Some days, members of the Warinner family proudly wear red.
Other days they choose to suit up in green.
But most of the time, the Warinners simply wear blue in support of the Kansas University football team for which father, Ed, is the offensive coordinator.
These days, blue is the safest color for the family to wear.
That’s because the Warinners’ two daughters play soccer at rival high schools. Madisyn, a sophomore, is a forward for Free State High. Merideth, still a freshman at Southwest Junior High, has been called up to the varsity team at Lawrence High, where she plays in the Lions’ midfield.
Thursday, for the first time in their prep careers, the two will square off against each other as LHS plays host to Free State at 4 p.m. in this year’s edition of the city showdown.
It’s not the first time the two sisters have played on opposite sides of the pitch, but they haven’t been opponents long enough for the prospect of facing each other to be anything short of odd.
“I probably will notice her when I first walk out there,” Madisyn said. “And I’ll probably secretly wave to her or something like that. But once it starts, we’ll probably forget about it and focus on playing the game.”
Added Merideth, the quieter of the two who didn’t utter a word until she was 3 because Madisyn always spoke for her: “I’m not going to be less aggressive just because she’s my sister.”
Unlike the handful of other games that have pitted sister against sister, this one will come packed with the emotion and energy of a longstanding, fierce rivalry behind it. It rarely matters what the sport is or what the state of the teams; when Lawrence High and Free State get together, things can get crazy.
That’s something Madisyn and Merideth are more than aware of, even though they spent most of their childhood moving around the country as their dad changed jobs. There’s a chance, given the girls’ background, that Thursday’s showdown won’t rattle them one bit.
“Rivalries … we’re used to them,” Madisyn said.
From Army-Air Force to Kansas-Missouri or Illinois-Ohio State, these daughters of a football coach have seen plenty of heated games and all-out battles throughout the years. They’re expecting another Thursday.
From the time the girls first began playing soccer, it was clear that the world’s most popular sport would become their favorite. Madisyn netted three goals in her first game at age 4. Not to be outdone, Merideth scored 11 goals in her debut, at the tender age of 3.
“I think she had a leg up on the other kids because she had watched her sister play,” the girls’ mother, Mary Beth Warinner, said. “Soccer has been an anchoring factor for them over the years, and it’s always been a great way for them to get involved in the community and meet other kids. They’ve moved around a lot, but they’ve always had each other to play soccer with.”
Despite being called “very competitive” by their mother, the girls carry with them a sunny disposition. They smile a lot, laugh often and genuinely seem to root for each other. That won’t change Thursday just because they’re on opposite sidelines. But it might change briefly before then.
“Come Wednesday night, there might be a little tension in the house,” Madisyn said.
According to Mary Beth, there already has been some.
“There have been a few salty remarks around the house, ‘We’re gonna beat you,’ stuff like that,” said Mary Beth, who requested that the reasons the sisters play for rival high schools remain private. “But I think they’re just really excited and looking forward to it.”
Perhaps more so than mom. At most games this season, Mary Beth has been able to don the appropriate colors for the daughter she was watching. No matter what the circumstances, it has been perfectly acceptable for her to scream for the Lions one day and the Firebirds the next.
She won’t be so lucky Thursday.
“If you want to know where I’m sitting, I’m sitting in the middle,” Mary Beth said. “I’ll wear KU blue. You have to remain neutral. The parents of some of the other players have even suggested that I take a sweatshirt of each school and tear it in half and wear that.”