Dec 26, 2019

Fighting Irish build ‘second family’ atmosphere through Christmas bingo during bowl week

By Jordan Perez, Florida Citrus Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — Notre Dame football wants to put the “N” in B-I-N-G-O, and a new bowl week tradition may do just that.

Bowl season makes no exceptions for the holidays, with travel schedules demanding players and coaches spend time away from the usual comforts of home. Thus, programming is built every year in order to boost the “second family”-like environment.

Last year, Notre Dame’s trip to the Cotton Bowl included a round of bingo leading up to the team’s College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Clemson, and that put head coach Brian Kelly on a mission unrelated to the team’s first CFP appearance.

Bring BINGO back.

So on Christmas Day, as the team prepared for this Saturday’s Camping World Bowl against Iowa State, Kelly got his chance.

“The nice part is we’re able to have all our families here,” Kelly said on Tuesday before practice at Boone High School. “It’s become a tradition now that we get to have dinner together, mass, and we have this bingo tournament for the kids that gets pretty intense.”

After dining and prayer at the team hotel, the staff peeled off from the players and eagerly jumped into 10 or 12 games. The Kelly family led the festivities, with the head coach jumping from table to table and assisting some of the children with their bingo cards. Kelly’s wife, Paqui, served as emcee.

Also on card patrol: former Irish great Ron Powlus, who set 20 school records as a quarterback at the school in the 1990s.

Powlus, now an associate athletic director, serves as a liaison between coaches and players. That puts him in some crucial roles, like coordinating community service projects. But there’s some lighter stuff as well, including the new bingo obsession.

During practice on Thursday at Camping World Stadium, Powlus played his bingo cards close to the vest, saying the games don’t get too “crazy or competitive.” He did allow that “certain families” have better luck.

Whoever is winning, it’s clearly exciting enough to continue from year to year — at least so far.

“It just adds to the unity of the program when the head coach is the guy leading the charge,” Powlus said. “It’s all the more evident of a family atmosphere we have.”

Small prizes are awarded to the winners, but the fun of it is the big takeaway. Following the hour and a half of bingo, the children got a dance party.

Powlus, who has a big role in the bowl itinerary, said the game involves everyone, so that builds a sense of togetherness.

“As long as we’re at a bowl game over Christmas,” Powlus said, “we’ll keep it incorporated.”

So maybe over the coming years, we will see how far “certain families” can press their bingo luck.

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