Sondheimer: McRae siblings one-up each other on way to Dartmouth

On Mother’s Day, Ebony Robinson felt like the luckiest mom in the world.

Her oldest son, Robert McRae III, a former Fairfax basketball player, is graduating next month from Dartmouth. Daughter Elyjah, a former Fairfax volleyball player, is a junior at the Ivy League university. And the baby boy, Romello, who played football and basketball at Fairfax, just chose the same school after turning down Harvard.

“It is pretty amazing,” Robinson said about having three children attend the same school in New Hampshire. “I never thought about it. I just didn’t.”

For those who worry about sibling rivalries, understand that the McRae children motivated each other in a positive way in trying to top one another.

“It was more about competing within ourselves,” Romello said. ”My brother was the star athlete for the family. When my sister went to high school, she made it a goal to have better grades than my brother. Going to Fairfax, I had a legacy to live up to.”

Romello, 6 feet 4 and 180 pounds, played basketball for the Lions, then joined the football team last season for the playoffs after his mother finally relented and let him play. He was the ball boy for 10 weeks until Robinson gave in.

“I was expecting him to just be on the sideline for one game,” she said. “They were supposed to lose in the playoffs.”

Fairfax boys' basketball player Romello McRae poses for a photo on Dec. 14, 2022.
Romello McRae played basketball at Fairfax plus football during the playoffs last fall. (Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

McRae caught a touchdown pass in the first playoff game and Fairfax ended up winning the City Section Division II championship. He has the best grade-point average of his siblings at 4.3 and earned a Gates scholarship that will pay for his college tuition.

“From what I've learned is that a healthy competition is always a good thing,” he said. “We’ve always congratulated each other on our successes but always wanted to be the best."

Dartmouth's Robert McRae III (23) and Romeo Myrthil (20) walk onto the court during a game against Duke.
Dartmouth's Robert McRae III (23) and Romeo Myrthil (20) walk onto the court during the second half of a game against Duke last season. (Ben McKeown / Associated Press)

Robert was an All-City basketball player and played on the Lions’ City championship team in 2019. He played four years at Dartmouth. Romello won a City basketball title in 2022 but probably will try to make Dartmouth's football team as a walk-on with his mother’s blessing.

“I have accepted it. Go ahead and go try out,” she said.

Robinson, who works with at-risk youths, has been a single parent with a no-excuses attitude.

“Being a single mom, especially having two boys, I didn’t have a lot of room for nonsense,” she said. “I became really strict. I need you to do what I’m asking you to do. I have no mental room for being able to handle anything else.”

She made it clear what was most important in her family.

"Even though the kids would say I am most definitely strict, I always show them unconditional love," she said. "That love taught them to love each other the same way. With unconditional love, all you can do is admire each other for their strength and not hate on one's success."

To have three kids make it to the Ivy League is something few in the family ever imagined until Robert heard from a Princeton recruiter in high school, when mom’s goal was, “I just want you to have school paid for you because I can’t pay for it.”

Robert, 22, is deciding whether to pursue a master’s degree after graduating next month or head off to Wall Street to work. Elyjah, 21, is majoring in anthropology. Romello, 17, wants to be an engineer and is hoping to borrow his brother's warm jackets to deal with the New Hampshire winter. Mom will be home with the last of her children, 8-year-old daughter Ellyott.

“I am a proud mommy," she said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.