March 10, 2011

Hamilton, Notre Dame to play opener in Ireland

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to and follow him on Twitter.

High schools have been traveling out of their home states on a regular basis for more than a decade.

Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame and Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton are going one step further: They've agreed to play out of the country.

In a move that will help bring football to Europe - and bring a European experience to a few high schoolers - the schools have agreed to play their season-opener for the 2012 season in Dublin, Ireland.

"It is a great means to get our kids a cultural experience," Hamilton coach Steve Belles told RivalsHigh. "We will get to show them things they may have otherwise never experienced and we get to challenge ourselves with a fantastic opponent."

The game will be part of the Global Ireland Football Tournament that will feature two American teams taking part of three days of doubleheaders.

The event will featuring teams from all over the globe, including potentially more American teams, and will culminate with Notre Dame playing Navy at Aviva Stadium on Sept. 1.

The Notre Dame-Hamilton will be played on Aug. 31; the site has yet to be determined.

The announcement of the game comes days after RivalsHigh reported on the logistical difficulties of scheduling out-of-state games . The schools in this case, however, were able to work out the details - and are glad they did.

"This is a very exciting event for our players, band, cheerleaders, coaches and families," Notre Dame High School head coach Kevin Rooney said in a press release. "This experience will provide a lifetime of memories for all involved."

Rooney said that he expects the school to send 75 football players and coaches, 100 band members and 12 cheerleaders to take in the event and hopes that plenty of fans will follow.

Those making the trip will get to see a pair of old friends, too. Two current University of Notre Dame players - quarterback Dayne Crist and inside linebacker Anthony McDonald - both played their high school football at the Southern California power.

"Two of our former players will be seniors playing for the University of Notre Dame, so it will be even more special having an opportunity to see them play," Rooney said.

Football is a growing sport internationally. And based on the success of the "World" team in the annual USA vs. The World game in January - when the U.S. team had to hang on to win- it shows the level of play internationally is on the rise.

You don't need to tell that to Belles.

Belles, who was a quarterback on the University of Notre Dame national championship team under Lou Holtz in 1988, played football in Italy before taking the coaching job at Hamilton. He is thrilled by the chance to share the culture of American football with fans from the Emerald Isle.

"We are excited to take our team overseas to take on a challenging opponent and look forward to showing the people of Ireland what top-quality high school football is all about," he said.

The Huskies finished the 2010 season with their third straight Arizona state title and a No. 13 ranking in the RivalsHigh 100.

Belles feels his team should be ready to shine in 2012.

"We will have a very good team to take with us," he said. "Our sophomore class is very good, and could be very special, they will be juniors, and our current juniors, which will then be seniors, should be able to maintain the level of play and expectations we have at Hamilton."

Notre Dame is coming off of a disappointing 2-8 season, but the school had averaged 10 wins a season in the previous five years and should be back to its traditional level of play.

Global Football president Patrick Steenberge hopes to make the event an annual outing for American high school teams.

"It is great to have two prominent and successful high schools to announce as the first schools leading off the GIFT event," he said. "As word spreads about the opportunity to play in Ireland, I continue to receive calls from schools from around the country that are interested in taking part. "

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