Thursday, January 28, 1999

Couples in Crosstown cross-fire

Annual shootout has some beloved Bearcat and Musketeer alumni at odds

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rick Thomas-Harmon of Norwood is a Xavier grad and his wife, Lori, a UC grad.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Once upon a time, they gazed earnestly into each other's eyes and repeated their wedding vows. They promised to love and to honor, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till the Crosstown Shootout do us part.

        Or something like that.

Jody Buelterman and husband Jason show their colors.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Tonight, the Xavier University Musketeers will play the University of Cincinnati Bearcats at UC's Shoemaker Center in one of the most heated games of the season: the annual Crosstown Shootout.

        May the best team win.

        May these intercollegiate marriages survive.

        A University of Cincinnati flag hangs at the entrance of Rick and Lori Thomas-Harmon's Norwood home.

        The flag belongs to Lori (UC class of '89; master's in '96).

        Rick (Xavier class of '88) owns a blue and white XU flag, but it's nowhere in sight. He recalls having a conversation in which they decided that the winning team's flag would be flown ...

        “No, we didn't,” Lori says. “This is the house I was born and raised in. There's never been a Xavier flag flying from the staff, and there never will be ... ”

        “My Xavier flag has flown out there,” Rick says.

        “No, it has not.”

        “It has, too.”

        “It has never ... ”

        Rick, 32, is a program director for the YMCA. Lori, 33, is a school teacher. They will mark their fourth wedding anniversary in July.

        They always watch the Crosstown Shootout on TV, but one year they got tickets for the game at Cincinnati Gardens.

        “It was terrible,” says Lori.

        “It was great,” says Rick.

        Xavier won that year.

        “I was surrounded by a bunch of (Xavier) season ticket holders,” Lori says. “And I'm the only one in black shorts and a red sweater screaming, "UC!'

        “He will not go to Shoemaker Center (for a game),” Lori says. “He'll do anything else for me in the world, but I can't get him to do that.”

        Tonight, they probably will watch the game at the Mound Cafe in Norwood. UC fans likely will outnumber Xavier fans, “but that's OK, I can handle it,” Rick says.

        “My prediction is UC all the way,” says Lori.

        “I'd be crazy to say anything but Xavier,” says Rick.

        They agree on this: The game will pivot on emotion.

        Of which, Rick and Lori have plenty.

        The Knights of Columbus hall in Lima, Ohio, will be hopping tonight. Fifty to 60 people will chow down on Skyline Chili, then whoop it up as they watch the Crosstown Shootout on TV.

        All because of Tracey Riepenhoff, a 35-year-old structural engineer (UC class of '86; UC master's degree, '87) and her husband, Bob, 50, (XU class of '70) who co-owns a janitorial business that covers three states.

        Flashback to Nov. 26, 1996: The Shootout was not on TV in Lima, so the Riepenhoffs drove to a bar in Vandalia to watch. “Our deal was, whoever lost had to drive back,” says Bob.

        His underdog Musketeers defeated the No. 1-ranked Bearcats that night. “So I'm on the (car) phone,” he says, “and I'm calling my daughter, and I'm calling all my friends in Cincinnati, and I'm going absolutely ape.”

        “He was obnoxious as heck coming back,” Tracey says, laughing.

        “We get home,” Bob recalls, “and she says, "I'm never going to watch that game alone with you the rest of my life.'”

        A party was born. Now, Lima-area alumni of both schools get together to watch the game, along with friends of the Riepenhoffs from as far away as Vermont.

        Jason Buelterman can rub his wife the wrong way with one word:


        “All year long he calls it Eggs-avier of Ohio, to bother me,” 24-year-old Jody Buelterman says, chuckling at the thought.

        It was bad enough when she worked in Xavier's admissions office, and heard the name mispronounced by strangers. Now she's an assistant alumni director, and has to hear it from her husband.

        “It gets under her skin,” says 25-year-old Jason (UC class of '96). “It gets under her mom's skin. You just keep doing it because you know it bugs 'em.

        “It's all in fun,” he says, but not before predicting that the Muskies are “going to get smoked” in this year's Shootout. “I don't know how Xavier can beat (UC). Of course, I said that when UC was No. 1.”

        The Bueltermans have been married just six months. Says Jody: “The alumni I work with always joke with me and say I have a mixed marriage.”

        Jason, though, admits to rooting for “Zavier” when they're not playing UC. He is, after all, pursuing a master's degree there.

        Tom Uhl and his wife, Mary Spraul-Uhl, were high school sweethearts. They dated through college — he's a UC grad, class of '85; she's XU class of '84 — then tied the knot in June 1985.

        “It's a great marriage,” says Tom, 37, who is president of a property-management firm, “but this is the one thing we always disagree on.”

        UC or Xavier. Who's basketball team is better?

        Over the years, the Mount Lookout couple has made some friendly bets. The winner might get exclusive use of their one-car garage for a week. Or the loser might have to wear the rival team's colors to an alumni event, as Tom did a couple years ago.

        “I made an appearance briefly with a Xavier cap, and then lost it.”

        The cap, that is.

        Truth be told, “We're big supporters of each other's schools,” says Mary, 36, a human resources manager. She often attends UC events with Tom, who is a member of UC's alumni board of governors and president of UC Friends of the Library. Likewise, Tom helped her out when she was president of Xavier's alumni board of governors.

        The Rev. James Hoff, Xavier's president, is a family friend. He baptized their 2-year-old son, Thomas Edward Uhl II.

        Still, Tom can't resist pointing out that the toddler “doesn't say "Go Muskies,' but he knows how to say "Go Bearcats!'”

        Eyebrows were raised 22 years ago when Xavier grad Joe Ventura, a lifelong Xavier fan raised in a Xavier family, began dating a University of Cincinnati cheerleader.

        “My Xavier friends were a little bit skeptical,” he says, “until they met her, and then I think that quickly dissipated.”

        Good thing, because he eventually asked her to be his wife. Joe and Julie Ventura have been married 14 years.

        “He's always been nice about me being from UC, even though it was kind of hard for him, I think,” Julie, 42, says. “He and his friends are diehard Xavier fans.”

        Julie was a varsity UC cheerleader from 1975 to 1977. Although a sports fan, her real love is the arts; she was a dance major at UC's College-Conservatory of Music and danced with the Cincinnati Ballet.

        She and Joe, 47, were introduced by a mutual friend. She no doubt has endeared herself to her husband's Xavier buddies, given comments like this: “I like basketball a lot, and I always cheered really hard for the UC team, but I've grown to love Xavier's basketball program also.”

        Joe (XU class of '73) is executive director of Xavier's national alumni association. Julie, who has bachelor's and master's degrees from UC ('78 and '80), is an assistant Montessori teacher. They have a 6-year-old son.

        Julie says Joe is “thrilled when Xavier beats UC. I just like to see a good game; whoever wins, wins.”

- 'Let's get ready to rrrrmmmmbbbbllll'
For UC and XU, this is personal
Sure it's too big, but that's why it's fun
Harrick's analysis: XU 'certainly underdog'
UC asks OK to delay tipoff
Xavier front line must bring its 'A' game
Couples in Crosstown cross-fire
Rivals join hands for Crosstown Helpout

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shootout logo
Xavier (15-4) at
Cincinnati (18-1)

• 9:30 tonight.
• UC's Shoemaker Center (13,176).
• Radio: WLW-AM (700); WKRC-AM (550).
• Line: UC by 13.
• Series: UC leads 43-22.

Today's coverage
'Let's get ready to rrrrmmmmbbbbllll'
For UC and XU, this is personal
Sure it's too big, but that's why it's fun
Tim Sullivan column
Harrick's analysis: XU 'certainly underdog'
UC asks OK to delay tipoff
Xavier front line must bring its 'A' game
Crosstown Notebook
Couples in Crosstown cross-fire
Rivals join hands for Crosstown Helpout

Previous coverage
Huggins keeps focus on court
Huggins era in review
Xavier seniors hold 2-1 edge
'Shootists' don't share fanaticism
Shootout Notebook
UC's Land fighting uphill battle
XU's McIntosh schools 'em
UC was option for XU's Frey
Another XU win would be divine
Shootout goes coast to coast
ESPN disregards Xavier and UC fans
Shootout Notebook
Shootout 'bigger than the calendar'
Crosstown highlights

Season's coverage