Family ties remain tangled on NESCAC playing fields

Sibling rivalries dominate childhoods and drive parents crazy, but most of the time they end after brothers or sisters go their separate ways. Not so when those brothers or sisters play the same sport for different NESCAC schools. For these siblings, going to colleges that compete against one another begins an athletic rivalry that pits family loyalty against school loyalty, with some interesting consequences.

Varsity soccer player Sam Denton-Schneider ’09 is two years older than his brother, Bowdoin varsity soccer midfielder Ben Denton-Schneider. Even though Sam began his soccer career first, at this point in college Sam good-naturedly admits that Ben seems to have surpassed him, joking that, at the brink of graduating, he’s “washed-up.”
In all seriousness, Sam explained that he believes Ben took their shared soccer experiences – soccer camp as kids as well as playing on high school and club teams – a notch higher because of the younger-brother dynamic. “He is better than I am, but I think younger brothers are better a lot of the time,” Sam said. “They want to be like their older brothers, but then they also want to overcome them.” Ben, who was named Rookie of the Year last year and made both First Team All-NESCAC and Third Team All New-England this year, seems to be on his way to doing just that.

Although Sam and Ben attended different high schools, they never had the opportunity to play against each other. It wasn’t until college that the athletic rivalry began. “When Ben got into Bowdoin, it dawned on me that now we might actually play against each other,” Sam said.

Matt Masucci ’11 either debunks Sam’s younger-brother theory, or else both Sam and Matt are too humble – Matt said that if he had to choose, his two-years-older brother Ryan of Trinity is the better ice hockey player. “He’s not much better,” Matt clarifies, “but he has more points than me and so he gets the nod.”

Matt and Ryan’s father started them off with a local learn-to-skate program at the age of three, and from there both boys progressed to playing on a youth hockey team in their town. However, with Matt being two years younger than Ryan, they never played on the same team. That opportunity came Ryan’s senior and Matt’s sophomore year at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, Mass., and that year the team won the 2004 state championship. “It was a great experience for both of us,” Matt said. “Ryan assisted on my first goal and the expression of joy on his face during the celebration is one I will never forget.”

Of course, brothers will be brothers, and that’s where the rivalry comes in: “That season was tough for him, too,” Matt said. “He was getting recruited by colleges and having a small sophomore on his line frustrated him and led to family feuds often.”

Matt and Ryan experienced a new kind of rivalry when Matt became an Eph and began playing ice hockey against his Bantam brother. “When it comes to playing against each other, it is really tough not just for the two of us, but for the whole family,” Matt said. “My oldest brother, Rick, went to Trinity and graduated in 2006, and so it was an easy decision for Ryan to choose to be a Bantam. When it came time for me to choose a college, the two of them let me make my own decision. Still, when Trinity plays Williams it is a completely different feeling than any other game – it’s great to win, but at the same time I know how hard my brother works and how much he deserves to win.”

Sometimes, however, the brotherly love gives way to brotherly competition. “[Ben and I] are both so close that everything becomes really competitive,” Sam said. “Not only Bowdoin-Williams stuff, but we both like different English soccer teams; when we lift weights we try to see who can lift more; when we run together we try to see who can run faster.”
Matt and Ryan experience something similar in their relationship. “We are extremely competitive with one another, so roller hockey in front of our house often turns from a friendly, easygoing afternoon match to an intense, no-nonsense game,” Matt said.

The intense NESCAC competition certainly doesn’t defuse any brotherly rivalries. “[Ryan’s and my] lifetime series is 1-1,” Matt said. “Last year he scored both goals to beat [Williams] 2-1, and he made jokes all summer long. This year I scored the game-winner with 30 seconds to go and we won 3-2; who do you think is going to have the last laugh?”
And even if Sam names Ben the better soccer player, at least Williams can claim having won the last two contests against Bowdoin, though neither Sam nor Ben added points for those games.

At the end of the day (or soccer or ice hockey season), however, it’s not an athletic rivalry but a deep closeness and friendship that drives these sets of brothers.
“My brother and I are really tight, both because of our closeness in age, and our time together in high school,” Matt said. “Ryan is one of my role models and playing against him is extremely difficult because I want him to win every game.”

Their extracurricular similarities don’t end once they step off the rink. At their respective colleges, both Matt and Ryan are involved with the mentoring local kids from broken homes in a program akin to Big Brother/Big Sister. During the summers at home, both participate in local community programs that aim to keep children busy during months without school. “We are more similar than I ever thought about, to be honest,” Matt said.

Sam and Ben are not only growing more and more similar as they get older, but they’re looking more alike, as well. “When we were younger, no one could tell that we were brothers. But as we’ve gotten older we look more and more alike, so that when people meet Ben they say, ‘Oh my god, that’s Sam with red hair!’” Sam said. “We were always close growing up but in the last two years of high school and college we got much closer – soccer definitely helped with that. We look the same and act the same. I’m an econ and poli sci major so I think more theoretically, while Ben is pre-med so he’s more quantitative; the way we think and express ourselves is so different – but we’re saying the same thing.”