of made myself an honorary trumpet,” she said. “I loved that marching band more than anything. They made sure I was included. In the end, I didn’t take the bus home with the Guard. I was sending the message that I refused to put up with that, but it never got better.” Despite the hardship, Kinder does not regret joining the Irish Guard. She said the experience made her stronger and she is proud of the legacy she has left behind. She also said that she would encourage any other young woman looking to try out for the Guard, but thinks the University itself still has a ways to go before it is truly a comfortable, equal setting for females.”Being let in is first step to integration,” Kinder said. “The second is women accomplishing things, proving themselves. But the third step to real integration is getting the culture and traditions and attitudes of the University up to speed with fact that the campus is split between male and female.”