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Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion glad to be back in 'The Game' against rival IND

Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion has coach in "The Game" for 28 seasons.
Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion has coach in "The Game" for 28 seasons. (Steve Ruark / Baltimore Sun)

The midseason meeting between the Institute of Notre Dame and Mercy basketball teams is often simply called “The Game” by those involved. Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion knows “The Game” better than most as she’s been involved in it from different angles.

Marion played in it during her high school days at Mercy in the mid-1970’s, coached in it for 28 years and then enjoyed it as an alumnus and administrator after stepping away from coaching five years ago. But now, Marion will be part of “The Game” again.

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She returned to sideline this season at Mercy after that five-year hiatus and can’t wait to coach in “The Game,” which is Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at SECU Arena at Towson University.

“You have to live it, you have to experience it to understand it,” Marion said. “It really is a very, very special night.”

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“The Game” started in 1967 as a pregame event to the-then Baltimore Bullets game at the Civic Center – now known as Royal Farms Arena – and this will be the 53rd edition. Mercy leads the series 30-22.

Sue Thompson, the executive director of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, remains a big fan of the event.

“The Game epitomizes everything that’s great about high school athletics in Maryland,” Thompson said. “It is school pride, young and old. I love seeing all the red and blue [colors of IND and Mercy], as well as watching the students, families and alumnae come alive in support of their alma mater.”

The schools have spirit activities all week, and both coaches said that playing in a college arena adds to the festivities.

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The noise is similar to what you might hear at a concert. The screaming — from students, alumni, parents, interested parties — never seems to stop.

“It’s just fun; the atmosphere is fun,” IND coach Rob DuBose said. “Once you go through it, you enjoy going through it again. Just the whole experience — being in a college arena, the kids really enjoy it a lot.”

The night itself involves the spirit that carries the game but also the chance for the players to enjoy playing on a college court.

That’s why DuBose pushes his players to have fun during the two pregame shootarounds and drills. He wants them to soak up what it’s like to play in a college environment.

“I tell them ‘enjoy the moment,’ ” he said. “It really is fun.”

The players then must deal with blocking out the tidal wave of noise and play the game. La’Shyra Williams, a senior forward from IND, has played in this game three times already and knows all about it.

She said IND alums come and talk to them, the school principal stops by for a chat, but that the Penguins simply need to keep it all together on the court.

“Once the game starts, you don’t worry about anything but what’s going on on the floor,” she said. “You block the fans out. You block the noise out and just play and have fun. It’s an eventful night, and a night that you can’t forget.”

Marion said she’s enjoyed all of her experiences. She loved playing in it as a senior and has enjoyed coaching in it for so long. In fact, Marion said the nights she coached her daughter, Maggie, in 2008 and 2009, proved the most special.

“I think that was the most fun,” Marion said. “I think those two will probably be, for me, the highlights.”

Even those both teams are under .500 now, Marion said that does not matter. It’s still “The Game,” and both schools love it.

“With the venue, with the number of fans with the tradition, it’s huge,” Marion said. “It’s wonderful.”

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