Sep 26, 2016, 12:18 PM EDT
NOTE: This story appeared in the Notre Dame-Duke football gameday program.
Frank Hering has been called the grandfather of Notre Dame football and he nearly had another title: father of the Notre Dame Monogram Club.
In the late 1890s Hering was a quarterback on the Notre Dame football team while also serving as the program’s head coach for three seasons (1896-98). Additionally, Hering guided Notre Dame’s basketball and baseball programs for brief stints during that time.
Those three sports, along with track and field, were Notre Dame’s only varsity teams and Hering wanted to create camaraderie among those programs. He envisioned a varsity club that would promote sportsmanship and fellowship for the fewer than 100 student-athletes on campus. However, Hering’s idea failed to survive in those early and unorganized days of intercollegiate athletics.
Twenty years later, Notre Dame athletics director and head football coach Jesse Harper, along with assistant coach Knute Rockne, revived Hering’s concept and formed the Notre Dame Monogram Club. Harper wanted the University’s varsity letter winners to unite in promoting spirit, unity, leadership and sportsmanship. He also sought to bring former student-athletes back into the University’s fold as members of the Monogram Club. He believed those who had worn Notre Dame’s colors in varsity competition could play a vital role in fostering the special bond that existed between the student-athlete and the University long after graduation.
Hugh O’Donnell, then a center on the football team, served as the Monogram Club’s first president. Back then the Club’s president typically was a current student-athlete who held the position for one year. Following graduation from the University in 1916, O’Donnell was ordained to the priesthood and later became Notre Dame’s 13th president.
O’Donnell was the first of many football Monogram winners who would hold the title of Monogram Club president. In fact, the Club’s first nine presidents all competed in football and some are legends in Notre Dame athletics lore.
The Club’s fifth president, Gus Desch (‘23), competed in football and track and was the first current or former Notre Dame athlete to medal in the Olympics as he captured bronze in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Elmer Layden (‘25), Monogram Club president in 1924, was one of the iconic Four Horsemen during his playing days in South Bend and he later served as the program’s head coach.
While much has changed at Notre Dame and in intercollegiate athletics since then, those individuals helped lay the foundation of a Club that is proudly celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Club has expanded significantly in both membership and offerings since those early years. Today Monograms are bestowed upon individuals from Notre Dame’s 26 varsity sports along with student managers, athletic trainers, cheerleaders, video technicians and honorary recipients. There are over 8,000 living Monogram winners worldwide and thousands take part in Club programs and events, which help keep alive the vision of Hering, Harper and Rockne.
Through the evolution of the Monogram Club, the football program has continued to play an important role in the Club’s rich history. Here are just a few examples of the deep ties that exist between the Monogram Club and the Fighting Irish football program:
– Joe Boland (’27, football) served as president of the Monogram Club in 1947 and his name now is part of a major Club initiative. Since its foundation in 1980, the Brennan-Boland-Riehle Scholarship Fund (BBRSF) has issued over $4.7 million in scholarship assistance to children of Monogram winners who attend Notre Dame. It is named in honor of Boland, who also was a Fighting Irish assistant coach, Rev. Thomas Brennan, C.S.C., and Rev. James Riehle, C.S.C. Father Riehle, the longtime chaplain for the Notre Dame football team, was the Monogram Club’s executive director from 1978-2002.
– The Moose Krause Distinguished Service Award is the highest honor given by the Monogram Club. Fifteen football Monogram winners have garnered the accolade, including 2016 recipient Justice Alan Page (’67). Former Irish coaches, and honorary Monogram Club members, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz have also accepted the award.
– In 2009, Joe Restic (’79) became the 45th football Monogram winner to serve as Club president. Restic held office from 2009-11 and currently serves on the past presidents council. Football’s Mike Frantz (’73), Byron Spruell (’87, ’89), Kevin McShane (’90) and Marc Edwards (’97) also currently hold positions on the Monogram Club’s board of directors. Reggie Brooks (‘99) has been on the Monogram Club staff since 2008.
– Spruell helped establish the Monogram Career Network (MCN). MCN, a networking program that connects current Notre Dame student-athletes with Monogram alumni, strives to deliver on the 40-year promise that is bestowed upon Notre Dame student-athletes.
– The Monogram Club has welcomed football’s Lake Dawson (‘94), Jeff Burris (‘94) and Jeff Faine (‘03) to be the featured alumni speaker at the Monogram Jacket Ceremony. In 2015, Mike McGlinchey (’17) gave the student-athlete reflection at the spring Monogram Jacket Ceremony.
– Thomas Bemenderfer (’09) received the Monogram Club Postgraduate Scholarship in 2009. The Club annually issues $5,000 grants to one male and one female senior student-athlete to help further their education.