When Elmira Notre Dame holds its 50th-anniversary homecoming on Oct. 7 — with a 7:30 p.m. football game against Chenango Forks and reception to follow — the school will be honoring a superb sports tradition that permeates its history.
Crusader teams have piled up scores of championship banners and trophies in numerous sports, despite the fact that Notre Dame has often competed against larger schools. According to Steve Weber, athletic director, the equalizer has been a high level of commitment and involvement by the students.
“Generally, we hope that somewhere between 60 and 70 percent will play at least one sport,” said Weber, who coaches three sports.
He observed that many are multisport athletes. “I think that’s important for a school of our size; you can’t count on kids specializing in one sport. You really need the two- and three-sport athletes at small schools for the teams to be successful,” he said.
Notre Dame currently offers 10 sports for boys and eight for girls. Mike D’Aloisio, who has served as a coach, teacher and administrator at Notre Dame for nearly three decades, said student sports involvement is “probably double to what it may be in the public-school system. We encourage our students to at least join and participate in one type of athletic activity — and we really don’t stress winning as much as we express doing the best we can, creating some good memories. There’s not a whole lot of sports we have cuts in. We want to foster participation.”
D’Aloisio has the school’s longest current coaching tenure: As the 24th-year head football coach, he has posted a record of 167 wins and 55 losses, with 13 league titles, three Section 4 championships and the upstate New York title in 1990. D’Aloisio has also been Notre Dame’s head basketball coach since 1989, going 232-133 with seven division titles, three league championships and two sectional crowns.
Many strong boys’ teams of the past half-century have been joined by a girls’ program that has flourished in more recent years.
“When I first started we had (girls’) volleyball, basketball and bowling, and that was it. Then it just exploded in about the mid-1980s,” said D’Aloisio, who was Notre Dame’s athletic director from 1988-99 and is currently an assistant principal.
Weber, who began at Notre Dame in 1985, has helped guide that explosion. Since he began the girls’ soccer program in 1986, the Crusaders have won 11 league and four sectional titles, as well as a state championship in 2003 — the first state title ever for any Notre Dame girls’ team sport. And in 10 years of coaching girls’ softball, Weber’s squads have won six sectionals (all in consecutive years, from 1999-2004) and four league titles. Weber has also coached boys’ wrestling since 1985 and has served as athletic director since 2000.
The school boasts two state team championships in boys’ sports: basketball in 1978 and baseball in 1997. Notre Dame has also excelled in such sports as tennis, golf, lacrosse, and track and field.
Numerous Notre Dame athletes have gone on to earn scholarships at college. A shining example is Molly Huddle, who won state titles in track and cross-country as a Crusader and is now one of the country’s top collegiate cross-country runners as a senior at the University of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has competed since 2000 in the Interscholastic Athletic Conference. For many years prior, the school belonged to the challenging Sullivan Trail Conference, made up chiefly of larger public schools from the Southern Tier.
“We were always, at the very least, competitive. Many times we were up in the higher echelon of the pack,” D’Aloisio said of the former league.
D’Aloisio observed that the school owes much of its sports success to the formation of the Notre Dame Athletic Association during its infancy. That group, he said, “wanted to see Notre Dame excel academically and athletically, and strive to be a school with well-rounded students and individuals. They donated many of their time and services — and, I’m sure, a lot of their monetary means as well — to help get the athletic program off the ground.”