Karen Lin, Photo Editor

In January and February, when all four of the Nweke siblings are in school and in season, moments when they cross paths are usually rare.

Ike Nweke, the oldest, is a senior forward and leading scorer for the Columbia men’s basketball team. Odera Nweke ’23 runs track and field at Yale. Chet Nweke is a sophomore guard for the Princeton women’s basketball team. And Toby Nweke, the youngest sister, is a sophomore in high school playing basketball at Georgetown Visitation in Washington D.C., about an hour’s drive south of the family’s home in Woodbine, Maryland.

Given their occasionally identical athletic schedules — Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball teams, for example, often compete during the same time slots during a given weekend — the fact that Odera had not one but two siblings playing on his campus within the span of four days last week was all the more extraordinary. Ike’s Columbia squad played at Yale on Tuesday, Jan. 25, while Chet and Princeton faced the Bulldogs on Friday, Jan. 28.

But Odera encountered an issue. While Yale’s COVID-19 fan attendance rules permit fully-vaccinated faculty, staff, graduate and professional students to attend games, as an undergraduate, Odera was unable to see either of his Ivy League siblings play in person. During a transition period in campus COVID-19 restrictions — with dining halls now open and faculty and graduate students able to spectate despite all Yale College and Graduate School of Arts and Science classes remaining online through Feb. 4 — the undergraduate-excluding fan attendance restrictions left Odera slightly confused last week. Odera said he did not know the reasoning behind the policy, but thought it was “weird that only undergrads aren’t able to attend any indoor [athletic] events.”

“It was kind of sad,” Chet said after her game Friday night. A sophomore in her rookie season, she scored a point and recorded a steal in 10 minutes off the bench as Princeton built a fourth-quarter lead to beat Yale, 61–49. “I told him just to try and sneak in, but he said that wouldn’t be allowed so I don’t know. … I rarely get to see him so this would have been a perfect opportunity.”

Odera instead followed each basketball game a few blocks away from the John J. Lee Amphitheater in his residential college. When Chet’s game ended, he hopped on a scooter and met her outside the front entrance of Payne Whitney Gymnasium, where light snow flurries had started to drop from the dark sky, for a couple minutes of conversation. She and her teammates then quickly boarded a bus back to Princeton, hoping to avoid the real start of Saturday’s nor’easter. 

Odera could not get the stream working for Chet’s Yale-Princeton women’s game that night, but managed to watch his brother and Columbia face Yale on ESPN+ earlier in the week with some friends in the Berkeley College basement. Despite not being able to spectate live in the Lee Amphitheater, he said watching the game with friends on the first day of a busy opening week to the semester was still fun.

“‘Yeah, your brother’s playing so we have to watch as well,’” he said his friends told him. “So I was like, ‘Ok, I guess we’re all watching,’” Odera said.

“He didn’t have the best start,” Odera later added of his older brother Ike with a subtle laugh. “But I think he finished pretty well.” Yale defeated Columbia, 83–72, and Ike led the Lions with 21 points, 19 of which he scored during the second half. Odera was unable to meet up with Ike, whose team traveled to and from New Haven in one day. 

Senior forward Ike Nweke led Columbia with 21 points when his Lions played at Yale last week. (Tim Tai, Staff Photographer)

Yale’s current fan attendance policies bar the general public and outside guests and visitors from attending sporting events at indoor venues like the Lee Amphitheater, Ingalls Rink and Coxe Cage, where Odera competes with the track and field teams, through Monday, Feb. 21. No spectators attended home games from late December through Jan. 16. After that, fully-vaccinated Yale faculty, staff and graduate and professional students could make their return to arenas. A Jan. 12 announcement detailing these updated guidelines initially included Yale College students in the “Yale community member” contingent permitted to attend games starting Jan. 17, but the release was updated later that day to clarify that undergraduates are not permitted to attend sporting events until Monday, Feb. 7, the first day that Yale College students will return to in-person class.

Yale’s Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications Mike Gambardella did not comment on why the original announcement was adjusted or why undergraduates are allowed back to games at a later date than graduate students following the same timeline for online classes. In a statement, he said that “Yale Athletics continues to follow the guidelines set forth by the Yale CRT [COVID Review Team] with approvals from the Yale Policy Committee.” A representative on the Yale COVID Review Team declined to comment.

The lack of a family pass list at Yale sporting events also prevented Odera and the Nwekes from attending games last week. In a phone interview a couple days after the Yale-Columbia game, Ike said his parents would have also probably attended the game last Tuesday — taking work off early, pulling Toby out of practice and coming up to New Haven — if family guests had been allowed to watch. His parents, Julia and Ike Sr., often hit the road for games and split up to see multiple children if necessary.

“They’ve driven to the most obscure places to watch us play,” Ike said.

Yale, whose recent COVID-19 policies have been stricter than those at most other Ivy League institutions, is currently the only Ancient Eight school that does not allow student-athletes and coaches to invite personal guests like family and friends to attend games that are otherwise closed to the public. Brown continued to allow the public to attend through the Omicron surge. Harvard, Penn and Princeton temporarily closed games to the public, but Princeton continued to allow student, faculty and staff attendance, while the Crimson and Quakers let players and coaches invite guests on a pass list. Harvard reallowed public spectators on Jan. 25, while Penn and Princeton did so on Feb. 1.

The Big Green transitioned from zero spectators to Dartmouth community attendance on Jan. 18 and does not differentiate between undergraduate and graduate students, allowing both groups to attend alongside faculty, staff and players’ and coaches’ guests — either fully-vaccinated or with a negative PCR test within 72 hours. Those attendance restrictions extend through Feb. 9, Dartmouth announced Thursday afternoon, the second-latest date in the league behind Yale’s Feb. 21 — at Yale, “all events, gatherings and meetings of any size” before that date “require advance approval or reapproval by the COVID Review Team or cognizant” health and safety leader, according to the University’s COVID-19 information site. Columbia barred all spectators until Jan. 22, when it began to allow coaches and student-athletes to each invite an unspecified number of fully-vaccinated guests. Lions’ events will open again to the public on Monday, their athletic department announced this week. Yale Athletics declined to comment on whether the University considered allowing coaches and student-athletes to invite a certain number of fully-vaccinated family and friends to attend games.

Some Yale parents attended last weekend’s Harvard-Yale-Princeton swimming and diving meet hosted in New Haven. The athletic department also declined to comment on the details of that arrangement or whether some family members’ presence was the result of a revised spectator policy.

The weekend before the Nweke siblings played in New Haven, Ike said his mother traveled to Columbia to see him play, while his father and youngest sister watched Chet and the Tigers in New Jersey. With those games complete on Saturday, Jan. 22, three scheduling changes combined to make it possible for Odera’s siblings to visit while he was on campus. Ike’s Tuesday night game at Yale, postponed from its original date on Jan. 2 because of COVID-19 issues within the Yale program, was the first midweek Ivy League men’s basketball game the Bulldogs played since 2005. Last weekend’s winter storm then canceled Odera’s originally scheduled Saturday track meet in Boston and moved the Yale-Princeton women’s basketball game up a day to Friday night, Jan. 28. 

Inside JLA, very few faculty, staff and graduate and professional students actually attended either game. Attendance was listed at 50 for the Yale-Columbia game and 60 for the Yale-Princeton matchup.

Chet Nweke, a sophomore guard for the Princeton women’s basketball team, played on her older brother Odera’s campus when the Tigers faced Yale last Friday night. (Courtesy of Sideline Photos/Princeton Athletics)

Four friends at the Yale School of Management, where classes are also online through Feb. 4, enjoyed seeing men’s basketball guard Azar Swain ’22 score 24 points in the first half last Tuesday night. One pointed out that they usually interact with more people going to class than at a game, so the gym, especially with such few fans, could potentially offer slightly safer COVID-19 surroundings than the SOM’s Evans Hall.

“It’s a weird atmosphere, but at least we can go,” Helena Heckschen SOM ’23 said. “I did not expect to be able to go to a game [with online class] to be honest.”

Two years ago, when Ike played in New Haven as a sophomore on the team, Odera was in attendance in late January 2020, cheering for Columbia in the Yale section. For Ike, not having Odera in the stands last week was disappointing but only a minor sacrifice.

“It just kind of sucked because I wanted to see him, talk to him a little bit, but it is what it is,” Ike said. “The COVID pandemic that we’re living in now, you gotta be able to sacrifice a few things, and that’s one thing we’re gonna have to sacrifice for right now. But postseason, since Yale is so close, I’ll definitely make a couple visits up to New Haven before my senior year’s over just to see him more.”

Chet managed to watch several of Ike’s Columbia games when she was still in high school but said she has not had a chance to watch Odera compete in person at Yale — he mainly participates in the long jump, but impressed coaches in the 60-meter sprint during his first year and has continued to run the 60 during the indoor season. Chet added that she follows his times and long-jump measurements in the family group chat, where her parents send live updates when the siblings are not there to support. 

Odera played a little basketball in middle school since his older brother and two younger sisters played, but said he learned he did not like it as much as track — where coaches do not determine playing time and individual athletes instead compete in the events where they excel most. “I’m just the odd one out running track,” he joked. Ike said their parents, who grew up in Nigeria and emigrated to America about 25 to 30 years ago, never played basketball either. Their mother was a dancer, while their father ran track and played soccer in high school.

“It got to a point where, no matter whether or not it was being taught at home or not, we were just gonna go out there and play the game that we loved, do the sport that we loved because that was something that we just enjoyed,” Ike said.

As the winter season stretches on, all four siblings, despite being dispersed on four different campuses now, are still doing the same.

Ike and Columbia men’s basketball host Penn and Princeton this weekend; Chet and her Tigers face Cornell and Columbia; Toby has a Georgetown Visitation hoops game on the schedule for Saturday afternoon and Odera travels to Harvard and Boston University with the Bulldogs’ indoor track and field squad.

Olivia Tucker contributed reporting.

William McCormack covered Yale men's basketball from 2018 to 2022. He served as Sports Editor and Digital Editor for the Managing Board of 2022 and also reported on the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he was in Timothy Dwight College.