"What's a mother to do?"
That's what the T-shirt read; the one worn by Kathy Simpkins as her daughters' collegiate soccer teams squared off against one another in the NCAA tournament..
Emmy Simpkins, a redshirt freshman at Rutgers, and Callie Simpkins, a freshman at Duke, recently generated a family reunion in Columbia, S.C., where their teams competed in the first round of the tournament on Nov. 13.
The Simpkins moved to Concord in November 2005. They were established high school players in Frederick, Md. and played on prestigious Olympic Development teams there.
In their first season at Northwest Cabarrus, in the spring of 2007, they helped the Trojans return to the state playoffs.
Emmy, a goalkeeper, graduated from high school in 2008 and went off to Rutgers, a Big East Conference leader. A longtime sufferer of joint laxity (loose joints), she had surgery on an ankle with a torn ligament in August 2008, before the Scarlet Knights' season began.
She missed the entire season and red-shirted. Emmy was cleared to play in February and was the backup this season to senior captain Erin Guthrie, an all-American.
A midfielder/forward, Callie graduated from Northwest last spring. As a junior, she verbally committed to Rutgers but changed her mind months later and signed with Duke.
She was the Blue Devils' first player off the bench in their exhibition against Tennessee.
A few days later, at a practice on Aug. 18, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee and was forced to miss the season.
Like Emmy, Callie was forced to redshirt her freshman year.
Ranked 12th in the country with a 13-3-4 record, Rutgers was in the NCAA bracket.
A tournament berth wasn't so certain for Duke, which closed the ACC tournament with an 8-8-1 record, even though it had made six straight NCAA appearances.
Members of the Blue Devils team gathered on campus Nov. 9 to watch the NCAA tournament selection show.
The Scarlet Knights did the same 400 miles away in Piscataway, N.J.
Before the show, Emmy remarked to teammates Maija Savics and Stefanee Pace, "watch us end up playing Duke."
At the same time, with their respective teams, the girls cheered as the brackets popped up on their television screens. They immediately began texting each other and texting their mom Kathy in Concord.
Kathy, who went to one of the girls' games just about every weekend, wasted little time declaring which team she would pull for: neither. She had a long sleeve T-shirt custom made with the Duke logo on one half of the front and the Rutgers logo on the other half.
Across the top, the shirt read "What's a mother to do?"
Kathy did her best to sit as close to the midfield line as possible so that no one would think she was playing favorites.
"That game I was the most quiet I've ever been since the girls have been playing," said Kathy. "I was close enough to the benches they both could probably see me."
The Simpkins sisters got to briefly speak before and after the game. Rutgers won 2-0, and the Duke players had to catch a bus back to Durham.
The sisters, who both graduated from Northwest Cabarrus, have undergone hardships due to injuries, and didn't play in the game. But each says the contest was easily the biggest highlight of their young collegiate careers.
Two days later, Rutgers lost its second round game to host South Carolina, 1-0.
Emmy and Callie say they have discussed with their coaches the possibility of scheduling a game between their teams before they graduate.
Until then, Emmy's got the bragging rights.