Everyone wins with Together Irish Community Commitment Initiative

The Blue-Gold Game is the one football matchup where the Fighting Irish are guaranteed to win and everyone leaves the stadium happy. That included a group of about 160 South Bend primary and middle school students who enjoyed the game as part of Notre Dame Athletics’ second annual Blue-Gold Community Commitment Initiative powered by Allstate. For many of the kids, it was their first Notre Dame athletics experience, or their first time on campus.

The day began with the South Bend students arriving at 9:30 a.m. to participate in learning activities with Notre Dame students in Heritage Hall inside the Joyce Center. Most of the kids attend Wilson and Coquillard elementary schools, which are part of the South Bend Empowerment Zone (SBEZ). There was also a group of young men who are part of the 100 Black Men of South Bend Freedman Academy Leadership Program.

JP Abercrumbie, executive associate athletics director of culture and engagement with Notre Dame Athletics, explained how the Blue-Gold Community Commitment Initiative came to be.

“As part of our Together Irish initiative, we wanted to make sure that we were doing something for the South Bend community … to engage better with the community,” she said. “And for one aspect of that, we bring people to campus, and that’s what we get to do today. So, there’s a little bit of athletics and a little academics for today’s guests.”

The Together Irish initiative — recognized earlier this year with the 2024 NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association Award for Diversity and Inclusion — invites Notre Dame student-athletes, coaches, staff, faculty, alumni, supporters and community members to join the University in its pursuit of inclusion.

Jay Brockman, director of the Lucy Civic Innovation Laboratory, led the kids in two STEM activities. “We do a lot of community outreach with Notre Dame Athletics. Today, we’re trying to show the kids the connections between data and sports and science and engineering.”

One game was a beanbag toss where kids tried to get their beanbag as close to the center of a target as possible. Notre Dame students then tried their hand at the game. Volunteers kept score, entering data in real time. The exercise was meant to teach students about how data is collected and used in the sports world. (The children won, by the way!) After a pizza lunch, the next stop was Notre Dame Stadium to watch the game.

“Being able to come to a game like this can be a kind of transformative experience for a young student,” said Sam Centellas, SBEZ’s board chair. “Oftentimes, students in the Empowerment Zone don’t necessarily know what might be next for them. So an opportunity like this gets them to walk around campus and be like, ‘I can see myself here. I feel like college may be something that I might want to do.’ And knowing that the place invited them to come, it makes a difference.”

At the Blue-Gold Game, the students were treated to some of the best seats in the bowl and some VIP treatment, even getting a pre-game visit with Coach Marcus Freeman, photo opportunities with Notre Dame Leprechaun Kylee Kazenski and appearances on the stadium’s video board. SBEZ representatives were also honored on the field at halftime as Meijer presented them with a $10,000 grant for the school system to ensure that opportunities like those experienced today may continue to flourish.

Larry Davidson, dean of school culture at Wilson Elementary School, said the day was a positive opportunity for the students. 
“Oh, this is tremendous. It is an opportunity for the kids to get out on Saturday morning. … They get to ride the bus together and once we got here, we were welcomed by a line of welcoming people. The kids are just having a ball,” he said. “It is so important because Notre Dame is one of our largest employers [in the region] and a tremendous educational institution and has excellent athletic programs. For Notre Dame to reach out to the community and invite kids in, it is good for both sides.”

Originally published by Gwen O’Brien director of community relations, publicaffairs.nd.edu