Nov. 11, 2013
By Josh Flynt, Monogram Club Communications Associate
Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) wore it in The Breakfast Club. Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) rocked one in Friday Night Lights. Finn Hudson (the late Cory Monteith) on Glee.
If you have watched any television show or movie set in high school, there is a good chance the star quarterback sported the look in the hallway, probably with a backpack slung over one shoulder.
In pop culture, varsity jackets are a dime a dozen.
At the University of Notre Dame however, a letter jacket is much more than a warm coat with fancy leather sleeves.
Last week, the Notre Dame Monogram Club had the distinct honor of presenting more than 100 student-athletes and three senior football managers with letter jackets in recognition of earning their first Monogram.
As Club president Haley Scott DeMaria ('95, swimming) noted in her opening remarks, the University has been awarding Monograms since 1898, and during that time, the distribution has been handled in a variety of ways. Throughout the history of the Monogram, a Notre Dame student-athlete's memorable milestone has often been marked by a rather unexciting visit to a familiar location.
"For most of us recipients of a Monogram and letter jacket, they were given out at the equipment room, and very often, tossed across the counter. That's how I received mine," DeMaria said.
"But we thought we needed to share this evening in a special way for this very special event. Of the 130,000 Notre Dame alumni living throughout the country and throughout the world, only 7,500 have been endowed with the Notre Dame Monogram."
Considering that number represents less than 6% of the total alumni population, it is safe to say that earning a Monogram is no small feat and certainly an achievement worthy of being celebrated.
"For those of us in the Monogram Club, we view earning your right to wear the interlocking ND as an extremely significant moment, which is exactly why this letter jacket ceremony was created. Be proud of what you have accomplished that has led to where you are here tonight," she said.
Started in 2009, the event provides a unique opportunity for parents, family members, coaches and administrators to celebrate Notre Dame student-athletes and their accomplishments in an intimate setting.
This year, more than 150 guests joined the first-time Monogram winners for the ceremony, including Lea Tzimoulis, who drove in from New England to see her son Zach Auguste, a basketball student-athlete, receive his jacket.
Auguste, a sophomore forward for the Irish, played in 25 games during his first season under the Dome, and like many Notre Dame students, both athletes and non-athletes alike, remembers first seeing the letter jacket--or at least a very similar jacket--in a popular film.
"It's a real honorary thing, to receive this jacket. I know growing up, I watched the movie Rudy, and all he was worried about was getting his jacket, and what an honorary thing it was, so I was just really excited to get my jacket," Auguste said.
His mother was also touched by the moment.
"I'm very excited and emotional. We're definitely blessed for this opportunity for Zach to be here. Being a Monogram recipient is just a huge honor," she said.
"I was very emotional, watching the video. I felt a sense of pride--pride for him and for our family, in what he's accomplished."
As University Vice President and Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick ('76) noted, what makes the letter jacket significant is that it symbolizes far more than athletic achievement.
"Every time you put that jacket on, I would urge you to focus on the Monogram itself. Take a moment to look at it. We refer to it as the interlocking ND. It's a unique pattern. There are a lot of ways to put two letters together on a jacket. This one's different. It's interwoven," Swarbrick said.
The reason for that, he explained, is to remind each recipient that earning the jacket is not his or her achievement alone. Each interlocking piece represents those who have helped them along the way--the parents, siblings, teammates, competitors, coaches, and teachers who made earning that jacket possible.
Certainly, one of those individuals is Missy Conboy ('82, basketball). While Tzimoulis traveled nearly 900 miles, Conboy had a much shorter trip to the ceremony in Club Naimoli. Notre Dame's senior deputy athletics director attended not only as an administrator, but also because her daughter, Darby Mountford, was earning her first Monogram as a member of the Irish tennis team.
"I've been coming to these celebrations since they started, and I always get teary-eyed watching the film they put up about the Monogram," Conboy said. "Today I wouldn't even watch it because I knew I would start crying like I usually do. It was such a thrill for me all those years ago to get my Monogram and to see my daughter come here and get a Monogram too, it just makes it extra special."
For Mountford, it was especially meaningful to follow in her mother's footsteps, more than 30 years after she captained one of Notre Dame's first varsity women's basketball teams.
"It's a huge honor to earn a Monogram here, especially because my mom earned a Monogram here, Haley Scott [DeMaria], all these people I've grown up looking up to. To be here, and to be earning the same honor is a really cool thing."
While Auguste and Mountford earned their letter jackets following their first year as Notre Dame student-athletes, seniors Jes Christian and Forrest Johnson had a different experience. Their journey to wear the Monogram was a bit longer, but nevertheless special.
Christian, a sprinter and jumper on the Irish track & field team, as well as president of Notre Dame's Student-Athlete Advisory Council, was thrilled to share the evening with her parents, especially her father, a 1965 Notre Dame graduate.
"It's an absolutely amazing experience to have been here and be a part of this," she said. "If you had asked me four years ago when I was in high school whether I would have had this opportunity and thought I could have been part of this, I would have said, `Absolutely not. What are you talking about?' But I worked so hard to get here, I've worked so hard through my almost four years being here, and it's just been an amazing, tough, good, bad journey. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Johnson, who started 54 games at catcher as a junior, spoke to his fellow student-athletes and first-time recipients after the presentation of jackets.
"This Monogram is a constant reminder that we have been blessed with unbelievable gifts and opportunities, and that we owe it to our families, teammates, and ourselves to leave this university a better person," he said.
"We do not settle by taking the easy route, or by tolerating anything that is just average. We chose Notre Dame because we accepted the challenge to be held to the highest standards, because anything less would not satisfy our hunger for excellence."
As Swarbrick, who received an honorary Monogram in the spring, explained, that hunger for excellence extends beyond one's four years at Notre Dame.
"From this moment on, every time you wear the jacket, you are saying to the world, `I am a Notre Dame student-athlete.' And that means something. It means something in terms of achievement and a sense of pride, but it means much more. It means I subscribe to these values. I subscribe to the things that caused me to come to Notre Dame, that caused me to pursue athletics as a form of growth and education."
Keynote speaker Scott Paddock ('90, basketball), a former Monogram Club board member who is currently president of the Chicagoland Speedway, reflected on his own time at Notre Dame, and how much it impacted the person he is today.
"The experience you will receive via your journey here at Notre Dame, the education you are receiving athletically, academically, culturally, spiritually and philosophically, will serve to shape and define the fabric of who you are and further enhance the foundation that supports you."
From baseball to track & field, and every sport in between, each student-athlete has had a different story. Each has fought off curveballs, and cleared a few hurdles, on the path to earning that distinction: Notre Dame Monogram winner.
In the moment they first put on that jacket, donning perhaps the most famous logo in college athletics, there is no doubt that each of those student-athletes took tremendous pride in their accomplishment. As they prepare for the homestretch of the fall semester, it can be easy to lose sight of those feelings, as the daily academic and athletic rigors of college life often provide little time for such reflection.
But as with many of life's biggest triumphs, earning a Monogram, much like receiving a degree from the University of Notre Dame, is a feat that may be best appreciated decades down the road, Paddock assured them.
"You may not full comprehend the meaning and significance as you celebrate this evening, but rest assured, you will in time, perhaps on a November evening in the future, when one of you will be humbled to stand before a deserving class receiving their Notre Dame monograms, as I was honored to do this evening."
2013 FALL LETTER JACKET RECIPIENTS