Most student-athletes refer to their teammates as family at one point or another in their collegiate careers. For a select few, that statement carries even more weight.
At Yale, 19 varsity student-athletes have had a brother or sister on their team during the 2015–16 year. That means in addition to the years these students spent growing up in the same household, they spend additional years in each other’s close company at daily practices and team commitments.
For some, coming to college with their siblings in tow was a well-thought-out plan; for others, it was no more than an added incentive. But regardless of their motives for becoming Bulldogs, siblings interviewed highlighted the benefits of having a close friend and partner by their side at school, both in practice and the classroom.
“We have always played some kind of sport together, be it soccer, basketball or football,” said football player Derrek Ross ’16, whose identical twin brother Dustin Ross ’16 is also on the football team. “We’ve never not been on the same team.”
The “Ross twins,” as they are often called by their teammates and coaches, are similar in more than just looks. Both are fierce competitors, which they say was influential in helping them develop as scholars and players.
Early on in high school, the two would battle over who had the higher GPA. Currently, the pair of 259-pound linemen are focused on outperforming each other in the varsity weight room, looking to shed weight now that their Yale football careers have come to a close.
“When we are lifting together, I would do 10 reps, and Dustin would say ‘I have to do 11 now,’” Derrek Ross said. “Even now that we are done with football, we are pushing each other all the time.”
Yet that same competitive nature does not run in all families.
Isabelle Rossi de Leon ’17 and Claire Rossi de Leon ’19, although both on the coed and women’s sailing teams, have never experienced a similar sibling rivalry on the water. Quite the contrary, Claire Rossi de Leon spoke to all the lessons she has learned from her older sister, the more experienced sailor of the two.
Isabelle Rossi de Leon began sailing in her native Hawaii when she was seven years old. She fell in love with the sport and although she tried to convince her younger sister to join, it would take Claire Rossi de Leon seven years before she decided to try the sport at the age of 13.
“Our whole team and sport is very family-like,” Claire Rossi de Leon said. “It’s not very competitive so it’s not a huge issue to us. I can see that being a problem in other sports, but for us, it’s never really been a big thing.”
The two sisters were on the same club and high school teams growing up, and although they did not plan to end up at the same college, Claire Rossi de Leon said that having her sister at Yale helped her get to know and love the Yale program.
For the Ross twins, who were applying to college at the same time, the process was different. Because the two were so used to playing and being together, the Cincinnati products knew they would like to play at the same college — and so did their parents.
“Our parents would talk to our coaches and tell them, ‘You better give them the same scholarship,’” Derrek Ross said. “In the end, we had all the same offers and immediately we both fell in love with Yale.”
For others, college provides an opportunity to reunite as teammates.
Lacrosse players Conor Mackie ’18 and Brendan Mackie ’19 played lacrosse before coming to Yale, but because the two brothers attended different high schools, they did not get to play on the same teams. In fact, the two often faced off against each other on the field.
“In high school, whenever we played each other, our parents would be dressed like Christmas trees,” Conor Mackie said. “My school color was green and Brendan’s was red.”
Both the Mackie brothers and their parents are glad that they can once again play on the same team, as they had before high school. Brendan Mackie, who committed to Amherst in his junior year of high school, ultimately decided to switch to Yale. The only reason, he said, was to play with his brother.
Heavyweight crew member Samuel Helms ’18 will also have the experience of sharing a team with his brother come next fall, when Owen Helms arrives at Yale. The two have never been on the same team before; when Owen Helms began rowing, Samuel Helms was already in college.
Samuel Helms noted that his younger brother’s late start in the sport made the thought of becoming teammates unlikely.
“Yale came as a huge shock to both of us,” Samuel Helms said. “Since [Owen] just started last summer, there was never any expectation that we would end up at the same school.”
When asked about the negative aspects of sharing a sport and team, all siblings thought hard but failed to acknowledge any concrete issues. The Rossi de Leon sisters said they “could not come up with anything,” and the Mackies had nothing to add.
The Ross twins were the only ones to provide a retort, saying that whatever the downsides were, the positives far outweighed them. Their postgraduate plans are a testament to how much the two have appreciated their inseparable bond — both will start working for the investment bank Macquarie in New York, at the same building, on the same floor.
“But we will be in different groups!” Derrek Ross added.