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Irish piper from the shores of California

Senior attackman Ryan Mix, from Newport Beach (CA) leads the Irish onto the field.
When Notre Dame takes the field on March 8, a local California kid will be the first Fighting Irish player the fans will see. It's been that way for the past two seasons.

Ryan Mix, a senior attackman from Newport Beach, is the sixth in a line of Irish Lacrosse bagpipers who have led the team onto the field for every game since 1996. 

"It is an unreal feeling leading the team onto the field and being a part of a great tradition," Mix said. "And the face time is unbelievable. Usually there is a camera picking up every note I play, or lack there of. I am constantly getting 'dude, did you just play the bagpipes at your game today?' texts, post game. It's fantastic."

The Irish's bagpiper tradition began eighteen years ago. Sean Meehan, a freshman defenseman from a family of bagpipers, had played in high school and brought his pipes to South Bend with him. Late one evening, his teammates discovered his unique musical talents and strongly encouraged him to lead the team onto the field for the season opener against Loyola.

The impact of Notre Dame and Meehan's new pre-game ritual was immediate.

“I don’t think they were expecting to see that,” Meehan said. “Loyola just kind of stopped what they were doing and stared at us as we walked up to midfield.”

Meehan was convinced his performance was a one-time thing and had written it off as a freshman right of passage incident. To make certain, he intentionally left his pipes in South Bend the next weekend when the team travelled to Baltimore to play UMBC. When the team called for him to grab his pipes and lead them out, Meehan informed them he had left the bagpipes at home. He was quite surprised when one of his teammates pulled them from his equipment bag and proudly announced to the group "Oh no you didn't." Notre Dame went on to beat UMBC 14-4 and a piper has led the Irish onto the field in every game since.

2002 graduate Chad DeBolt was the first to carry the tradition forward. He approached Meehan, a senior, in the airport shortly after the team's 1999 NCAA tournament loss to Georgetown. His first lesson came that day in the airport. He then spent a good part of the summer learning to play from a video Meehan had created for that purpose. The video helped the new piper learn the proper fingering for the Irish's tune of choice "Scotland the Brave."

“I thought it was more than just the bagpipes,” said DeBolt, who saw to it that the tradition didn’t die when Meehan’s career ended. “I thought it was something that the program stood for. I think it helped us for games. It embodied a lot more about the team than just what the bagpipes were.”

Meehan's tape has been handed down from DeBolt to Dan Hickey, from Hickey to Regis McDermott, from McDermott to Colt Power and, most recently from Power to Ryan Mix. Each piper carefully selecting his succcessor. The specific handing-off ritual varies from piper to piper.

"Colt and I talked about it a few times, however I never really knew I was 'the guy' until I read an interview kinda like this one." 

Upon being chosen, the newest  piper is left with a set of bagpipes in his locker, but no real instruction manual and no "free bagpipe lessons" gift card. He's on his own to learn the instrument and the Irish's traditional entrance song Scotland The Brave

Although he had learned how to play other instruments, Mix found it difficult to learn the bagpipes, but even harder to perform under the unique circumstances that characterize each performance.

"I have been playing guitar since I was about 10 years old, so I have always had a musical background. However, the pipes are a whole other animal. Imagine constantly blowing all the air out of your lungs while trying to still focus on playing the right notes...while all of your teammates slap you on the back as they run past."

Mix feels a deep sense of honor and tradition with each opportunity he has to lead his Irish brethren onto the field.

"I am honored to be a part of a tradition that so very few players have shared. It is a small club of great guys, and I am proud to be associated with them. Leading my team out of the locker room and into a stadium filled with thousands of people is something that is truly difficult to describe with words."

At some point in the very near future, as the tradition calls for, Mix will choose the Fighting Irish's next piper, but how does he make the selection?

"With a combination of talking with prior pipers and my own gut feeling. There is usually one or two guys that fit the mold of the team piper. It's hard to describe what the mold exactly is, but inside our team there is usually no doubt who should be next in line." 
 
“It’s a very cool tradition,” says head coach Kevin Corrigan, who has watched all six pipers' performances over the past 18 years from the tail end of the team’s procession. “Our guys love that we do it, and when they hear the bagpipes firing up they know it’s time to strap it on and get ready to go.”

Notre Dame Lacrosse Pipers Through The Years
1996-99   Sean Meehan
2000-02   Chad DeBolt
2003-06   Dan Hickey
2007-09   Regis McDermott
2010-12   Colt Power
2013-14   Ryan Mix

A special thanks to Dan Murphy for his research on "Notre Dame's Padded Pipers," Blue and Gold Illustrated, May 2012.




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