UNC-Chapel Hill students stand out as color-coordinated twins

By Chapel Fowler

Under Armour Havocs, with high tops and white laces. Golf caps, bought five years ago when the 2014 U.S Open came to their hometown of Pinehurst, N.C. Google Pixel 2 XL smartphones, with identical plastic cases.

Matthew and Luke Wheeler have fallen into this habit for years. As identical twins, it’s easy for them to buy and wear the same thing. And it makes gift buying a breeze.

But, when it comes to the Wheelers’ accessories, there’s one blatant difference: the color. Everything of Matthew’s is green. Everything of Luke’s is red.

For the past two years, this has turned the Wheelers into campus celebrities of sorts at UNC, where they’re both sophomore computer science majors.

They call it “color coding.” You can call it whatever you want. Just know it’s not for you, or professors, or attention, or anyone or anything else.

“We don’t necessarily do it to help other people,” Matthew said. “I do it because I like green.”

“And I like red,” Luke said.

The contrast is most evident when they’re together, which they almost always are. Matthew in green shoes and his green hat; Luke in red shoes and his red hat.

Color-Coded Beginnings

Their color preferences go back to elementary school, when the Wheelers had a brief and unsuccessful run in a rec basketball league. But ahead of the season, their parents let them pick out shoes. Matthew chose green, and Luke chose red.

They’ve been wearing color-coordinated basketball shoes ever since. The Wheelers were longtime Nike customers, but when they outgrew their last pair, they couldn’t find new ones of their preferred size and color. Thus, the switch to Under Armour.

“In middle school, people started mentioning, ‘Oh, just remember them by their shoes,’” Matthew said. “So it kind of gave us an excuse to say, ‘Hey, I want green shoes.’”

“It was a self-fulfilling system,” Luke said.

At West Pine Middle School, Matthew and Luke took an extracurricular class called Future City. In the program, students work on designing and creating their own miniature city dioramas. Their teacher, Ms. Hippenmeyer, had trouble telling them apart — even with the shoes.

So she came up with nicknames: Mint Matthew and Lava Luke.

The Wheelers still use them to this day. They even have them printed on clothing — thanks to a longtime tradition of their high school speech and debate team.

Every year, juniors at Pinecrest High School are tasked with getting gifts for departing seniors. When Matthew and Luke were seniors in 2017, a junior named Caleb printed their nicknames onto red and green T-shirts for them.

The words are in a collegiate font, white and bold and in the center of the shirts. Matthew and Luke keep them in their closets on the fourth floor of Cobb Residence Hall, where they room together. The shirts have very specific washing instructions, so they don’t get much use — except for special occasions, like the first day of classes.

“It usually spikes during the start of the school year,” Luke said. “People say, ‘Are you doing Mario and Luigi?’ Those kind of things. And then people just get kind of used to it.”

As Matthew is quick to point out, that Mario and Luigi nickname doesn’t even hold up well. Both sets of brothers have the same initials — M and L — but their colors are swapped. Mint Matthew doesn’t line up with the red Mario, and Lava Luke conflicts with the green Luigi. (The Wheelers are also identical twins; Mario and Luigi are just fraternal).

“For people who aren’t going to know us well, it’s fine,” Luke said. “But if you’re going to know us, it probably helps to not think that. If you remember us as ‘Mario and Luigi — but not,’ I guess that works.”

Campus Celebrities

Save for a few recitations, the Wheelers have had near-identical class schedules. Matthew and Luke’s colors usually don’t matter in large, impersonal lecture classes. But they have helped people differentiate between the two in smaller ones — except for a Spanish class last semester, where they think their professor was colorblind.

The coordination extends to basically everything the Wheelers do. Sophomore Casey Quam remembers the twins introducing themselves as Mint Matthew and Lava Luke on the first day of LFIT 110, a beginning swimming course. They wore red and green swim trunks and goggles the entire semester.

“It was definitely something neat to tell friends about, and we never forgot who was who,” Quam said. “It’s been fun to see them walking around campus since then and see that they’ve kept it up.”

Matthew and Luke’s commitment to green and red isn’t hard and fast, though. They only own a few T-shirts in each color and one pair of gym shorts. No pants or socks. Matthew’s been trying to find a green jacket. Luke can’t track down a red Yankees hat for the life of him.

Their usual coordination — just hats and shoes — pales in comparison to sophomore Benjamin Davis, who has dressed head to toe in yellow since the first day of his freshman year.

Ironically, Matthew and Luke lived just one floor under Davis last year at Graham Residence Hall. They’ve never met, but Davis(known as the Yellow Guy) said the Wheelers’ color choice is “amazing.”

“I think it’s beautiful,” he said. “I love that we have this culture where everyone can just have their own individual thing and somehow get recognized for it.”

Colors aside, the Wheelers are huge fans of video games. Luke plays “Overwatch” on UNC’s official team within Tespa, a college esports organization. Matthew is a bit more casual, sticking to some “Super Smash Bros” or “Dungeons & Dragons” on the side.

Looking (and Color-Coordinating) Ahead

Ideally, they’d work within North Carolina and in the same area after graduation. Both aspire for a job in programming, like their older brother John, or even better, in video game design.

If their offices have a formal dress code, Matthew and Luke have a solution: green and red ties, just like they wore in speech and debate tournaments. Even if they don’t live or work near each other, they still think the coordination can live on.

“It’s just our favorite color,” Luke said. “So it’s technically independent of the other one.”

Until then, they plan on rooming together and wearing their respective colors for the rest of college. They’ll keep walking around campus, almost step for step, and eating similar food in Lenoir Dining Hall: burgers, chicken nuggets and especially fries.

Matthew and Luke haven’t heard any negative comments yet. More frequently, a student will approach them and admit: “Hey, I’ve got to at least talk to you once.” Some will swear they’ve seen the Wheelers, who are sophomores, around campus for the last three years.

Matthew and Luke both find that claim hilarious. As they laugh and smile, they reveal the braces they wear. When those braces were put on about two years ago, each twin was offered a selection of rubber band colors.

You’ll never guess what Mint Matthew and Lava Luke chose.

Edited by Johnny Sobczak