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A house divided by the St. Joe's-'Nova Holy War

IT WAS THE EVENING of April 1, 1985. She called her then-boyfriend to see if he wanted to come up the few miles from his campus to her campus to celebrate. He just could not bring himself to do it.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright (left) and Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli. (Staff photos)
Villanova head coach Jay Wright (left) and Saint Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli. (Staff photos)Read more

IT WAS THE EVENING of April 1, 1985. She called her then-boyfriend to see if he wanted to come up the few miles from his campus to her campus to celebrate. He just could not bring himself to do it.

They went to what is now called Council Rock North and started going out not long before graduating in 1983. Then, he stayed local for college and she went to Purdue, not far from Chicago, where her family was moving after high school.

After 1 year, she decided the distance was too great and made plans to transfer back to the Philly area. She remembered crying a lot, missing her boyfriend. She did not want to make it too obvious why she was returning, so she did not choose his school. Instead, she chose the school at the other end of Lancaster Avenue, the one that would celebrate that national championship in the spring of their sophomore years. They graduated college in 1987 and got married in 1989.

Fast forward to last summer. Scott and Missy Gilbert's 18-year-old twins were setting off for college. Their son Ryan was going to Saint Joseph's, his father's school. Their daughter Sarah was going to Villanova, her mother's school.

So, Tuesday night, we have the Gilberts of Bucks County, three watching on ESPNU, Ryan while studying for a final, and Sarah in the Pavilion for Villanova-St. Joseph's.

All the Gilberts except Christine (a junior at Maine who thought about Villanova but maybe knew she did not want to complicate this any further), were in their Furlong home (just east of Doylestown) Sunday afternoon, going back in time while considering the present.

"He wouldn't come to Villanova for any parties, having to do anything with basketball," Missy said. "I guess I found myself not going to St. Joe's."

Two weeks ago, Scott was able to put a Villanova T-shirt on, something he thought would be impossible. Missy took a picture and sent it to his best friend from high school who went to Villanova, with the caption, "I win."

Scott was told he could not deny his youngest daughter, so he went and did it.

Ryan's decision to attend SJU was easy, he said. He knew the school long before it was time to make a decision.

"I'd been going there since a young age with [Scott]," Ryan said. "I liked the environment and the pride they have in basketball."

Scott played baseball at SJU with Jamie Moyer (he a freshman, Moyer a junior). Ryan is a pretty good baseball player himself who considered walking on at St. Joe's before choosing not to.

Neither parent made any college suggestions, telling the twins to pick where they were most comfortable, Missy said.

"It was a sense of pride, two very good schools," Scott said.

Getting your child into schools like SJU and Villanova is difficult, given how competitive it is.

"I guess I really liked the location," Sarah said of her choice. "It was close to home and close to a major city. My mom went there and I feel like we're similar so if she liked it, I figure I would like it too, and I do."

If his mom had suggested Villanova for him, Ryan was not going for it.

"Villanova's not really my style," Ryan said.

Why not?

"Too preppy."

St. Joe's?

"I like it because everybody's pretty normal and it's right near Philly," Ryan said.

It did not bother Ryan when his older-by-2-minutes sister said she was going to Villanova.

"I didn't really mind it that much," Ryan said. "I don't hate Villanova, because my mom went there."

Missy and Sarah went for a tour of Villanova and Sarah said, "she was the one who showed me around. Maybe, she was a little biased, but I really loved the campus and everything she told me about it."

Missy still enjoys being on campus.

"What is not to love?" she said.

Sarah is not really a basketball fan, but she "loves to go to games just to be a part of it."

She was at the Temple-Villanova game last Wednesday. And she will be the lone Gilbert at the game Tuesday night, wearing her Villanova gear, "representing."

Beyond the family, there are more than a few Villanova-SJU connections. Scott's parents are best friends with Villanova coach Jay Wright's parents. Scott played Little League baseball with Jay. So Scott followed Jay's coaching career closely.

"You kind of ease off the animosity because you're kind of rooting for a person you knew when you were a kid," Scott said.

Sarah and Ryan graduated from Central Bucks East before heading to opposite ends of Lancaster Avenue. Times have changed since their parents were in college.

"When I went to St. Joe's, the perception was St. Joe's was sort of the working man's university and Villanova was more [for] the wealthy," Scott said. "I think there is some of that, but now knowing the tuition and the financial commitment at both schools, I wouldn't necessarily think that's the same, at least from an expense standpoint."

With the advent of the Internet, message boards and the anonymity they provide, some of the great rivalry has taken on a harder edge. In the Gilbert household, however, it is fun, just like it was always supposed to be.

"I remember going to the Palestra as a kid when they used to have the doubleheaders," Scott said. "That was just an amazing experience. I understood the whole rivalry once I got there. My freshman year, I think some seniors stole the Wildcat head just before the game."

Still, there will always be 1985. That changed the equation.

"I was in a dorm room watching and when we won, it just exploded," Missy said. "We went out to Lancaster Avenue and I remember people were up on all the light poles."

Missy called her parents and is pretty sure she called Scott.

"I don't know if you were all that happy or not," Missy said to her husband.

He remembers not being upset, but not really being thrilled.

"It was just one more thing that they could dig into us, 1985," Scott said.

Nearly 2 decades later, SJU was right there with a chance at an NCAA championship of its own.

"They were within a basket of getting to the Final Four," Scott said.

"I was cheering for you," Missy reminded him. "I wanted you to be happy."

So the Villanova grad jumped on the Hawks bandwagon in 2004.

"I loved the story," Missy said.

Villanova-St Joe's.

There is always a story or a thousand.

And even a story of the parents whose twins followed them to their alma maters, a quarter century after they graduated, the next generation at the two Catholic schools with the great basketball traditions.

There is also this. The Gilberts are on their second generation of Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs.

The original was named Hawk. The second, of course, is named 'Nova.