Alumni ticket policy excludes Notre Dame’s oldest neighbor
Alex Penler | Thursday, January 14, 2016
Every Saturday in the fall, no matter where I am, I try and watch Notre Dame football. As a graduate of Saint Mary’s College, I fell in love with Notre Dame football within weeks of starting school. I had always liked football and I had watched it growing up with my mother and grandfather, both Notre Dame fans. But watching Notre Dame football in the stadium is a different experience, one that touches your soul.
Around a month ago, I reached out to a few of my Notre Dame friends from Model United Nations. We started talking about an alumni football tailgate and we started planning. I then emailed the ticket office to ask if Saint Mary’s students could apply for alumni football tickets. I was more than willing to make the donation to Notre Dame, but I was told Saint Mary’s alumni were ineligible to apply for alumni tickets.
I can still remember my first football game freshman year. I had been elected by my group of friends to wait in line on a warm Wednesday afternoon to wait for our tickets with the rest of the freshmen. I had brought my religious studies reading with me as I settled in to wait for the tickets. Throughout the day, I made a number of friends while in line and was so excited to receive tickets in the eighth row. When we arrived for that first football game, my friend Cathy and I were separated from our friends by the aisle but that didn’t matter. There was a group of Notre Dame boys behind us that we became close with, some of whom I still keep in touch with. We ended up beating Purdue 23-12. For me, Notre Dame has always been a family, one I am proud of, and I was devastated when I found out I was ineligible for alumni tickets just because I went to Saint Mary’s instead of Notre Dame.
For decades, Saint Mary’s women have attended football games across the street, long before women were even admitted to the University. Working in the college archives, I interviewed 1950s alumni about their experiences on the campuses and they always talked excitedly about the football games. Just like today, some of their best memories were of Notre Dame football.
A few months ago, on the day of the first game of the year, I was a visiting friend in Boston. Notre Dame was playing Texas, my father’s alma mater, and I was checking the score every few seconds. When Notre Dame scored, I started cheering and one of my friends asked me “Why do you care? You didn’t go to Notre Dame.” It was like a stab in the heart. I went to Saint Mary’s; Notre Dame football was in my blood, and I was beyond furious. I had more Notre Dame football gear and watched the games more regularly than some Notre Dame students. I had never even applied to Notre Dame while in high school and I attended Saint Mary’s for many reasons, including Notre Dame football. Just because I went to Saint Mary’s does not mean I am any less of a Notre Dame fan than Notre Dame graduates.
It’s not an easy relationship, and one I’ve had trouble explaining once I left South Bend. One of my closest friends is a Notre Dame double domer. We were both accepted into the Notre Dame business school together after graduation and while I went to grad school in London, she continued at Notre Dame. When I mentioned that I was ineligible for tickets, she understood my anger. It turns out that double domers can apply twice but for someone who went to every football game during my four years in South Bend, I was ineligible just because I went to Saint Mary’s. While the ticket office looks down upon me, I’m still eligible to be part of the Notre Dame alumni clubs where I live. In London, I watched the games on Sunday mornings with alumni over brunch and had pub nights talking about our time at school. No one ever looked down at me for Saint Mary’s and I have never felt rejected as part of the community until now.
Fr. Hesburgh understood the relationship between the two schools. In his book, he wrote that he wanted to improve the relationship between the two schools. “I supported anything that would give the Saint Mary’s women a reason to visit our campus,” he wrote. That included football. A number of Saint Mary’s women have married Notre Dame men and now have access to football tickets. The same is true of women who are able to join a giving society with its own football lottery, but for young alumni like myself, I receive nothing special for my four years at Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame. I complained while at school that I had to pay an extra hundred dollars for my student football tickets every year and I find this situation just as much of an injustice. Saint Mary’s girls have been attending Notre Dame football games as long as the men of Notre Dame have and we deserve to be respected as fans. I hope the administration and the athletic association understand that this policy should be changed to let Saint Mary’s alumnae attend games as easily as Notre Dame alumni can. We are part of the community and deserve to be treated as such.
Fr. Hesburgh also wrote of his hopes for the future, “I can suggest, however, that the women of Notre Dame make more common cause with the women of Saint Mary’s. And naturally I would like to see Notre Dame men continue to get along well with the women at both institutions. Overall, I would like to see cordiality replace the sense of rivalry that seems to exist between the two campuses. If we are all one family in this world, then they are sisters.”
He would be proud to know that Notre Dame men and women are among my closest friends. Hopefully next fall, when I bring a group of alumni to campus to give back to the students, I can attend the game with my friends and reminisce about all the good times we had here together.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.