Family sports traditions live on away from home

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Family traditions include eating big Christmas dinners, going around the table at Thanksgiving to say what everyone is thankful for and eating herring on Ritz crackers while watching football.

All sports are filled with traditions, for athletes and fans alike. Athletes wear numbers in honor of family members. The same songs are played when baseball players walk to the plate. Fans gather every week, discuss their hopes for the season and just enjoy each other’s company.

For Chelsea Shurilla, a junior from Menomonee Falls, Wis., majoring in piano performance, and Marissa Houdek, a senior from

Chelsea’s dad Larry watches a Packers playoff game while the true-to-size Brett Favre cutout looms in the background. The Favre cutout has graced the Shurilla home during Packers games ever since Chelsea and Marissa were children. (Photo courtesy of Chelsea Shurilla)

Germantown, Wis., majoring in French and history, game days mean business back home. Both were born and raised in Packer country, proudly sporting green and gold during football season and throughout the rest of the year.

Shurilla’s and Houdek’s parents were friends at BYU and remain close today. Houdek said she remembers watching many a game at the Shurilla’s house while growing up, and according to her dad, “If there’s a Monday night Packer game, there is a party at the Shurilla’s house,” and things are only complete with the true-to-size cutout of former Packer’s quarterback Brett Favre to be, as Chelsea’s dad says, “overseer of the game.”

The Shurilla and Houdek families consider “Packer games a time of celebration and feasting.” There are lots of snacks, including the infamous herring, a European delicacy with Scandinavian roots, that Houdek calls “completely disgusting.” Shurilla said she has “never caved and [doesn’t] plan to.”

“I vividly remember [Shurilla’s older brothers] almost throwing up when they tried it for the first time,” Houdek said.

Now that the women are far away from Wisconsin at BYU, they try to keep some of the traditions alive.

“Chelsea and I like to have parties with Wisconsin friends to watch the Packers,” Shurilla said. “Our dads are very proud of us. We text them and they’re usually watching the game together, too.”

College sports give fans plenty to celebrate as well. Jeffrey Sanderson, a junior from Modesto, Calif., majoring in psychology, was born and raised a Cougar fan. His dad went to BYU and his mom grew up in Provo. For Sanderson, game days are practically sacred and the color red makes him cringe. He might wear a red tie around Christmas, but that’s where he draws the line. To him, the dress code at games is a necessity because it is one of the few things people can do to “feel like part of the program.”

“Here are the three rules of the dress code when attending a football game: first, you can’t wear the colors of the team that you’re playing against,” Sanderson said. “Second off, you never, ever, ever wear red. And third, you always wear blue. The dress code still applies [for basketball games] with the exception of wearing white. Blue is still acceptable but it is preferred that you wear white.”

Sanderson and his older brother have a few game day traditions, the biggest being pre-game and post-game conversations. His brother lives in Las Vegas and tries to come to as many football and basketball games as he can, but when he can’t, they’re on the phone talking about everything game related.

“Talking with my brother before and after the game is a big deal,” Sanderson said.  “When I don’t talk about [games] it’s like there’s something significant that’s gone on that I haven’t completely vented about. So if something significant happened in your social life and you feel like you had to tell somebody, that’s kind of how I feel with sports games. I feel like I have to analyze it before and after. If I don’t, it’s not quite the same feeling.”

Family sports traditions always bring back lots of memories spent at home with loved ones. Sanderson even remembers his dad taking the family to the church buildings in the area where they would take advantage of the church’s satellite, along with some of his dad’s friends, to watch BYU football games. Now all grown up, these students look fondly on the past and the traditions they have come to love.

“Packer game nights bring me back to my childhood,” Shurilla said. “You know, sort of magical like Santa, except green and gold.”

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