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Four Leprechauns cheer on the Irish for the 2020-2021 season

| Friday, October 16, 2020

Donning a mask with the legendary green suit and hat has become part of the uniform for Notre Dame’s mascot: the leprechaun.

After a postponed audition process, seniors Conal Fagan and Lynnette Wukie have returned to their roles alongside their new leprechaun teammates senior Pat Johnson and junior Gabe Ramos, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Athletics announced last month. 

The 2020-2021 leprechaun class has four members this year, the largest team thus far, as a result of the increasing amount of sporting, media and other events the leprechauns work.  

The audition process begins in March, Ramos said. Candidates answer a series of questions and submit a short video personal statement. Those who moved on to the final round of tryouts did so in the fall.

“[The tryout process] looked vastly different from a normal year,” he said. 

Normally, candidates participate in a live pep rally, media interview and community engagement skit in the spring. Ramos said each of these three events still happened, but individually for each candidate.

“They really tried to accommodate the situation so each of us and each of the judges in attendance would be as safe as possible,” he said.  

The tryout was in the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center, and all involved were socially distanced and masked. Ramos said the candidates performed for 11 judges — consisting of cheerleading coaches, athletic staff and Mike Brown, the first Black man to be the leprechaun. 

“It was really very exciting to see Mike Brown at the tryout,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he found something special in the smaller than normal tryout.

“I felt there was a greater opportunity to forge more personal connections individually with your audience members,” he said. 

Fagan — a native of Derry, Northern Ireland — has worn the green suit of the leprechaun for two seasons now and was the first native from his country to take up the role. 

Fagan said the reduced number of fans this year at athletic events has magnified the role of the leprechaun.

“It presents a lot of different challenges,” he said. “But the very essence of the leprechaun hasn’t changed, and that’s to continue to spread that joy and cheer for our teams and students.” 

Fagan has performed as the leprechaun at the football games this year and said he misses interacting with the normal crowds of fans.

“[However,] there’s still the same amount of cameras on and still the same amount, if not more, of people watching from home,” he said. 

He also said it was a little disappointing to see some athletic seasons cut short last year, but he is excited to be back.

“I think our athletics team and medical staff have done an incredible job at getting us back to where we are today,” he said. 

Wukie also expressed her gratitude for the year, especially when the future of sporting events were uncertain a few months ago.

“As Conal said, you never know what your last game is going to be,” Wukie said. 

Wukie gained national attention last year as the first woman and third African American to become the leprechaun.

“Having that newfound diversity as a unit was super important to us,” she said. 

Wukie said she had multiple amazing experiences as the leprechaun, and many fans shared stories and pictures of children — specifically young girls — dressed up as the leprechaun with her. 

“Opening up the Notre Dame brand to everyone, even though it was always like that, but really showing that in such a concrete way was so important,” she said. 

Wukie has recently become the in-game host for football games in Notre Dame Stadium, in partnership with Fighting Irish Media. She said the idea was years in the making, as in-game hosts have become popular in some professional stadiums. The host might become a regular tradition at football games and other athletic events, she said.

“It’s worked out really well; students seem to really like it,” Wukie said. “And it’s a good chance to bridge that gap between sports, entertainment — as in the band, cheerleaders, leprechauns — and the fans.” 

Johnson said he grew up a Notre Dame fan, and always looked up to the leprechaun and the traditions of the football games.

“Over time, as I was on the cheer team, I started to understand the role of the leprechaun more, and realized it’s a platform, it’s an influencer,” he said. “You can bring energy, yes, but you are also a role model. You are an ambassador for the University.”

Johnson said he is grateful to be able to take up the role and bring joy to the fans this year. He led the march out parade Oct. 9 with the band and cheerleaders, and he said he most looks forward to the opportunity to make people smile.

Ramos said his reason to audition ultimately came down to the spirit of what it means to be Irish.

Despite his upbringing in Scranton, Penn., a predominantly Irish American town, it took him moving 700 miles to feel rooted in the heritage of the place he grew up, he said. 

Ramos said he is either the second or third Latino student to become the leprechaun.

“This gives me a forum to be friends with a lot of people and to share a lot of happiness with others, while also showing people being Irish isn’t about being the archetypal leprechaun or Irish man at that,” he said. “It’s about having a conviction to be gritty and to show others that you are fighting for something you give your whole heart to.”

Ramos said he’s most excited to be on the courts and fields, but also to interact with the fans.

“I’m so excited to be given this opportunity and even more excited to show everyone what I got,” he said. 

The team is going to cheer on the soccer and volleyball teams this weekend, in addition to the football game on Saturday.

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