The Boy Wonders Of Lacrosse

By Pete Thamel
Updated: June 3, 2007

NEW YORK — There are a few ways to differentiate the identical twin brothers Rhamel and Shamel Bratton. Shamel has a slightly rounder face, and Rhamel is a bit more outgoing.

The Brattons — Shamel (top) and Rhamel (bottom) — have a flashy style. They will attend Virginia and limit their sports participation to lacrosse, rejecting recruiting overtures to play football and lacrosse elsewhere.

But the Brattons, lacrosse stars at Huntington (N.Y.) High School, look so much alike that last year, on April Fools’ Day, they executed an age-old switcheroo. Shamel attended Rhamel’s social studies class while Shamel went to Rhamel’s English class.

“The teachers didn’t notice until we told them the next day,” Rhamel Bratton said with a mischievous grin.

On the lacrosse fields, it has been difficult not to notice the Brattons. During their three-year varsity careers at Huntington, on Long Island, Shamel has 152 goals and 51 assists, and Rhamel has 119 goals and 61 assists.

They have also helped Huntington put together a 62-game winning streak, making it a heavy favorite to capture its third consecutive Class B boys state title. Huntington is Inside Lacrosse magazine’s top-ranked high school team, and the Brattons are considered the top two recruits nationally.

But their potential impact on the game looms larger than their high school accomplishments. The Brattons are a rarity. They are African-American stars in a predominantly white game.

Perhaps even more unusual is their choice to attend Virginia, where they intend to play only lacrosse despite offers to play football and lacrosse at Penn State, Rutgers and Syracuse.

“Lacrosse is their love,” said Steve Muller, the Huntington football coach. “For them, it’s not about playing football and going to the NFL or anything like that. They wanted a good academic school, and I think they feel like trailblazers because there aren’t many black athletes playing lacrosse.”

In his 19 years with the Huntington program, the past 12 as the head coach, Muller said that the Brattons were the best athletes he had coached.

Nothing illustrates that better than the day he saw them take a few running steps and jump over a Hyundai in the school’s parking lot. Muller was stunned, and petrified by the thought of a potential injury.

“That’s great,” he recalled telling them. “But never do that again.”

The Huntington lacrosse coach, Paul McDermott, said that he had become accustomed to seeing the Brattons do things that no one has done before.

The Brattons have a distinctive flair to their game that lacrosse observers compare to playground basketball.

“They’ve developed moves that aren’t taught,” said McDermott, who will have 15 of his team’s 18 seniors play college lacrosse. “It’s within them. They just bring that stick along with them. They’re not only quick with their feet, they’re quick with their hands. That’s the difference between them and others.”

The Brattons’ potential has lacrosse fans buzzing because, in this era of Web video, it is not an overstatement to say that they will arrive on campus as the most hyped college recruits in lacrosse history. But Virginia Coach Dom Starsia says that their game transcends their speed and agility.

“The mistake would be to say that they’re so good because they’re such good athletes,” Starsia said. “Both have an extremely high lacrosse IO and know when to make plays.”

It is clear that the Brattons have a chance to make a difference in the sport, which is one of the reasons they chose it. Their choice is also indicative of lacrosse’s growth. If they leave the college game as elite players, they will be able to sign lucrative endorsement contracts and play in professional indoor and outdoor leagues.

Along with enjoying lacrosse more than football, the brothers — who are 6 feet 2 inches and 180 pounds — chose not to play another sport in college so they could enjoy a more normal college experience.

Their older half brother, Vernon Manuel, played football at St. John’s, and Rhamel Bratton said that the “military” existence of a college football player did not appeal to him.

“Not to take anything away from lacrosse, but it’s a more laid-back sport,” Rhamel said. “In football, you have to be there for three and a half hours. Lacrosse is two or two and a half hours. You do what you need to do and you’re done. It’s more of a laid-back sport that you can actually enjoy.”

The Brattons, who will turn 18 this month, were born in Brooklyn and moved to Huntington when they were about 5. They were raised by their mother and Manuel, 26, who describes his role as a “brother/father.”

They first started playing lacrosse at a birthday party for their friends Ryan and Joe Askerberg, another set of twins, when they were in the fourth grade. “We were outside messing around after we ate cake,” Shamel Bratton said.

“At first I had no idea what they were doing, but I definitely liked it right away from the first time I saw it.”

The Brattons were put on a team coached by Jay Howell, the father of their friend Zach Howell, who later went to Duke. They were coached throughout youth leagues by members of the Howell and Askerberg families and family members of another friend, Sam Cutrone, who is bound for Providence.

The core of the Huntington varsity team has been together since the fourth grade. Including their freshman year, when the Brattons played junior varsity, those players have not lost a school lacrosse game since falling to nearby Northport in the seventh grade.

“If we win another state championship, it’s going to be historic,” said Georgia Deren McCarthy, Huntington’s athletic director. “Not just for Huntington, but for high school athletics. To have this amount of kids playing at some of the top lacrosse schools in the nation, it’s not normal.”

The twins often spent their 40-minute lunch period with McCarthy, whom they refer to as Mrs. Mac because of her last name and because of the macaroni and cheese she would occasionally feed them.

They sat around with a few teammates and talked about life and college and watched ESPN. McCarthy joked that the Brattons drove her crazy. She said they had particularly curious minds, constantly prodding her for answers.

Whether they are debating at lunch time or playing on the football or lacrosse fields, the brothers are always chirping at each other. McCarthy said that their yelling can be misconstrued; it is just part of their personalities, something that will probably set them apart on the lacrosse field for years to come.

“It’s almost a passion,” she said. “They just want to win so badly. It’s what drives them and what makes them so special.”