A Family Divided

When Marquette and Wisconsin tip off in the annual state battle, family's school allegiances are often put to the test. For one member of the Bronson family, Marquette-Wisconsin is the worst day of the year.

MADISON – Whenever the state basketball schedule is released, Wisconsin basketball fans frantically search for that cold day in December, a day when Wisconsin's Big East representative meets its Big Ten competitor.

That day is this Saturday, when Marquette travels to Madison to take on Wisconsin in a rivalry that has been contested since 1917.

It's not only a huge deal on the basketball court, as the game usually has national implications and bragging rights on the line, but it's a national holiday for Marquette and Wisconsin basketball diehards. More often then not, Badger and Golden Eagle/Warrior bloodlines run deep and can easily split a family's loyalty in two.

Senior guard Tanner Bronson is a first-hand observer of how thick school bloodlines run, as his family is easily split right down the middle, with the family tree intertwined in cardinal and gold.

Tanner's father, Wally, played tennis at Wisconsin, his aunt, Wendy, and uncle, Ted, attended Madison and Tanner's grandfather played basketball and football for the Badgers.

His sister, Corey, played basketball for the Golden Eagles from 1996-2000 and his mother, Jody, is the women's tennis coach at Marquette.

Needless to say, this game is important in the Bronson family.

"It's a big deal in the sense that we have a lot of family in the state that will be able to come to this game," Tanner said. "It's just exciting to be apart of an in-state rivalry like this."

But while the rest of the family finds joy and excitement when Marquette and Wisconsin play, Jody's feelings are a stark opposite.

Growing up a huge fan of Al McGuire and the Marquette teams of the 1970s, Jody and Wally would go to the Warrior games when they were dating. The pair watched Marquette win the 1977 championship on television and went to the General Mitchell Airport when the team arrived to be there to congratulate and celebrate with the team.

His parents had season tickets for many years and since that time, the couple started following Marquette and getting excited about Marquette basketball.

According to Jody, there was never a real love interest between the Badger basketball team and her husband until the mid 90s, as then-head coach Dick Bennett began to lead a renaissance in Madison.

"When he (Wally) was there, the (Wisconsin) program wasn't doing well," Jody said. "With him having played tennis at Wisconsin and always been a big fan of football and basketball, he was definitely into Marquette basketball then and since Wisconsin has improved, he's a very big Badger fan now."

But while Wally had no problem changing his allegiance back to the Badgers, Jody's situation is a touch more complex.

So much so that for the past four years, the day of the I-94 rivalry is the worst day of the year.

Being the longest tenure coach among the 14-sport programs at Marquette, Jody has led the women's tennis team to three conference championships, six runner-up finishes and was named the ITA's Midwest Region Coach of the Year in 1999. Needless to say, Jody's connection with the Marquette athletic program is severe.

"She's been working there for so many years and she has a close connection with Marquette, so I understand that obviously," Tanner said. "It's an interesting thing, because she's always there to support me and Marquette athletics."

So when Tanner decided to follow in his father and grandfather's footsteps by going to Madison, determined to walk on to the team and prove himself, Jody knew that, while she could cheer for him 364 days out of the year, there was going to be that one day where life became extremely complicated.

"From the standpoint of the family, they are obviously cheering for Tanner because that side of the family has so many Wisconsin ties," Jody said. "It's hard for me because I am so tied to (Marquette) for 23 years and I believe in the athletic program here. For me, it's a very tough situation. I want my son's team to do well and I want Marquette to do well."

So for the last three years, Jody sits stone-faced at the Bradley Center or the Kohl Center and agonizes through the game. She doesn't overly cheer, jump up and down or even let out a muffled scream. Nope, the only thing she wants is for the game to be over and, maybe, see her son get some time on the floor.

"I do not get enjoyment out of that game," Jody said. "I feel very conflicted. I don't wear blue and I don't wear red. I want both teams to perform well, be a great game and be a battle down to the end. I'll be glad that I won't have to witness it was my son on the team after this.

"I could never cheer against Marquette or against Wisconsin."

The Bronsons are just one example of hundreds of families every year that have cardinal and gold connections. Whether it is from attending the school or jumping on the bandwagon as a child, every person is a Badger or a Warrior at heart.

While the series was dominated by Wisconsin in the 40s and Marquette winning 15 straight in the 70s, the Badgers and now-Golden Eagles have caught up with each other in terms of competition. Having both made the Final Four this decade and with both teams a constant presence on the national level, fans that were once connected to both schools are now forced to pick what side of the fence they stand on.

After all, there can't be two number-one basketball teams throughout Wisconsin, which makes this annual battle exciting for fans to watch.

"A lot of families are separated because so many people go to Marquette and Wisconsin that it's good for the state in general to have two good basketball teams that can be showcased," Tanner said. "It's exciting for all the fans in the state to have a side to cheer on and that the nation can watch.

"Every year, it's another battle, no matter who is ranked this or that," he added. "It's always going to be a good game, no matter what."

So when the Badgers face Marquette this Saturday in Madison, thousands of people from around the state will be donned in the cardinal or gold, glued to their television screens to see which team will have bragging right for another season.

All those fans except Jody Bronson, who will be sitting quietly despite hundreds of people yelling, screaming and shouting around her.

After this year, however, she'll gladly become one of those fans again.

"I will probably be cheering for Marquette in this game as soon as he graduates," Jody said.

Some old habits just never die.

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