Fighting Irish keep marching

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People passing by St. Agnes School in Arlington Feb. 20 might have thought the school was hosting a Notre Dame pep rally. An enthusiastic rendition of the Notre Dame "Victory March" could be heard streaming through the halls. Inside the library, Drum Major John Buchanan, class of 1971, could be found marching in place with 26 members of the Notre Dame Alumni Band, their instruments playing loud and clear.

For several years St. Agnes has hosted the band as they prepare to bring the spirit of their alma mater to the area's two St. Patrick's Day parades.

"The Notre Dame spirit is embodied in the music that we play in the march," said Buchanan. "The alma mater is part of my heritage, part of what made me who I am today."

The group first got started in 1985 when Notre Dame alumna Jo Ann Crock organized an East Coast alumni band for the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade. It was cold and they were the last band to play, but it fostered the beginning of a comradery that would launch the group through years of parades, football games, tail-gaters, pep rallies and East Coast lacrosse championships. In 1986 they became an official group and marched in Washington. The following year they were invited to take part in Alexandria's St. Patrick's Day parade and have done so for the past 29 years. This year the group will participate in both the Alexandria parade March 5 and the Manassas parade March 12.

"We all love the band because it brings back the memories of Notre Dame and marching through the tunnel and being on the field," said band President Joe Schwartz, a 1961 graduate.

"It's a great organization," said Frank LaBelle, who joined the band in 2013. "We have classes from 1950 through 2014."

"It's a way to keep the Notre Dame spirit going after I graduated," said Barbara Johnson, who graduated in 2012. "It has given me a chance to connect with people I wouldn't have."

For 1969 graduate Frank Cardile, participating in the Alumni Band is an opportunity he did not have in college because he had to study.

"Now I've done eight football games in the East, so I feel like I've played as much as I would have if I had played in my undergrad."

The band is not exclusively Notre Dame graduates. They welcome family members from other colleges and band enthusiasts willing to embrace the Notre Dame spirit. Together they share a common bond that connects them to the school and to Our Lady herself.

"Having gone to Notre Dame we are all dependent on the Blessed Mother," said Schwartz. "We are blessed by her guidance and we all relate to that."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016