This weekend marked the 38th annual Flyin’ Irish Basketball Tournament, a competition hosted by Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC dating back to 1985. What began as a fun but unremarkable event has transformed into the largest Cadet-run event in the country, according to junior Miles Roberts, who is part of the tournament’s public affairs section.
“It was just a super tiny event,” Roberts said. “We started just in the regional aspects, but we slowly extended outwards. So last year, we had 48 teams and this year we have 54. It’s slowly evolving into a bigger and bigger tournament, which is really cool.”
Schools with ROTC programs from all over the country come to compete in both the men’s and women’s brackets. Every team is guaranteed to play in at least three games in a round-robin style setup. Games are played in 20-minute halves with a running clock, except in the final two minutes of regulation when normal timing rules apply.
“The games are very scrappy. Everyone’s in ROTC so everyone, mostly everyone, runs. A lot of teams adopt the running-gun style, and so it’s a lot of fast breaks, a lot of fast-moving. [There’s] a lot of fast-paced basketball, and nobody ever gets tired because everyone’s used to running all the time. So I’d say it’s pretty competitive,” Roberts said.
Hosting the tournament takes an all-hands-on-deck effort, Roberts said. Everyone in the Notre Dame ROTC program is required to help out with the event in some capacity, but many choose to put in more than the minimum effort, which is needed given how much basketball is played in such a short amount of time. The tournament began on Friday at 5 p.m. and continued until Sunday at 11 a.m., with 14 hours of hoops taking place Saturday.
“It is a very long weekend,” Roberts said. “And a lot of people put in an insane amount of hours into preparing and actually staying their day off. And so I really appreciate it when it’s getting into the wee hours of the night because we have games that start at 10 p.m. Our main staff has been there since 8 a.m, and just being able to grind through that whole day with them and really grow together and work together [through] whatever challenge that pops up or whatever situation arises.”
Out of 33 men’s teams and 16 on the women’s side, 16 and 8 reached the knockout stage, respectively. The single-elimination bracket started Saturday and concluded with the semi-finals and finals Sunday morning.
In the women’s final, Virginia Tech survived a late comeback push by Ohio State to win for the second straight year. The Hokies also took the title on the men’s side, ending their clash with Notre Dame Army ROTC on a 10-run. Both teams had earned the No. 1 seed in their brackets, finishing a combined 13-0.
The Hokies received a trophy and medals for their victory, but Roberts said the tournament is about much more than the wins and losses.
Roberts said that he has met friends from different schools at summer ROTC summer training, but that he isn't able to see them very much, except when they come to the basketball tournament.
“I’m already planning on meeting and seeing a bunch of my friends that I haven’t seen since a lot of those trainings. It’s really cool to see everyone you start recognizing people like ‘Hey, I did that training with you in the summer last year.’ It's really cool to just connect with people," Roberts said.