Aug. 5, 2013
by Chris Masters (Associate Athletic Media Relations Director)
LONDON -- As the Notre Dame women's basketball team criss-crossed London, visiting some of the city's recognizable landmarks on the second day of its European tour, one pressing question seemed to be in the back of everyone's mind -- would they see the Royal Baby?
Of course, the chances of that happening were virtually non-existent, but that didn't keep the Fighting Irish players and coaches from gazing hopefully through the gates at Buckingham Palace, at the base of the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral and from the banks of the River Thames near Tower Bridge, wondering if the littlest royal, His Royal Highness Prince George, would make an appearance.
Yet, while the question lingered, in reality, the Notre Dame crew already has welcomed its own new additions to the program just three months ago. In fact, while she doesn't carry a royal title, associate coach Beth Cunningham certainly deserves the accolades of a monarch for the grace and poise with which she's handled these life changes.
Most Fighting Irish women's basketball followers will recall that Cunningham, a 1997 Notre Dame graduate and two-time honorable mention All-America selection, spent the 2012-13 season coaching her first season at her alma mater while carrying twins.
On May 6, less than one month after Cunningham helped the Fighting Irish advance to their third consecutive NCAA Women's Final Four and second BIG EAST Conference title in as many years with a remarkable 35-2 record, she gave birth to a baby girl, Carly, and a baby boy, Danny. Overnight, Cunningham and her husband, Dan (himself a 1996 Notre Dame graduate and a former practice player for the Fighting Irish women's basketball team) had tripled the size of their budding family, adding two newborns to their year-old daughter, Margaret.
"It was definitely a challenge to coach the entire season while I was pregnant, but I had so much help and support from not only my wonderful husband and my parents, but also Coach (Muffet) McGraw, (associate head coach) Carol (Owens), (assistant coach/recruiting coordinator) Niele (Ivey) and (associate director of operations & technology) Angie (Potthoff)," Cunningham said. "The players, especially the wing players that I coach directly, were also extremely understanding and did everything possible to help make my pregnancy go smoothly. It was really a team effort and the most important thing at the end of it all was that Carly and Danny were born healthy and happy."
What make this story even more amazing is the fact Cunningham resumed some of her duties within days after her release from the hospital, and even returned to the office on a part-time basis by early June to assist with some of Notre Dame summer basketball camps. By the time July 1 rolled around, Cunningham had recovered so swiftly that she was able to take on a full load of recruiting travel during the month, heading to various points all over the country to watch some of the nation's best future college stars.
"We wanted Beth to come back at her own pace and it was really her decision when she wanted to return and what duties she wanted to take on," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "But just like she was as a player, she's such a hard worker and is so dedicated that she wanted to get back in the swing of things as soon as possible. We still want her to take as much time as possible with the babies and we're all doing a little more to help her with things until she's back to 100 percent."
That travel schedule has made Cunningham's current stint with the Fighting Irish on their European tour a bit more manageable. However, while the Notre Dame associate coach won't be with the team for the entire 10-day trip (she returns to the States after the team departs London on Wednesday night), it's still an anxious time for her to be away.
"I can handle it a little bit better because I was away for a couple of days at a time while I was gone recruiting," Cunningham said. "Dan is really a trooper, managing a household with three children under the age of two. My mom has also come in to help out until I get home, but Dan is such an amazing father and he's definitely got the hang of changing diapers and waking up in the middle of the night. I'm able to rest and relax a bit over here, but I'll be glad to get home and see my little ones soon."
Before returning to South Bend, Cunningham will help coach Notre Dame in the first of three games on its 2013 European tour at 1 p.m. ET (6 p.m. local time) Tuesday when the Fighting Irish travel to the town of Barking, England (located in the eastern suburbs of London) to take on Barking Abbey, which finished as the runner-up in the English Basketball League this past season, at Barking Abbey Secondary School.
Tuesday's game is open to the public, with fans advised to check local media in London or contact Barking Abbey Secondary School for ticketing and parking information. A full recap and statistics from the exhibition will be posted later in the evening on the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.
Notre Dame enjoyed a whirlwind of sightseeing activity on Monday, with the highlights being Buckingham Palace (the Queen is not in residence, spending summer holiday at her castle in Balmoral, Scotland), St. Paul's Cathedral (the site of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding in 1981, as well as the state funerals of two of Great Britain's legendary prime ministers, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, the latter just two months ago), and the Millennium Bridge over the River Thames (which offered views of the nearby famous Tower Bridge, as well as Shakespeare's famed Globe Theatre) ... several members of the staff enjoyed a fascinating side trip on Monday afternoon, visiting Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms, a series of bunkers that still look much as they did in the 1940s and from where the British prime minister directed his nation's forces in the early days of World War II when the Nazis laid siege to London in the Battle of Britain (known colloquially as "the Blitz") ... the Notre Dame travel party enjoyed the British tradition of high tea at the Royal Garden Hotel nearing their own lodging in Kensington, before ending their evening by venturing over to the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London's tony West End to see the musical "Wicked", universally judged to be a sensational performance by the Fighting Irish players and staff.
WORD OF THE DAY
Possum -- Almost everywhere in the world, a possum is known as a small marsupial with a long tail, often comfortable in trees. However, during the day on Monday, it was used in an entirely different context by the team's local tour guide, Alan, who often beckoned to the travel party to follow him to another historic landmark with the distinctive phrase "Come along, my little possums" (with possums sometimes exchanged for "plum puddings"). It was the leader on a list of numerous colloquial phrases Alan rattled off during the day, with some other favorites including "squash together like pumpkins" (meaning "gather in closer together to hear me better") and "lost the plot" (meaning "I'm not really sure what that means", something he sometimes said when he heard an unfamiliar American phrase).