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Irish Guard seniors uphold tradition

MEGHAN THOMASSEN | Friday, November 8, 2013

The American flag waving over Notre Dame Stadium during the football game against Temple climbed to the top of the flagpole thanks to senior Chris Cali, captain of the Irish Guard.

Cali said he first raised the flag over Notre Dame Stadium before this year’s game against Temple.

“Raising the flag is a huge responsibility,” he said. “[The person carrying the flag] was someone from the military and someone who had lost a loved one. She was in tears, and I just took the flag and said, ‘Thank you for your husband’s service,’ and it was a powerful moment for me.”

Cali said he maintained the Guard’s traditional stoic and sharp character as he walked onto the field in front of 70,000 spectators. 

He and fellow guardsman senior Eddie Linczer had only practiced clipping and unfolding the flag once, Cali said. 

“I gave it a tug. I knew it was up there,” Cali said. “We got back and we did an about-face and we saluted the flag. It’s a thrilling experience, but at the same time you’re very steady and focused.”

Cali said keeping a straight face is one of the things the guard is renowned for. After a 15-minute inspection behind the Coleman Morse Building, Cali will invite former guardsmen in attendance to inspect the current guard as they circle the “Holy Hand-off” statue.

“Irish guard don’t break,” he said. “[Former guardsmen] will do some funny things, like shout at us. If someone other than the former guardsmen steps in [the circle], then the former guardsmen will know and tell them to please step out. … If something is missing from the uniform, one of those former guards will surely know.”

The Irish Guard uniform is complex and consists of many hard-to-find items, such as the doublet, the kilt, the unique Notre Dame tartan plaid, hats, plumes and grouse claw, Cali said. While their uniforms seem Scottish, Cali said the tartan plaid has special stripes that make it special to Notre Dame.

“Even when we do our victory clog, the Irish traditionally keep their hands by their sides, but we keep one hand in the air,” he said. “It’s just been tradition here at Notre Dame.”

Cali said he has met over 50 former guardsmen, including one who was in the inaugural class of guards. 

“Initially, there were only two guards in 1949, and they could play the bagpipes,” he said. “But by the Class of 1954 they stopped playing bagpipes because they couldn’t find 10 guys who were six foot two and could play the bagpipes.”

H. Lee Hope, former band director, formed the Irish Guard in 1949 to protect the band during their Friday student concerts in the Field House, Cali said.

“When they would enter the Field House, the front row of the band would be getting crushed because the students would try to get in first so they could get the best seats,” he said. “They would end up hitting the band members. They would fall and instruments would break. The guard would make sure that the band would not be touched.”

Today, guarding the band entails instructing people to step back and watch out for their cameras, he said, which are prone to getting knocked down by the guard or the instruments. 

“We don’t touch or move anyone, but we do have a responsibility to keep people back,” Cali said. “Back in the day [the guard] would lift people off their feet. Legend says it’s written in Indiana State Law that you are not allowed to impede the progress of Notre Dame band, so they could move you away if you were in the way. It’s dangerous, if someone fell or tripped, a whole cascade of people could fall and instruments could be broken.”

Cali said he was chosen as captain in a small selection ceremony because among the current Irish Guard he has been a member of the Guard longest. He said he auditioned for the Guard when he was a sophomore. Forty students competed over four days of Irish Guard boot camp for a spot among the 10 guards, he said

The guard rehearses with the band almost every day from 6:30 until 8:00 p.m., Cali said, except for Sundays. 

“This season in particular was jam-packed,” he said. “We didn’t get a day off until the week before fall break.”

Football weekends are especially busy for the guard, Cali said. On Fridays before home games the guard marches out at 4 p.m. with the band to the practice fields by Legends and puts on a full performance for an audience of about 400 people.

Other senior guard members include: Eddie Linczer, Tomas Abrate, Charley Berno, Tom Catalano and Andrew Pemberton. 

“It’s a huge time commitment,” Cali said. “But it’s been a phenomenal experience.”

Contact Meghan Thomassen at [email protected]