New Castle News

January 8, 2013

BCS Title Game: Local Notre Dame fans keep the faith — even as their beloved Irish are rolled by Tide

Andrew Petyak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Notre Dame may have fallen short in its bid for a 12th national championship in football.   But that didn’t stop local residents from celebrating their Irish Pride.

Households and local establishments were flooded by a sea of navy blue and gold, along with Leprechaun green, last night as Lawrence County’s large contingent of Notre Dame fans came out en force to support the Fighting Irish.

Northview Avenue resident Stacey Fleo and her husband Willie, were among those to host an Irish-themed party for the Discover BCS National Championship showdown between Alabama and Notre Dame. The Irish (12-1) finished the regular season undefeated before falling 42-14 to the back-to-back champion Crimson Tide (13-1).

“We have always loved Notre Dame. My whole family, we’ve all been brainwashed,” the 49-year-old Fleo said. “It’s disheartening to lose, but getting to the championship game alone is an accomplishment.”

Fleo’s basement acts as a shrine to the Fighting Irish, as Notre Dame is more than a football team for her family.

“We’re Irish. Our family is Irish-Catholic,” she said. “That’s a big part of our fandom too. Anyone who has ever visited Notre Dame, it’s just unbelievable. We always would go to at least one Notre Dame game a year. If you’re not a Notre Dame fan and you go to Notre Dame, you’ll be one. Just that atmosphere is unbelievable.

“My whole basement is Notre Dame. When we finished our basement, we did the walls Notre Dame,” she continued. “We put a big screen down there, but it’s too small for this many people, otherwise we’d watch it down there.”

Fleo, a member of the New Castle Area School Board, was worried a meeting yesterday might interfere with watching her beloved Irish play.

“Everybody was coming to my house at 7 p.m. I asked (New Castle superintendent) Mr. (George) Gabriel how long this meeting was going to be, because it’s the national championship game and Notre Dame is in it,” she said with a laugh. “Luckily, we made it out in time.”   

Donita Pfahl was one of around 20 people crowded around the Fleo’s living room TV. Pfahl, 56, is a 2004 graduate of Notre Dame where she received her MBA. She recently moved to the area and quickly realized she had some allies of her alma mater.

“It’s nice to be part of the community. I didn’t know until I moved here how big of a Notre Dame following there was. It’s nice to see,” Pfahl said. “I think that’s what people know most about me at work, that I went to Notre Dame.”

Pfahl, a Chief Operations Officer for Flowline in New Castle, doesn’t remember much from when the Fighting Irish last won a national championship in 1988, but was excited to see her team in the title game this season.  

“It’s been a long time coming. They’ve earned it,” she said. “Brian Kelly is a good coach.”

(Email: a_petyak@ncnewsonline.com).