About the Book
Foreword by George Dohrmann ND Class of 1995
When you enroll at Notre Dame, you are told that approximately 75% of incoming students played a varsity sport in high school. This initially strikes you as the kind of stat you should view suspiciously. “Playing” a varsity sport is too broad a descriptor. It doesn’t differentiate between the leading scorer on a high school basketball team or the guy who languished on the bench as the 12th man. It doesn’t distinguish between a sprinter who ran in the state finals and a student who joined the track team just to get out of having to take P.E.
But there is a moment for every Notre Dame student when they realize they should take that number seriously, when they come to know that students who occupy their classes, who live with them in the dorms, who they pass on the quad, are far more likely to have been the star of a high school team than a benchwarmer.
That moment came for me during my freshman year, while sitting around a table with four teammates on the Dillon Hall football team. The discussion turned to our high school careers, and then to what options everyone had for continuing to play football in college. My teammates rattled off the Division II schools that had recruited them, the Division I programs that asked them to walk-on. I was the only one of the five who did not have an opportunity to play varsity football beyond high school.
Notre Dame’s football and basketball teams are successful and have rich histories and thus cast a giant shadow. People outside the Notre Dame community assume there are no athletic endeavors more important to students. But within the Notre Dame family, it is understood that those varsity sports are merely part of the broader athletic experience. Bookstore basketball games, Bengal Bout fights, Interhall and club competitions, these events are equally significant and typically more impactful in their lives.
Dave Brown has shepherded countless students through Notre Dame’s athletic options as Assistant Director of RecSports. It would be difficult to find a professor or priest who played a more substantial role in shaping a student’s time at Notre Dame. If you played a non-varsity sport at Notre Dame over the last 17 years, you benefited from Brown’s efforts, though it is unlikely you were aware of his contributions. His work was tireless and often thankless.
Brown’s final act in his role at RecSports is this special book. He was uniquely positioned to tackle the subject, having worked for the department for so long, and yet this book is no memoir, no trip down memory lane. Brown spent eight years digging into the history of athletics at Notre Dame, and the result is an informative and substantial journey. He gives life to people and stories from long ago, tracing non-varsity athletics on campus from its early beginnings to its robust present. It is a sweeping book but also an intimate one. It can feel at times like reading a yearbook, connecting with old friends and places and memories.
For four years I covered the Bengal Bouts for The Observer, and reading Brown’s detailed history of that noble enterprise was bittersweet. I learned so much, and yet his account made me wish I could go back in time, to be ringside, to hear the strike of the bell and then watch my fellow students compete under the lights. Reading his account of an Interhall football final won by my team took me back to that fall day and to the celebration that night with my teammates. It made me feel young and old.
There is a saying in the publishing industry that a book can be a “category kill.” That means that the author has done such a thorough job researching and writing on a topic that it renders it untouchable to future authors. With Games the Irish Play, Brown has written the definitive account of recreational and club sports at Notre Dame. Further, he corrects the misconception that great Notre Dame sporting moments only occurred in the football stadium or on the hardwood of the Joyce Center. He takes you to the lesser known gyms and fields on campus, like the Rock and the Stepan Center, and he takes you between the ropes at the Bengal Bouts and into the mud at the Badin Bog. He shows you that sporting magic springs all over campus, and in doing so he taps into what makes the Notre Dame experience so unique.
George Dohrmann, class of 1995, former sports writer, Los Angeles Times; 2000 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize while working at the St. Paul Pioneer Press; current senior writer, Sports Illustrated; author of Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine (“A tour de force of reporting, filled with deft storytelling.” -Washington Post, “A brilliant and heart-wrenching journey.” -Publishers Weekly); Winner of the Award For Excellence in Coverage of Youth Sports, 2010; Winner of the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing, 2011; First recipient and namesake of the George Dohrmann Award, presented by the Notre Dame Men’s Boxing Club, and recipient of the Bengal Bouts Award, currently working on his next novel.
Foreword by Rocky Bleier ND Class of 1968
If the essence of life is to survive, then to survive one has to compete. The idea of competition does not stop when outside forces create a roadblock, but is only enhanced by the creativity of the human spirit. The need for competition creates an outlet and for many that outlet is the world of sports. At the University of Notre Dame it comes under the heading of Recreational Sports.
Games the Irish Play captures the history of that human spirit from its origins through today. How Recreational Sports came to be is just as important as the legacy it leaves behind, the lives that were touched, and the memories that were created. Not every student could play on varsity teams but every student had the opportunity to play for the Fighting Irish. There were club sports and Inter-hall competition was fierce, with football the championship game carrying much pride. There was also Bookstore Basketball, rugby, softball etc. adding to the drama. If you preferred individual sports you could find yourself being admired just because you survived the Bengal Bouts.
The greatest testimony I can give to Games the Irish Play is a quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
"It is not the critic who counts......but the credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena.....so that his place shall never be with the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat...."
A review - March 22, 2016
".... So we read about students participating in ultimate Frisbee and disc golf, rock climbing and water skiing, fly fishing and skimming through the National Synchronized Skating Championship. We read about Bookstore Basketball, interhall football, the equestrian club and Bengal Bouts. Curling and hurling. And we are reminded of Father Lange’s gym and Badin Bog, and that Domers played water polo in 1894 and lacrosse in 1895...."
".... The book is full of many similar interesting tidbits of information and photos. Check out, for example, Paul Hornung with his Kentucky Club teammates when they won the interhall basketball championship in 1954; the “natatorium” in the 1890s; Boat Club members from that same era, posing with their oars and longboats...."
".... The book also takes a deserving look at the rise of women’s sports and sports played at the intramural and club levels before achieving varsity status...."