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For Hahns, this year's IND-Mercy matchup continues family tradition

Institute of Notre Dame girls basketball coach Jerry Hahn isn't feeling too emotional heading into Friday night's 47th annual rivalry game against Mercy — at least not yet.

It could be a different story after the game.

For the third and final time, Hahn will coach his daughter, Jen, in "The Game," the showdown that regularly draws at least 4,000 fans to the Towson Center. For the Hahns, "The Game" is as much family tradition as IND tradition. Wife and mother Karen Hahn also played in "The Game" for IND in 1986, coached by her future husband.

Jen has been going since fifth grade and said she expects to be emotional when it's over, too.

"Considering that I'm not going to play college basketball, I know this is probably the last time I'm going to play in front of a big crowd. I want to lead my team as team captain, but definitely, I'm going to leave my heart on the court that game," she said.

Jerry Hahn will leave a little bit of his there, too.

"Maybe at the end of the game, I might look up and say, 'This is the last time,' " he said. "I can picture myself with my arm around her shoulder walking off the court."

Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion, who coached her daughter, Maggie, in "The Game" and also played in it, knows exactly how Jerry Hahn will feel on Friday night.

"You want to freeze time," said Marion, who coached Maggie for the last time in 2009. "You want to take those couple of hours and just freeze it, because of all the other things that go on, you want to have fond memories of sharing that with your daughter. For me and I'm sure for Jerry, we enjoy watching our daughters play, especially in a game that we hold near and dear to our hearts, so there is some kind of sadness, but it's just another part of the journey."

Jen, a 5-foot-7 guard averaging nine points and four assists, grew up with basketball and followed her brother Ryan, 20, onto the court. Her father has coached her ever since, through recreation and Catholic Youth Organization ball to high school, but he's fine with her leaving the game behind when she goes to York College of Pennsylvania next fall.

Planning to major in broadcast journalism, Jen would rather complement her studies with volunteering and studying abroad, although she may play intramural basketball.

Jerry Hahn, whose first stint on the IND sideline lasted from 1982-1993, returned in 2010 to coach Jen's junior varsity team. The following season, they both moved up to varsity.

"It has definitely been special," Jen said. "Not everyone has the opportunity to share this with their father. I can honestly say that I enjoy it. I don't want another coach."

Although both agree Jerry Hahn treats Jen as just another player on the court and as a daughter off the court, there are moments when they need a little help understanding each other's perspective. Fortunately, they have the perfect go-between.

"Sometimes it is a little difficult just because they bring it home," Karen Hahn said with a laugh. "Sometimes I have to play mediator. I've seen both sides, so sometimes I have to interfere."

For Karen Hahn, the intense but friendly atmosphere surrounding "The Game" is something she always wanted her daughter to experience, even though she only played in it once. Then Karen Gower, she transferred from Towson Catholic to IND for her senior year.

"It's a memory that lasts forever," said Karen Hahn, who remembers a "Gower Power" sign in the stands. "I actually enjoy seeing it through her eyes now, because it's a different perspective. Just the enjoyment out of playing, the camaraderie with your teammates and the support you get. It's just a really unique event."

"The Game" caps off a week of spirited activities at both Catholic girls high schools. At the 7:30 p.m. tip off, it will likely be so deafening in the Towson Center, with fans on each side trying to drown out the other, that it will be difficult to hear on the court.

In the middle of all that, the Hahns will try to lead the Penguins to their second straight victory. IND won, 33-32, last year to break a five-game winning streak in the series for the Magic. Mercy, however, leads the series, 29-17.

Jen remembers being overwhelmed when she stepped on the Towson court as a sophomore. Not only was it her first IND-Mercy game, but she had just gotten over mononucleosis and she was a team captain trying to block out the crowd and lead a team of older girls. IND lost that night, but with a win this year, Jen will be 2-1.

"I want to get this win more than anything," she said, "especially with my dad being the coach and with me, his daughter, being that it's my last year."

For father and daughter, the coach-player relationship will last until the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference playoffs the week of Feb. 11. With college ahead, Jen may be more ready to move on than her father.

Like any father, Jerry Hahn will treasure the memories.

"How great it has been, that I get to share so much more time with my daughter and all because of basketball," he said. "I also get to experience with her the ups and downs of basketball and her school life. This is really special. I know the big game will be special, but I think it will hit me at our last game. After all the years coaching her, what will be missed most is that time spent together."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

47th annual 'The Game'

When: Friday night, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Towson Center

Teams: Mercy (5-14, 0-11 in IAAM A); IND (9-6, 4-4 in IAAM B)

Cost: $12 at the door

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