H-Train ’20: I get why interhall football is gone
Letter to the Editor | Friday, August 25, 2023
Wednesday, Jun. 14, I received about half a dozen texts from Notre Dame friends asking me how I felt about the recent decision to stop interhall tackle football. I was captain of Alumni Hall’s Dawg Football team for two years and while it was a surprisingly difficult job that amounted to nothing on the surface (except the extra jersey I took with me after graduation), I consider it one of the most important endeavors I’ve ever undertaken.
I played football at my little high school in Dallas and while football wasn’t the kind of religion it was further west in the state, it was still a big deal. Despite what our teachers and administrators vehemently insisted, in the fall, football was simply more important than anything else. Football was important not just because we liked scoring points and hitting each other, but because of the friendships formed in locker rooms and hardened during tough wins and even tougher losses.
During my freshman year, I was itching to try out for Dawg Football and was proud to be among the very few freshmen who earned a spot. I made some of my best friends on the team. Most of them were juniors who instantly made me feel at home. They let me know that I would always be able to find friends, a team and a family wherever I sought one out.
However, football is not for the faint of heart. Even guys eager to show up on the first day of the season can quickly realize that campus provides all kinds of other opportunities in the fall. It was difficult to raise and maintain a team through a full season. My senior year we struggled to fill the roster, dreading if we were going to be asked to combine with another dorm.
In 2016, there was an O’Neill team that had only 13 players to start one game and it was well known just how easy they were to beat. In 2020, many teams started with only 18 or 19 guys.
Practices were difficult. A player-coach can spend as much time as he wants on fundamentals, but within a couple of weeks, it becomes evident that the only strategy that can take a team to playoffs after a three-game season is building a small playbook around your best guys. Details fall through the cracks. Technique becomes harder to police. If you’re lucky, someone may tear a shoulder during practice. If you’re unlucky, guys go through concussion protocol or leave games in an ambulance. You inevitably ask yourself if a recurring ankle sprain or lifelong back pain is worth a couple of Sundays in October.
Upon hearing the news, my initial reaction was pure annoyance and anger: Yet another poor decision to save a buck or prevent a lawsuit. However, I took my time to read all of Fr. Gerry’s letter explaining the decision and suddenly, I didn’t have anywhere to go with my outrage.
It was the same outrage that enlivened me as a student in Alumni, that same annoyed edge stemming from limited independence that made me want to prove myself in everything I did. Even now, I have that Alumni spirit in me. Part of me wants to ask the University what they think they’re doing. How they could dare take away this longstanding tradition that influences some to attend Our Lady’s University?
I don’t think anyone had more fun playing interhall football than I did, though I know many who likely tied me for that honor. I hate to think that anyone might be denied the same joy, especially those who have already had a taste of games or were enticed by promises from admissions tours or older brothers or black and white pictures of their grandpa in leather pads. It was the time of my life, spending hot days practicing on McGlinn fields, joking around with friends in the Huddle, drawing up schemes to stop the Morrissey run game and that weirdly important pride when you win against a tough opponent (even if it’s just some guys from your philosophy class).
But I also remember practices where it became hard to correct some kids’ tackling form. Practices where the patience of a 21-year-old student with exams and job applications and social obligations were pitted against the safety of 18-year-olds who had never played the sport before. Practices where the difference between getting a tackle for loss and giving up a touchdown was some other kid’s health — but not mine.
I think there was more the University could have done, but ultimately, any solution would have relied first and foremost on the strong participation and desire of the students. With the number of interested students dwindling — and many of them touching a football helmet for the first time — I don’t envy the position Student Affairs was put in. I can’t say that I fully agree or if I would have made the same call, but I can say that I understand.
Interhall tackle football may be a thing of the past, but it may not. Traditions on campus have this funny way of dying and reappearing throughout the years. There will come a day on campus when a sizable contingent of students, inspired by stories of the tradition and brotherhood of past domers, will come around asking for interhall tackle football to be restored.
I may not have the answer today as to how to keep the activity fun, safe and competitive, but the class of 2024 – and all the ones after them – are smarter, stronger and more determined than I ever was.
I ask only this of the University: Hear them out.
Adam “H-Train” Hellinghausen
Class of 2020
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.