Double the fun

Seven sets of McDonald twins will graduate Saturday

Pictured are 13 of the 14 twins in McDonald High School’s Class of 2021. Of the seven groups, six have been together since kindergarten, and all of them have been together since first grade. Of the 72 soon-to-be graduates, twins make up more than 19 percent. Front, from left, are Ethan and Emma O’Connell, and Kathryn and Gregory Merdich. Middle row, from left, are Tara Mulrooney and Diana and Nikolina Drobnjak. Back row, from left, are Rylie and James Mays; Maddy and Molly Howard; and Nick and Mike Ferradino. Not pictured is Collin Mulrooney, Tara’s brother.

McDONALD — In a graduating class of 72 students at McDonald High School, twins make up more than 19 percent.

Gregory and Kathryn Merdich; Mike and Nick Ferradino; James and Rylie Mays; Maddy and Molly Howard; Emma and Ethan O’Connell; Nikolina and Diana Drobnjak; and Tara and Collin Mulrooney comprise the astounding seven sets of twins of the Class of 2021 set to get their diplomas Saturday.

“When you get a small district like McDonald, to have this happen is not only once in a lifetime, it may never happen again,” Superintendent Kevin O’Connell said.

His children, Emma and Ethan, are among the sets of twins.

What sets this group of soon-to-be-graduates apart is that six of the seven have been together since kindergarten, and the seventh was added in first grade. Since then, the 14 students have been bound by the unique circumstance.

“It’s so unique. Most large schools wouldn’t even have seven sets of twins, so for McDonald to have that big of a portion is special and something these kids have bonded with over 13 years,” Kevin O’Connell said.

From a father’s perspective, O’Connell said seeing the group “grow from kindergarten to seniors, going from 5- and 6-year-old kids to young men and women with college aspirations and professional goals” is special.

For the 14, none of them think it strange that a good number of their graduating class are twins. In fact, growing up with the other sets was a relief because they could relate with others. A general consensus among them is excitement for the pending graduation and great memories of growing up together.

Almost all of the seniors are planning to attend college, but only a handful of them are going to the same school.

“I’m happy to see them all graduating, and I’m looking forward to see what they do in the future,” high school principal Gary Carkido said.


Gregory and Kathryn were the last set of twins to join in first grade.

“We rarely ever meet twins, and to know six other sets in the same graduating class is wild but pretty cool,” Gregory said.

He plans on attending Ohio Northern University to play football and major in accounting.

“It’s crazy,” Kathryn said. “You hardly ever meet twins and knowing there’s so many other sets, it’s cool. There’s other people you can relate to and go through the same things as you, and it’s so cool at the same time. It’s a cool experience to go through school with all of them. No one else will get to experience something like that. We will always have that memory.”

Kathryn said she’s headed to Cleveland State University to study pharmacy.


“It’s unique, but it’s not too weird because I’ve been with them all throughout school,” Mike said. “I think of all of them as my friends and classmates. It’s crazy though; it happens once in a lifetime.”

Mike will be attending Kent State University’s Salem campus to study applied horticulture.

“I grew up with six other sets of twins, so to me it’s always been normal and I never thought it was anything special until I realized it doesn’t happen anywhere else. So now it’s cool to think about,” Nick said.

He will be going to Youngstown State University to major in finance.


Both James and Rylie said seven sets of twins aren’t even a thought to them after growing up with the group.

“It was weird at first, but after all this time I don’t find it weird at all. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re the only class to have seven sets of twins. I wish the best of luck for all of them,” James said.

James said he was thinking about going into journalism, but he is not entirely sure what the future holds.

“I’ve been here since kindergarten, and I’ve known these people my whole life. So it’s not even a second thought to me anymore,” Rylie said.

Rylie said she is entering in the veterinary technician program at Eastern Gateway Community College.


Maddy and Molly are one of the two sets of identical twins. Both agree having seven sets of twins in a graduating class is remarkable.

“It’s unheard of, and it’s something to brag about. We only have about 70 people in our grade and seven sets of twins. That’s one of the first things I tell people,” Molly said.

“I think it’s awesome that all of us are together and have been for a long time,” Maddy said.

Molly will be headed to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for basketball, and Maddy is going to Youngstown State University. Both Howards are unsure of their majors.


Both Emma and Ethan plan on staying local after graduation and will be attending YSU. Emma will major in political science, and Ethan plans on majoring in psychology and minoring in art.

“It’s crazy, but at the same time we’ve known each other since kindergarten so it’s become numb at this point. But when people hear about it, they’re amazed,” Emma said.

“It’s different because we’re not identical,” Ethan said about he and Emma. “It’s different for the identical twins, but it’s still cool though.”


Nikolina and Diana are the other set of identical twins.

“I can’t explain what it’s like to be in this group. It’s always been weird because it makes up such a huge portion of our grade,” Nikolina said. “It’s nice to have other twins in our grade to relate to.”

Diana agreed having more people to relate to is a bonus.

“I never really thought much about it, honestly,” Diana said. “I at least had a lot of people to relate to in terms of twins.”

Both Drobnjak sisters will head to YSU. Nikolina said she will be a double-major in economics and math, and Diana said she’s undecided but is leaning toward business and STEM majors.


Collin said he did not want to be in the article, but Tara said being in the group of seven twins was nice.

“It’s really cool because it’s not normal to have seven sets of twins, especially all in one grade. It was really nice that we got to grow up and graduate together,” Tara said.

Tara is headed to EGCC to see if college is right for her and see where it takes her from there.

Double the fun

YSU men, women win titles at Horizon League championship

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Youngstown State sophomore Jakari Lomax competes during the triple jump. He went on to win the event with a mark of 15.32 meters. After winning the long jump on Saturday, he had to adjust when Sunday’s slate of events were moved indoors due to weather. He helped guide the men to a league championship.

YOUNGSTOWN — It wasn’t your normal outdoor Horizon League Championship on Sunday, that’s for sure.

With more than 100 potential points sidelined due to a variety of factors for Youngstown State’s men’s track and field program, along with being down three points going into the third and final day, it was going to be an uphill battle in many regards for the Penguins.

Meanwhile, YSU’s women’s program cruised through the first two days of the Horizon League Outdoor meet, setting up a possible exciting finish for both team’s Sunday afternoon.

With the years piling up on the men’s and women’s championship banners hanging inside the Watston and Tressel Training Site, the year 2021 might be the most unforgettable.

Both teams (women 234.5 points, men 234 points) took home titles, but less-than-desirable weather conditions in the forecast caused Sunday’s meet to be moved indoors to the WATTS, making the final day of competition a defacto indoor meet.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU sophomore Jahniya Bowers (East) wins the 200-meter race with a time of 24.18 seconds Sunday afternoon. The Penguins men’s and women’s programs went on to win titles at the Horizon League outdoor track and field championships.

What an unusual way to conclude an unusual season, in an unusual year.

“What you think you can do, you can go to more levels, we’re always about pushing, saying let’s blow the roof off of this, everybody take it up a notch,” YSU coach Brian Gorby said. “I think if you go across the board as far as all 78 athletes that competed, I bet you we hit 50 personal bests this weekend.

“This means the world to them. They’re friends, and when we come together and stuff, it’s a complete package. We had injuries, we had people held out, we had COVID situations, with 14 people on the sideline. It didn’t matter, the next group came up.”

Gorby took home women’s coach of the year, with Collin Harden (Girard), Zach Gray, and Sammy Dyson also taking home outstanding performer commendations.

One of the big players over the weekend for the Penguins was sophomore Jahniya Bowers, a graduate of East, winning the 200-meter race Sunday with a personal-best time of 24.18 seconds.

“The schedule change definitely made a difference. We were hoping to have finals for the 100 as well, but me and my teammates still did what we had to do, and we were able to exceed past that,” said Bowers, who also won the 100 Saturday with a time of 11.78. “I would say the difference about inside is there maybe isn’t as much wind, there’s really no weather, so you just run.

“I would just tell myself, ‘you got this, I’ve already been running in here, I practice in here everyday.’ The only thing I needed to do was do what I do best. I feel like I did OK. I’m proud, but I’m definitely not satisfied. I know I have way more work to do, but I’ll take it.”

Fellow sophomore Jakari Lomax took home gold during the long jump Saturday, but he had to switch gears for the indoor triple jump Sunday morning, an event he also won with a mark of 15.32 meters.

Ironically enough, Lomax trailed behind the pack during both events, but set his winning jump during his final attempt.

“It’s just something I’m really known for, I’m kind of like come in at the end and kinda upset,” Lomax said with a laugh. “I don’t really plan on doing it, but it’s just what happens. When it’s the last jump, you have nothing else. Like that was my last jump of the season, so you just got to go a little harder than usually are.

“You always got something in the tank, even when you feel like you’ve did your hardest, so I kinda just let that out and I ended up winning. So I guess that I just pushed a little harder.”

Both Lomax and Bowers completed their first outdoor season, after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed their freshmen campaigns following the indoor circuit.

Seeing the difference between indoor and outdoor is what fascinates Lomax, who always strives to improve himself.

“I like to see the progression and the difference in people, transferring from indoor to outdoor, just to really see how people perform basically, if they improved or not,” Lomax said. “Some people, if they can’t keep the ball rolling, you can see their times and their distances going down. Then you can see some that stay consistent and go up.

“So, I’m very interested in how people perform and how they adjust to outdoor because everybody is different, and since this is a new level, I kinda appreciate it a little bit more.”

Sunday marks the seventh consecutive outdoor title for the women, the second straight for the men.

“If you ask me, my mindset has changed, my work ethic has changed, so overall I feel like I’m a better athlete then I was my freshman year,” said Bowers about completing her first full indoor and outdoor season together. “Mentally, physically, helping out my teammates, I would say just telling myself I got this. You know what you have to do, you’ve been doing this for a while now.

“Just thinking about that, just reminding myself that I’ve been working all season for this.”

Pole vaulters Wyatt Lefker and Erin Bogard have already qualified for regionals, along with Harden in the 400-meter hurdles, but some Penguins will partake in last-chance meets this weekend to potentially earn their ticket to the next level at the end of May.


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