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It is not uncommon to see two young adults moving from one arcade station to the next at the local Chuck E. Cheese’s, gathering their winning tickets to score prizes such as edible toys and silly straws.
One of them is 16 years old, a high school junior. His speciality is combat video games. The other is 20 and a junior guard on the University of Toledo women’s basketball team. Her contribution is with sports games.
Janelle Reed-Lewis and Andrew Reed are a productive team.
They are siblings.
And currently roommates.
For the last six months Janelle has embraced the role as mother to her brother.
Wishing to reach Andrew on the telephone? You’ll have to wait until he’s finished with his homework, Janelle warns. She might also insist he clean up that messy trail of clothing on the floor that leads to his bedroom in the apartment they share.
“Every time,” Janelle said. “It might just be a guy thing.”
In September, after their mother’s exhausting work schedule disrupted her ability to take proper care of Andrew, the boy moved to Toledo from Detroit to live with his sister and two of her teammates. The university, exercising an NCAA bylaw instituted in recent years for situations like this, created the Andrew Fund to generate money for the siblings to purchase food, clothing, and school suppl
“I’d guess between five and seven thousand dollars,” UT coach Tricia Cullop said of the fund’s balance.
She’s off a bit. As of two weeks ago, fans and friends of the program had contributed almost $12,000 — an impressive number made more remarkable by the fact the fund has gone mostly unpublicized minus a letter the university distributed to supporters of the team in late November. Any unspent money will be given to charity after Janelle graduates.
A member of the coaching staff is tasked with accompanying the siblings to the store to ensure money is used sensibly. A university compliance officer monitors receipts to verify the validity of the transactions. So far, Janelle and Andrew have incurred charges of a little more than $3,000. Janelle’s scholarship stipend covers little beyond her rent payment, making it virtually impossible for her to take care of her brother without assistance.
“I’m appreciative of that,” Janelle said. “I wouldn’t know another way to say thank you.”
Nelly — as she is known by to her teammates — is averaging four points and 14 minutes entering a matchup today at Central Michigan between teams taking eye at the regular season Mid-American Conference title.
The unconventional living arrangement became necessary at the end of summer when their mother picked up a second full-time job and began working from 7 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Andrew no longer had anyone else around to make him dinner, give him transportation, or ensure he was in bed at a decent hour. Janelle, with the blessing of their mother and Andrew’s father, obtained custody.
“She was just a little too busy for him,” Janelle said. “Any young boy would want attention from his mom.”
Andrew relocated to a residence occupied by his sister and team members Naama Shafir and Ana Capotosto and enrolled at Rogers High School to start the school year. He blended in well with his housemates, playing pranks on them such as laying on the couch pretending to be sleeping when they would come home. He served as Shafir’s unofficial bodyguard after games, shepherding the point guard home in the dark. He sent Shafir a New Years greeting, signing the text message from “your brother.”
“It was actually like having a brother in the house,” Shafir said.“It was fun. I liked it. He is a good kid. It was fun having him around.”
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Janelle and Andrew got their own place after the semester, and Andrew transferred to St. John’s Jesuit where he boasts a grade-point average above 3.0. He lives a regimented lifestyle — school, homework, dinner, more studying, sleep — and if he slips up, “he gets beat up,” Janelle joked. On Toledo game days Andrew heads to Savage Arena to support the MAC’s top team from his perch in the student section, sitting alongside some neighbors he befriended.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I get to spend more time with my sister.”
Rockets forward Mariah Carson, a high school teammate of Janelle’s at Southeastern in Detroit, said Andrew looks up to his sister and that the siblings “are just goofy.”
Andrew, who is considering playing football next year at St. John’s, is unsure if he will stay in Toledo for the summer. Should he return to Detroit, his sister might suffer. Winning those edible toys and silly straws will be difficult without her buddy’s combat skills.
“I don’t know a lot of people her age that would be able to do this,” Cullop said. “She didn’t blink an eye. She wanted to help her brother.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.