The University of Notre Dame is known for having legendary coaches, creating legendary players, and producing legendary teams. But this weekend, a team of men who are legends in their own right will grace our university.
On Sunday, Sept. 29 at noon, the Irish softball team will host two exhibition games featuring the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) at Melissa Cook Stadium.
Like all great legends, the athletes on the WWAST have gone above and beyond in the face of adversity. Each player has experienced severe injuries that resulted in amputations while serving in the United States military. While their injuries vary, the collective hard work, perseverance, and genuine athleticism of all team members have led them to stops at Fenway Park, Nationals Park, and now their two exhibition games at Notre Dame.
The inspirational stories and contagious personalities of the Wounded Warriors caught the attention of Notre Dame softball head coach Deanna Gumpf when she was at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) convention this past December 2012.
“We saw these guys standing there and we had heard about their team before,” Gumpf says, “We went up to them and just started talking to them. They were awesome.”
After meeting Matt Kinsey, Josh Wege, coach David Van Sleet and a few other WWAST players, plans to have them come to South Bend quickly began falling into place.
“We didn’t realize how well we were going to hit it off,” Gumpf says. “It was a meeting by chance and it turned into a really cool event.”
In actuality this “event” goes beyond the games, involving activities on campus all weekend long.
Festivities will start Friday afternoon (Sept. 27) at the traditional Notre Dame Football Luncheon. The team will also be recognized at both the pep rally and during the Oklahoma football game on Saturday.
As for the actual games, the WWAST squad will square off against the Irish softball team in the first game beginning at noon. The second contest will be a celebrity slow-pitch game against Notre Dame alumni, coaches and Irish athletics figures past and present. The team, managed by hockey head coach Jeff Jackson, includes former men’s basketball captain LaPhonso Ellis, men’s basketball head coach Mike Brey, baseball coach Mik Aoki, former women’s basketball standout Danielle Green-Byrd and WSBT Sports Director Pete Byrne.
“It’s always exciting to be on campus and to visit Notre Dame,” Green-Byrd says. “They contacted me a couple months ago about participating in the ND celebrity softball game versus the WWAST. I felt very honored.”
Green-Byrd is not only a former Notre Dame student and athlete, but she is also a veteran of the U.S. Army, and lost her lower left arm while serving in Iraq in 2004. With such a personal connection to the event and team, Green-Byrd is eager take part in the celebrity slow-pitch game.
“If they can do it, I can do it too,” Green-Byrd says. “I’m very excited to be participating this weekend because it gives me an opportunity to showcase my athletic skills and be amongst friends and family.”
According to Green-Byrd, hosting the WWAST is an extension of the university’s dedication to the motto ‘God, Country, Notre Dame.’
“This is what Notre Dame does. We find ways to help,” says Green-Byrd. “[This event] just speaks volumes to Notre Dame’s recognition and dedication to servicemen and women who pay the ultimate sacrifice. It’s great that Notre Dame has opened their doors to the WWAST.”
Coach Gumpf and the Notre Dame softball team have created a fun-filled lineup while keeping in mind that the main goal for the weekend is to raise money to support the WWAST as they continue to train and compete around the country.
“Our team is part of something really special in everything that we do,” Gumpf says. “I think that they really appreciate it and they’re honored to help. It’s cool to be part of things and it’s cool to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
In addition to coming out and cheering on the WWAST team members, attendees can donate to Gloves 4 Troops; an organization that sends baseballs and gloves overseas in order to provide U.S. military forces with recreational activities while away from home.
“I don’t think it’s going to take much because these guys are so amazing and they’re such great role models,” Gumpf says. “They’re not letting anything stop them. What a great thing for our team to learn. They may be missing a leg, but that doesn’t stop them from doing whatever they want to do.”
Keep an eye out for the WWAST members at Friday night’s pep rally and this Saturday at the football game. And be encouraged to join the Irish softball team this Sunday at the exhibition games.
For more information on the fundraiser, contact the Notre Dame softball office at (574) 631-3750, follow the Irish @NDsoftball and @NDcoachGumpf on Twitter, and Like the team at Facebook.com/NDSoftball.
All fans attending the WWAST exhibition games on Sunday are encouraged to make a $5 donation at the Melissa Cook Stadium gate. All proceeds will directly benefit the WWAST. Gloves can be donated throughout the entirety of the fundraiser.
To learn more about the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, please visit www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org.