CMU/WMU rivalry brings out mixed emotions from teams and students

Central Michigan junior guard Shawn Roundtree brings the ball up the court against Western Michigan on Feb. 20 at University Arena.

When the final buzzer sounds and the lights turn off, the stadium sits empty and quiet just like after any ordinary game.

However, for the 45 minutes the Central Michigan and Western Michigan basketball teams went at each other on Feb. 20 at University Arena in Kalamazoo, it was anything but silent.

Both teams exchanged blows at each other until the final whistle, and it was the Broncos who came out on top in overtime, 83-81.

CMU head coach Keno Davis said the Chippewas never circled this game on their schedule.

“Playing the way we did here says a lot because for Western Michigan, it’s the game they circle and talk about all year,” Davis said. “We talk about it a little bit, but for us the focus is more on championships and a culture.”

While the Chippewas may view the game as just another one on the schedule, not everyone around the rivalry feels the same way.

University Arena is about 144 miles from the campus of CMU. On a Tuesday night with classes the next day, that didn't stop three CMU students — Grant McPherson, Nick Gembarski and Shayn Campbell — from making the drive to watch the Chippewas play their rival.

McPherson, a 21-year-old senior majoring in journalism at CMU, said this game just means a little more.

“When you beat Western, you just feel a little more than other wins,” McPherson said. “I don’t know how to express it enough, you can’t really put it into words.”

Gembarski, a 22-year-old senior majoring in history, agreed with McPherson and said the game means more to him than any other team the Chippewas compete against.

“It’s respect and hatred at the same time,” Gembarski said. “There is no other team I’d rather watch us beat. It would be worth a four hour drive.

“If you're a fan of either team and you're only going to go to one game, it’s going to be this one.”

The love and hate relationship between the two programs stretches to WMU students as well.

Brandi Rohlfs, a 21-year-old senior majoring in psychology, said the rivalry brings WMU’s community together.

“No matter what day it is or who we are competing against, we never like the Chippewas,” Rohlfs said. “In high school I went to CMU for band days and may have said ‘Fire Up Chips’ a time or two and meant it. Now, I’d never ever say that.”

The Chippewas couldn't convert a pair of put-back shots to tie the game to force a second overtime, resulting in a WMU win.

Broncos senior guard Thomas Wilder, who scored 11 of his 22 points in overtime, said he wouldn't expect any less of an effort from CMU.

“I really didn't want to lose this game, I’m not going to lie I didn't want to go out my last time playing at home against Central with a loss,” Wilder said. “They have really good players over there and did a good job of changing up ball screens and making us work.”

CMU junior guard Shawn Roundtree, who was tied with Kevin McKay for a team-high 18 points, said he doesn't let himself get too choked up over the rivalry. 

“I know the atmosphere is going to be really intense, but I try to stay level-headed and treat it like every other game,” Roundtree said. 

WMU head coach Steve Hawkins said it doesn't matter how the teams have been performing during the rest of the season. He expects a close game every time out.

“It’s Central and Western. There is going to be interest in the game,” Hawkins said. “I think everyone will do what they have to do to be at their best. 

“Keno has done a great job with that team and tonight was a difficult game for us, but would you expect any less?”

The second game between these two opponents will be at 7 p.m. on March 2 at McGuirk Arena.