By the time Jen Staab and Sam Hruz played in The Game for the first time, they knew all about the basketball rivalry between the Institute of Notre Dame and Mercy.
They grew up hearing about the competition, the tradition and the school spirit surrounding what is as much an event as a basketball game, because their mothers also played in The Game, which will tip off for the 46th time Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Towson Center.
"We talk about it all the time," said Hruz, a Mercy junior. "I've been going since I was really little. It was so wild. I had never really been to anything like that before. My mom, she loves it. She wishes she could be out there."
In 1982 and 1983, Marianne (Kelly) Hruz and Connie (McDonough) Staab were out there.
Connie Staab played for IND, which won in 1982, and Marianne Hruz played for Mercy, which won in 1983. Now their only daughters carry on that legacy in the annual contest that has become known simply as The Game. It follows Spirit Week at each school and regularly draws around 3,000 raucous, partisan fans.
"If you win The Game, then you have bragging rights for the whole year," said Connie Staab, who played in it three times. "You have such pride in being out there with your teammates who are your lifelong friends and with your family there. I know this is going to sound corny, but I can't even imagine how my parents must have felt watching me play. I still get emotional watching my daughter play."
Some of those friends might even come from the other side of the court.
Connie Staab and Marianne Hruz continued to play against each other in college, Staab at Loyola and Hruz at the College of Notre Dame, but not long after that, they started playing on the same team in an adult league they still play in today. They became fast friends despite a high school rivalry that lives on.
"[Friday night] we'll root against each other. We'll hug and high five and I'll go to the blue side and she'll go to the red side. Then afterward, we'll say, 'Nice game. See you next week when we play,'" Connie Staab said with a laugh.
For both mothers and daughters, the tradition and the friendships are more important in the long run than the wins and losses, although both girls want to win badly. Sam Hruz's Magic holds a 29-16 lead in the series and has won five straight times, but Jen Staab would like nothing more than to polish off her senior year by breaking that streak.
Still, if you ask each girl what she will always remember about The Game, she won't talk about wins or losses.
"I love how much spirit everyone has," Jen Staab said. "It doesn't matter whether you're a star on the team, your friends are always going to support you. My friends are writing my name on their shirts. Everyone is just so supportive."
"It would definitely have to be the biggest game I'll ever play in and it's just the fact that I get to spend it with my team and my friends," Hruz said. "Me and Jenny both have our parents and our friends, but there are so many other people that come to support you, like my mom has her friend Miss Mary Carol [Fitzgerald] who played and still comes. You know it's just going to carry on after you're gone."
This will be the 16th year The Game is held at the Towson Center after beginning at the Civic Center, now First Mariner Arena, in 1967. Over the years, it moved from the Civic Center to high school gyms, to UMBC and Loyola until it outgrew Reitz Arena in 1996.
It gets so loud in the Towson Center that the Magic practice all week with blaring music in their gym, Sam Hruz said. Connie Staab and Marianne Hruz said the atmosphere might have been louder and even more intense when they played at UMBC.
"At the time, we were the Sharpshooters and they were the Indians," Marianne Hruz said, "and the cheerleaders used to do this thing back and forth and the crowd would get into it. Mercy would say, 'Shoot em' and they would say, 'Scalp em.' Then they would do their Indian call and our cheerleaders had cowboy costumes and they would fire their little cap guns. It's still pretty intense the way it is now, but because of the political correctness of the team names, it doesn't get so rambunctious."
The family theme runs deep through The Game's history. Many mothers and daughters have played in it. IND coach Jerry Hahn's daughter Jen is playing in this year's game and her mother Karen (Gower) Hahn also played at IND. Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion, who played for the Magic in The Game, coached her daughter Maggie, a 2009 Mercy graduate, in it.
As she approaches her final game against Mercy, Jen Staab found herself reflecting on the tradition.
"The game means a lot," she said. "I never really took much time to think about it until it was my senior year, knowing I'm not going to be there next year and how much the big game means to me, that my mom played in it and I have a cousin who wants to go there. The feeling I have is that it's such a family thing."
An earlier version of this article said Jerry Hahn coached the incorrect team. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun