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Students react to first football game of season amidst pandemic

| Monday, September 14, 2020

Notre Dame football returned Saturday with a win over Duke in Notre Dame Stadium on a game day like no other. With the campus largely closed off to spectators and fans, many traditions were banned or modified for the highly anticipated weekend. Students shared their experiences of the historic season opener with The Observer.

Isabella Volmert | The Observer
Only students, faculty and football players’ families are allowed as spectators in Notre Dame Stadium this year. Students are seated by household and are spread out throughout the stadium.

First-years Mary Hanstad and Adison Steinke enjoyed their first Notre Dame football game, despite the lack of tailgating and other events on campus.

“We heard about a lot of traditions,” Mary Hanstad said.

She said she was still glad to experience some of them including the in-game cheers and touchdown push-ups. 

On and off rain cast a shadow over the games, however, the weather and the radically different atmosphere did not stop the Irish from beating Duke 27-13. 

Senior Olivia Venvertloh said she was grateful for the game day, which provided a sense of normalcy.

The former Farley resident now resides off campus, and she attended the game with her two roommates, who celebrated with brunch beforehand.

Despite the differences, Venvertloh said she and her friends were going to go and make the most their last first football game no matter what.

I wasn’t even sure it was going to happen, she said. Now we have the opportunity to be in the stadium and have the game day experience.

Venvertloh looks forward to the rest of the season.

I’m definitely excited for another win, she said.

The parking lots were void of tailgaters, but students still celebrated before the game by playing various lawn games such as spike ball and corn hole on the quad and taking pictures in front of the dome. A sign on south quad informed campus visitors the quad was reserved for student activity only. 

At the game, students grouped by household were scattered throughout the stadium. The cheerleaders led the crowd, this year in a line from the stands, below the first row of seats on the west side instead of on the field. Armed with pom-poms and signs, the cheerleaders and leprechaun Conal Fagan, who is a senior, could not sport any tumbling acts, but could still lead the traditional “Go, Irish!” stadium chant.

Leprechaun Lynnette Wukie, who is a senior, served as new game day host, which was a new position this year meant to lead the students in games and announcements during the time outs. The band, spaced out, stood in the normal student section and played the traditional pregame music and a number of songs during halftime, although they could not march. Family members of the players and the opposing team sat in the visitor’s sections of the stadium. 

First-year Maria Frech and band member said the game lived up the the hype. The trumpet player especially liked the cheers and the band traditions.

“It has always been my dream to be in the band and play at the games,“ she said.

Frech said she’s looking forward to the next game despite the restrictions. 

Students jigged Rakes of Mallow and enjoyed the fourth quarter Sgt. Tim McCarthys safety reminder. After each touchdown, students did push-ups with the help of their household in the tradition style or did real push-ups on the stands.

Sophomore Josh O’Brien noted how Notre Dame is one of few universities allowing an autumn football and student spectators.

“I like that we even get to be there,” he said. He did miss the noise of the regular 80,000 fans, he said.

“It’s different in the crowd,” he said. 

First-year Luke Fortener also noted how the reduced crowd resulted in a quieter stadium. A South Bend native, Fortener has been to numerous games over the years. He said he was most excited for, “the community among the students.”

James Chrisman, sophomore, said a tradition he missed was tailgating and sitting in the student section like normal.

“It’s strange to be spread out,” he said.

Chrisman said he was able to enjoy the game with the people around him, but wished students could have made their own group of friends to sit with, instead sitting with their households.  

First-year Emma Eckstein sat with another resident of her dorm, since neither of their roommates bought tickets. While she still enjoyed the game, “the atmosphere was kind of off,” Eckstein said.

Eckstein said she might have set her expectations too high for the first game.

“I’m looking forward to it [the next home game] now I know what to expect,” she said. 

In order to attend, students were required to wear a mask at all times and remain in their assigned seats. Sophomore Summer Kerksick expressed concern about the actual health practices of the student spectators.

“People weren’t really following the mask wearing and social distancing guidelines,” she said. 

Kerksick said at the beginning of the game, students wore their masks and sat in their assigned seats. However, as the game progressed, students began moving down and sitting in larger groups with others.

“That became really frustrating,” Kerksick said. 

Kersick said students around her began pulling off their masks and some even began juuling. She saw students ask fellow students to put them back on, but she wished the ushers would have enforced the protocols more. 

Kerksick said she hoped the University will do more to enforce the protocols at future games. 

Notre Dame faces the South Florida Bulls this Saturday, Sept. 13 at 2:30 p.m.

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About Isabella Volmert

Isabella Volmert is a senior majoring in English and minoring in theology and journalism, ethics and democracy at the University of Notre Dame. She served The Observer as assistant managing editor during its 2021-2022 editorial term. Follow her @ivolmertnews for niche Twitter content.

Contact Isabella