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Ranked Washington rivals may divide families more than politics

Katie Ball, left, sits with  her dad, Earl Whittaker, center,  and sister, Stephanie Berend, in 2004 during Dad’s Weekend at Washington State University. (Kate Ball Courtesy photo / Kate Ball Courtesy photo)
Katie Ball, left, sits with her dad, Earl Whittaker, center, and sister, Stephanie Berend, in 2004 during Dad’s Weekend at Washington State University. (Kate Ball Courtesy photo / Kate Ball Courtesy photo)

Joyce Schroeder threw on her robe and hurried outside in below-freezing temperatures to grab the morning newspaper. It was Nov. 20, 1976, the day the Washington State Cougars would host Schroeder’s alma mater, the Washington Huskies, in the 69th annual Apple Cup at the Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane.

She grabbed the morning paper and hustled back toward her warm house. But she ran right into a locked front door, courtesy of her husband, George.

George is a Cougar from the WSU graduating class of 1970, and he made sure to lock the Husky outside on Apple Cup day. No purple “dawgs” allowed.

“No respect at all!” Joyce wrote in an email. “George was not very popular that day.”

The two had been married for about a month, and Joyce had just moved across the state the year before to live with George in Spokane, where she traded her team of Huskies at UW in Seattle for the East Side of Washington that bleeds Cougar red.

Four decades of marriage and two kids later, Joyce said her husband has proven one thing to her.

“Husky fans are much nicer to Cougar fans than Cougar fans are to Huskies,” she wrote.

Or maybe the Apple Cup has proven that there’s not always great camaraderie among college football fans, especially in families with split loyalties.

Friday’s showdown between the No. 5 Huskies and the No. 23 Cougars will be the 109th time the schools have met in the annual rival game. When the Schroeders travel to Pullman on Black Friday to watch what has been billed the most significant Apple Cup of all time, Joyce can only expect the playful fighting between her and George that has taken place since their first date at the Apple Cup in 1974.

“He would hide my favorite ‘It’s Great To Be a Husky’ button, which really made me irate,” Joyce wrote. “When our kids went with us to the game, we would put them between us so we would not fight or throw punches.”

Now the Schroeder kids are grown and they’ve caused an even deeper divide in the family. Joyce’s son, Nathan, joined Team Dad as a “die-hard Coug fan” when he graduated from WSU in 2007.

But Joyce was able to round up a couple more for her team. Her daughter, Julie, works at UW and will be rooting for a fourth straight Apple Cup win this year for the Huskies.

“(Julie’s) husband is a longtime Husky fan, so two more in my camp!” Joyce wrote.

Friends have asked Joyce and her husband how they managed to get along on Apple Cup days for all these years.

According to Joyce, George’s only response is usually, “I never would have married her if I had known that I couldn’t convert her to be a Cougar.”

He’s forty years too late.

Maybe his bitterness stems from the fact that the Huskies have won 70 Apple Cups, which could make being a Husky in a family of Cougs a bit awkward.

Spokane native Ken Stewart and his wife, Katie, will be heading to Martin Stadium in Pullman this year with Katie’s family. He’ll be the only one in purple.

“I have to be especially quiet, because her family is all Cougar fans,” Ken said.

He and Katie were high school sweethearts from Central Valley High School. But when it was time to leave the Bears and go to college, Katie decided to move to Pullman to attend WSU and Ken headed west to become a Husky.

Ken and Katie managed to put those differences aside when they later married and had three children. And when the time comes, both said they’re OK with their kids choosing either school.

But Katie has one exception.

“Any place but Oregon,” she said. “No Ducks.”

Shelby FitzGerald said she’s also OK with either school when her son eventually heads to college. She and her husband, Ray, both went to Eastern Washington and have lived in Spokane for 10 years, but Shelby grew up rooting for the Dawgs with her family of Huskies in Western Washington and Ray grew up in Whitman County, prime Coug country.

Their son, Robbie, who is only 2 years old, switches sides depending on who dresses him.

“The saddest part is it’s really hard to find Husky gear over here,” Shelby said. Robbie has grown out of all of his UW gear, and the only thing that fits him right now is a little Cougar sweatshirt.

“I guess he’ll be rooting for the Cougars this year,” Shelby said.

Earl Whittaker would probably object to that.

Whittaker’s two daughters, both graduates of WSU, convinced him to sport a red Cougar cap when he went to Pullman from Spokane to watch a football game with his daughters during dad’s weekend in 2004.

But the UW alumnus couldn’t be converted.

“One-time deal,” Whittaker’s eldest daughter, Katie Ball, wrote in an email. “Now that he has my brother at UW, he rocks his purple proudly again.”

Previous Apple Cup matchups have not had as much at stake for both teams as this year, so the rivalries, especially between family members, have always tended to be somewhat lighthearted.

“We always joke in good fun,” Ball said.

But she did make sure to take a photo of her dad in a WSU hat, a small memento 12 years later that proves the die-hard Husky fan has a little space in his heart for a couple of Cougs.

Reporter Jonathan Glover contributed to this article.

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