You've got to feel sorry for Richard Toews. He's caught between a rock and a hard place. It has happened every year around this time for the past three years, and it's about to happen again.
The 20th annual Duckworth Challenge, which pits the volleyball and basketball teams of the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba against each other, begins tonight with the men's and women's basketball teams playing at the U of W's Duckworth Centre.
On Friday night, and here's where Toews comes in, the volleyball teams play at the Investors Group Athletic Centre, and when the resident Bisons take on the Wesmen in the 6 p.m., game, Toews will have to decide whether to cheer from his heart, or his head.
Does the U of W student cheer for the Wesmen, or does he wave the flag for his wife Amy, a six-foot middle blocker with the Bisons.
"I think he's been a great supporter," said Amy.
"Ironically he goes to the University of Winnipeg, but we worked it all out. As far as my games go, he cheers for the Bisons, but any other game it's fair for him to cheer for the U of W."
"I always cheer for her when she is out there," confessed Richard. "We dated for three years before we got married (in May), and the first two seasons I cheered against her, and then I cheered for her when she would play against another team. Lately, though, I have been cheering just for her."
The Duckworth Challenge was started in the 1991-92 season by Henry E. Duckworth (president of the University of Winnipeg from 1971-81 and chancellor of the University of Manitoba from 1986-92). The goal was to profile the intense, but friendly, crosstown rivalry between the two universities.
The basketball portion of the Challenge begins tonight. The women take to the court at 6 p.m., the men at 8 p.m.
The scene shifts to the Investors Group Athletic Centre Friday when Amy and her volleyball Bisons take on the Wesmen women at 6 p.m., followed by the men at 8 p.m.
For the most part, the players treat the Challenge as just another Canada West game, but Amy, who will be playing in her fifth Challenge, believes it brings out the fans.
"I think it's a good thing. We get people from all over the city and the rivalry is increased. At the U of W they sell Bison burgers, and when they come here fans will have shirts with slogans such as, 'Friends don't let friends go to the U of W', or something like that."
Nick Lother, a 5-foot-10 guard on the Wesmen basketball team, agrees.
"Anytime you play against U of M it's a pretty good rivalry," said Lother, who will be playing in his fifth and final Challenge tonight. "At this level it's easy to get up for any game, but the rivalry adds a little bit extra to it."
Wesmen women's basketball coach Tanya MacKay thinks the rivalry is good, but says today's game against the Bisons (3-6) is all about business.
"We played Manitoba back on Oct. 22 and beat them by 18 or 20 points I believe," said MacKay.
"We've both played a lot of games since then, and they're much improved. We're 7-2 and we'd like to be 8-2 going into the Christmas break."
Winnipeg would like to erase the embarrassment of being swept in all four games by Manitoba at last year's Challenge, but six-foot forward Kaitlin Rempel of the Wesmen women's basketball team says it shouldn't change the intensity of a regular cross-town encounter.
"We want it as much as they do and it is always exciting and intense. They are our biggest rivals and we are their biggest rivals, and it will always be a big game for us to play."
As for being swept last year, "It is on our minds," she admitted. "It is not a primary focus, or at the forefront, but it is on the back burner keeping the fires going. It adds to the motivation for the evening."
Another five-year Wesmen veteran, 6-foot-5 post Alex MacIver, doesn't agree.
"Our record speaks for itself," said MacIver. "Last year was last year and this year is this year. You have to put that away when you are playing sports because anyone can win on any given day."
Anytime these two teams meet on the same court, the physical aspect of the game plays a key role, especially under the boards, but MacIver doesn't think it will be any more intense just because it's the Duckworth Challenge.
"There's always a little extra oomph when you play the Bisons," she quipped.