All in the family

When most athletes go off to college, they’re excited to blaze a path of their own, more than willing to finally escape any sibling shadow or rivalry.

But for a handful of Gannon University athletes, the hours spent bonding during car rides to youth games proved too strong.

Since 2008, Gannon has boasted six pairs of siblings on rosters throughout the athletic department.

“They can see the big family atmosphere here,” said swimming coach Nate Walters, who coached former swimmer Rachel Rzymek in addition to recruiting junior swimmer Jackie Rzymek. “It might be something that’s important to them and something they always talked about continuing.”

Joining Rachel and Jackie, who combined for three individual and five team records, is sophomore water polo player Kelsey Rzymek, who scored 18 goals for the Knights during her freshman season.

While the Rzymeks are the only family of three in the past four years, they aren’t the only siblings with their names etched in Gannon record books.

Senior women’s soccer forward Amanda Sharbaugh is the Knights’ all-time leader in goals (51) and points (124).  It’s a record that her brother, junior men’s soccer midfielder Adam, who has 12 career goals to his name, will be hard pressed to catch.

“It’s not any different than high school,” said Amanda, who is also second all time in  career assists. “We still compete against each other and see who can score more goals.”

Friendly sibling competition takes on a whole new meaning for Gannon football players Jonathan and Matt Jones. While the Sharbaughs compete on separate fields at different times, the Joneses are busy playing at the same time and, more often than not, fighting for the same few yards of turf.

Jonathan, a junior wide receiver, and Matt, a junior linebacker, spend Saturday afternoons helping the Knights compete in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference but spend the weekdays battling for brother supremacy in practice.

“It’s fun when we go against each other,” said Jonathan, who’s hauled in 44 passes for 491 yards and two touchdowns in his career. “We were always on the same side of the ball in high school.”

Jonathan said he didn’t always think playing against his brother would be fun. After high school he wanted to get as far from his brother’s shadow as he could.

“He was kind of the star of the team in high school,” Jonathan said. “I kind of wanted to go somewhere away from him and make my own name.”

After a year of taking snaps without Matt, Jonathan realized playing in a shadow was better than facing the sun by himself. If he was playing football at the next level, he wanted to be beside Matt – like they were since their days of Pop Warner.

“I am the sole reason he came to Gannon,” Jonathan said. “If it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t be here.”

Ardent recruiting by Jonathan made coach Jim Kiernan’s job landing the 6-foot, 3-inch, 255-pound lineman easier. Kiernan, however, advises against assuming that the ending will always be family friendly.

“A lot of times people think you’re getting a two-for-one,” he said. “In a way it can work to your advantage but in other ways it can be negative.”

“Usually the scenarios are that it’s one sibling’s dream to be on the same team, or for others, they want nothing to do with following in their brother’s or sister’s footsteps. Nine times out of ten the mother will give you a sign about what the recruit wants.”

According to Walters, success in courting an additional member of an athletic family is not focusing on what the previous sibling has accomplished.

“It’s about establishing a relationship with the family as well as the recruit,” he said. “You have to make people feel like an individual.”

Although there may have been hesitation among every sibling combination to play together at the collegiate level, none them have regretted the decision in hindsight and have become closer because of it.

“We see each other now more than we did at home,” said Adam Sharbaugh. “At home we were always running around with jobs and were with different friends, but now my friends are her friends and her friends are my friends.”

But greater than any on-field advantage it provides, competing with a sibling helps bring a little bit of home to the stadium according to Jonathan Jones.

“When I see him on the field, I can just look at him and act like we’re in the backyard again.”


[email protected]