Mary Conley sat up in her wheelchair and looked down to the court where the Creighton Bluejays were warming up across from the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
This felt all too familiar.
Conley remembered 70 years ago when she packed up her belongings and moved from her home in Spokane to Omaha, Nebraska, to attend Creighton University’s School of Pharmacy. Midway through her freshman year in 1947, the Zags made a trip to Creighton to take part in the first meeting between the Jesuit schools.
The Zags, who ended up falling to Creighton 32-29, brought Conley a piece of home, something she had longed for since moving several states away.
“That game, I was just so glad to see somebody from home,” said Conley, who transferred to Holy Names the following year to be closer to home.
Now 70 years later, the 88-year-old found herself right back in the center of the Gonzaga-Creighton basketball scene, when the Bluejays visited Spokane to go head-to-head with the Zags on their home court for the first time in nine meetings.
It was a clash between a pair of schools that have defined a significant part of her family’s history.
Conley comes from a long line of Bulldogs and Bluejays. Her grandfather first moved to Spokane to give his children a higher education at a Jesuit university. All of his children attended Gonzaga in the early 1900s when Gonzaga was reserved for men only. But even his daughters attended Gonzaga as nuns, which was the only way women could get an education at the school at the time.
One son, James “Jimmie” Condon, Conley’s father, helped start a long Condon-Conley family legacy that stretched between Gonzaga and Creighton. Condon became a three-sport letterman at Gonzaga from 1914 to 1918 and captained his teams in football, baseball and basketball. When the school fell into financial troubles, Condon was the volunteer coach of all three teams, including the GU basketball team in the 1917-1918 season.
Condon, who eventually headlined Gonzaga’s 1995 Hall of Fame class, went on to graduate from Creighton University Medical School and returned to the northwest to practice in Spokane.
Conley’s brothers followed their father’s footsteps to an undergraduate degree at Gonzaga before moving to Creighton to attend the university’s dental school.
“We have an interesting history. A lot of history,” Conley said. “Our life has been pretty much centered around Gonzaga.”
The lower generations of the Condon-Conley family continued the long history of Zags. Several of Conley’s cousins, a few of her 11 children, and even a number of her 93 grandchildren and great-grandchildren fell into the family tradition and attended Gonzaga for undergraduate and Master’s degrees.
Two of Conley’s children now work at Gonzaga, and they get her inside the Kennel to see her favorite basketball team play as often as possible. But with so many Gonzaga fans in the family, Conley only gets to go to a few games a year.
Conley’s children Mary Mealey, who works in the Gonzaga vice president’s office, and engineering professor Bob Conley are only given one guest ticket apiece to games, which forces the pair to choose their guests carefully.
“We knew she wanted to be at the Creighton game. It’s hard for her to get to go to a game, but it was a really important for her to come to see the Creighton team,” Mealey said. “The Gonzaga-Creighton connection is very deep in our family, so we had to be at this game.”
Even with split loyalties, Conley didn’t hesitate to tell anyone within earshot who she was rooting for on Friday night.
“Gonzaga,” Conley said. “ But I like the Bluejays too. It was fun being a Bluejay for a year.”
But it was certainly more fun being a Gonzaga fan on Friday. The No. 15 Bulldogs rallied in the second half and toppled No. 25 Creighton 91-74.
It was a win much different than she remembered from decades ago when the small schools were built up with undersized gyms and small crowds. That’s especially true for Gonzaga, which now has a multi-million dollar arena that can house 6,000 fans.
“There’s quite a difference now. It’s not a little school gym like Gonzaga used to have,” Conley said.
What’s most shocking for Conley is the student section, which took up seven lower-half sections inside the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday. Conley pointed over to the Kennel Club in disbelief as she watched the students draped in red and blue scream for the Zags and shake the stands with their rhythmic jumps.
“I don’t understand how it’s not collapsing,” Conley laughed.
The arenas might have grown quite a bit over the decades, but her love for the teams haven’t changed much since she was a child – especially for her Zags.
“It’s exciting. I love it. I love basketball and enjoy watching it,” Conley said. “I get to come to a few of the games and it’s always really exciting.”
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