As the organization's first female, senior Molly Kinder says she intends to be `as full of an Irish Guard member as possible'
By COLLEEN McCARTHY
Associate News Editor
From the painting of the gold helmets to the concert on the steps to the Irish Guard, football at Notre Dame is steeped in tradition. On Saturday, as the high-stepping Irish Guard leads the band onto the field, a new face among this group will signal an end to the 51-year all-male tradition within the Irish Guard.
Molly Kinder, a 6-foot-3 senior, said she decided freshman year she wanted to be a part of the Irish Guard. Until Kinder's selection, the Irish Guard had been all-male mainly because of the height requirement.
"I was at activities night the other evening and saw a friend from one of my freshman year classes," said Kinder. "He came up to congratulate me on making the Guard and said that he remembered that I had mentioned even freshman year that I wanted to be a part of the Irish Guard."
Kinder first auditioned for the prestigious group of 10 students during the fall semester of her junior year.
"It was the most challenging thing I had ever done," she said. "I worked out all summer but when the practices came in the fall, I found we were using totally different muscles groups and it was very physically and mentally challenging."
The fact that she was female also added to her nerves going into the practices.
"I hadn't gone to any of the meetings in the spring of 1999 about the Irish Guard so when I showed up on the first day of tryouts, the guys didn't know I was planning to try out," said Kinder.
Kinder's goal was to make it to the final day of practice and the audition.
"My goal last year was just to do the best I could," she said. "I did everything that every guy did. Whether I made it or not was not what was going to make the tryout successful for me. Last year was more of a personal goal for me."
Her persistence and hard work also eliminated any reservations the males had about her during the tryouts.
"When I talked to some of the guys afterward, they said they were wary at first but they were taken by surprise," she said. "They told me they were cool with it because I did everything they did."
After failing to make the Irish Guard last fall, Kinder was not deterred. While studying abroad in Chile this summer, she took a different approach for training for the rigorous Irish Guard tryouts that would await her when she returned to Notre Dame.
"I practiced marching a lot in the streets of Chile and I think the people thought I was insane," said Kinder. "When I got home I practiced marching on the football field and just continued to prepare mentally and physically for the audition."
This fall, Kinder went into the tryouts knowing what to expect.
Tryouts often consist of three practices per day for up to two hours each. Each practice is a mix of marching with the band across campus to different songs and beats, learning a routine that is a mix of trotting, marching, turns and spins and learning to stand at attention and maintain a straight face. Kinder said that aspect was particularly challenging since other Irish Guard members would try to draw laughs from the candidates.
"There were a few guys auditiioning from last year so I felt a lot more comfortable and I had more confidence," said Kinder. "That made a big difference."
When the final audition came on Aug. 20, Kinder felt more confident than ever.
"I was so unnervous, I couldn't believe it," she said.
For her audition junior year, her entire family came from their home in Buffalo, N.Y., for the event. This year, her mom made the eight-hour drive for her audition.
"My mom was at the Grotto praying during my audition and it must have worked," said Kinder.
Her roommates also came to her audition wearing t-shirts that spelled out her last name.
Kinder learned the next morning that she had been selected to fill one of the six openings on the Irish Guard from a field of 28 who auditioned.
"I raced over to the band hall on Monday morning and I was so excited when I saw my name on the list but I didn't know what to think so I said to myself, `Does this mean I made it?'" she said.
Despite some who think the all-male tradition of the Irish Guard may have been broken for the sake of political correctness, band director Kenneth Dye, who makes the final decision regarding who is selected for the Irish Guard, said Kinder had all the qualifications.
"Molly met every requirement — height and otherwise," said Dye. "She had an excellent audition and her skills were first-rate. The only requirement that has kept the Irish Guard all-male is the height requirement. We've had other women try out in the past but they haven't had the skills or coordination. We had the opportunity to watch Molly at all the practices and those who observed her audition were unanimous that her performance was excellent."
Dye added that the assistant band directors and current captain of the Irish Guard give input into the decision of who is selected for the Irish Guard.
Overall, the response Dye has received from alumni, students and community members has run the gamut.
"I've gotten everything from positive to negative responses, some of which are anonymous," he said. "She is the first female to have made the Irish Guard and it might be another 10 to 20 years before we see another female with her stature and skills who could make the Irish Guard."
Kinder said that she has heard only positive comments and "hasn't yet heard one negative thing said to her face."
"There has been an overwhelmingly positive response from students and faculty and I've received so many emails from alumni and people I don't even know sending me messages of congratulations," she said. "I've also heard from former Irish Guard members sending me congratulations."
The response from within the ranks of the Irish Guard remains unknown. When asked for comment on Kinder's selection, Guard captain Paul Raih declined comment.
Kinder, however, maintains that her gender has not been a distraction.
"It's definitely been an adjustment for everyone but we've been really focused on learning our routine for the game Saturday and we're not focused on the media attention or differences," said Kinder. "It's been a very positive experience so far. We're pretty serious but we have a lot of fun together. After going through tryouts together, the guys know that they can be themselves around me and they know that I can take a joke."
Kinder said she intends to follow all of the traditions of the Irish Guard as closely as possible. Although she has not shaved her head as is the tradition of the Irish Guard, she has cut her hair very short, she said.
"I really want to be as full of an Irish Guard member as possible," said Kinder, although she said she couldn't talk about many of the Irish Guard traditions.
On Saturday, Kinder will have her family in the crowd watching her as she makes history.
"I tried on the kilt today and I'm so excited to put on the whole uniform," said Kinder. "I'm nervous about Saturday because I don't know what to expect. I do know that there will be a lot of attention on me so I just want to do my best and I know that the rest of the games this season should be a lot of fun."
All News Stories for Friday, September 1, 2000