Sunday, January 8, 2012

What the Notre Dame Women's Basketball Team Helped Me Understand about 't'radition

In Advent 2011, the Catholic Church adopted the new English translation of the "Roman Missal," the book that contains the text for the celebration of the Mass. The reason for doing this was to provide the faithful with a more accurate translation of the original Latin text, the language of the Roman liturgy.

People don’t like change. We take comfort in the ritual, universality and timelessness of the mass. But, our responses and prayers are part of the tradition small 't' of the church. Catholics often write Tradition with a capital 'T'to mean Sacred Tradition. But small 't' traditions, or customs, are not part of Divine Revelation and are subject to change. If there’s one place that knows tradition small or capital 't' it’s the University of Notre Dame.The Irish pride themselves on some dynamic and meaningful customs that have been passed down for over 150 years now. One of our best is the fight song. But watching women’s basketball team defeat the University of Connecticut on Saturday January 7 made me realize it’s time for another change. Here’s why...

UConn came into Purcell Pavilion ranked two in the nation; they hadn’t lost a regular season Big East game since February 2008. In overtime, the Irish, ranked three ended the Huskies’ 57 game win streak.

The only reason I caught the game, which was nationally televised on CBS is because a friend sent me a text letting me know it was underway in South Bend. Meanwhile, the Notre Dame Alumni Club of San Francisco was hosting a game watch to cheer on the unranked men’s team against the Louisville Cardinals.

I am one of the board members who assist with game watches. When I realized the missed opportunity for alumni and fans to gather, I hung my head in shame. Why am I not thinking of watching women’s sports? What is it going to take for me to broaden--no, to change my perspective? Why am I not leading the club to capitalize on the social opportunity that big games like this provide? I don’t have an answer.

And by no means is this my first offense. On Thanksgiving Day, I asked a former student who is now a junior at Notre Dame if Ben Hansbrough was really the BMOC (big man on campus) last year. That team was exciting and had a great regular season; I figured Hansbrough in particular must have captured student excitement and attention. My student looked at me and said “no…not really.” I could hardly believe the 2011 Big East Player of the Year was low profile. I responded by then asking, “how about Tim Abromaitis? “ “Um, well I know his girlfriend” he said. Just as I was thinking “what’s wrong with students today” Connor said “You know who’s really popular though, Skylar Diggins. Students are very excited about the women’s team.”Of course they are; they should be. This is the same team that beat powerhouse programs: the University of Tennessee in the quarterfinals, the University of Connecticut in the semifinals. This team made it to the NCAA championship game where they lost to the Aggies of Texas A&M.

They are a team that is led by an incredible coach and former player Muffett McGraw. The first line of her coach’s profile on the website reads: "If we searched for an entire year. I don't think we would find anyone better suited for our program." With those words, former Notre Dame athletics director Gene Corrigan announced the hiring of Muffet McGraw as the third head coach of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program on May 18, 1987. I like the coach, I like the players, and in another stroke of honesty, I like a team that wins. For years Notre Dame was only regarded as a football school and it has improved in every possible realm—athletics, service opportunities, study abroad programs, diversity, and athletics.

Notre Dame has recorded 26 national championships, 18 by men's teams, five by women's teams, and four by combined teams. Apart from the combined titles (in fencing) the most recent men’s championship was in football in 1988. Since that time, the women have won two national championships in soccer and one in basketball. Truly a crown jewel of improvement can be found in female athletics.

And Notre Dame has been co-ed since 1972. The fight song says, “While her loyal sons go marching onward to victory.” Informally my friends would sing “while her sons and daughters go marching…” If you take out loyal and insert daughter it can work. And as far as I'm concerned inclusive language here trumps the virtue. My friends were right; this is a tradition that needs amends.

The fact of the matter is Notre Dame’s daughters are doing just that—winning on the court and off. The success of our basketball team has helped me realize changing a tradition and a mindset isn’t often a bad thing; it’s necessary. Go Irish!

Photo Credits
Coach McGraw
Irish Win
Tribute to Skylar

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