Editor's note: This story was originally published in December 2012 as part of My Life, My Town, a special project exploring the hopes and challenges of teens in rural Missouri. It was named one of the Top 10 multimedia stories of 2012 in the under-500,000 unique visitors division by the Associated Press Sports Editors on Monday. APSE is a national industry contest. The project is a product of the Missouri School of Journalism in partnership with the Columbia Missourian, KBIA and Reynolds Journalism Institute. Some of the teens were found with the help of Missouri 4-H.
CENTRALIA — Tony and Terry DeWeese sit on opposite ends of the couch, but they speak with one voice.
“Last year, we had all the same classes except for two,” Terry starts out, looking toward his brother.
“This year, we have no classes together except for two,” they say in perfect unison. "It flip-flopped."
From the kitchen, their mother inserts a playful question: “Is there an echo in here?”
Identical twins Tony and Terry have spent all of their 18 years together. Seniors at Hallsville High School, both boys sing in the choir, act in drama productions, manage the football team and compete in speech and debate tournaments.
But come June, after they graduate, the twins will separate for the first time.
Terry will head to San Diego to begin basic training with the Marine Corps. Tony will begin his freshman year at a college close to home.
“I’m going to miss knowing someone’s always there to talk to you,” Tony says.
“Oh, and I’ll miss the fact that when I’m feeling lazy, the other one can always go do it instead,” he adds with a grin.
What it's like to be a twin
The DeWeese boys say being a twin is a blast.
“I try not to take it for granted,” Terry said. “I’m proud to be a twin.”
“We even dress similarly — sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident,” Tony said.
Both have short blond curly hair, love watching football and share an immense appreciation for method actors.
During speech and debate tournaments, they wear identical clean, white button-down shirts, black slacks and black ties.
Speech and debate coach Staci Johnson always describes them as a unit.
“They like to finish each other’s sentences way too much,” Johnson said. “They are like old people, like an old married couple.”
Yet, the boys are not carbon copies. Terry has a slightly deeper voice than Tony. Tony stands at 5 feet 11 inches; Terry is an inch taller. Terry has a scar on his forehead; Tony has a freckle on the end of his nose.
They use these slight differences to help people tell them apart, but they still trade on their similarities for amusement.
“We love to tell people I’m Terry and he’s Tony,” Tony said. “And we love to tell people we have twin telepathy. But we don’t. It’s a myth.”
Both love history class but not math.
“Terry loves math, but I hate it,” Tony said, shaking his head violently. “The good thing is Terry’s always there to help me.”
Depending on each other
When they were born on Dec. 14, 1994, Terry’s umbilical cord wrapped around Tony’s neck, depriving his brain of oxygen for just a few minutes. But it was enough for him to develop cerebral palsy, a disorder of the central nervous system.
“The lack of oxygen caused my brain not to function as well,” Tony explained. “If my brain doesn’t function as well, it doesn’t tell my muscles to always be as flexible as they should. Also, it doesn’t tell my legs to walk exactly the right way.”
Before he turned 10, Tony had been through two surgeries.
“Elementary school was a lot of me taking care of this kid,” Terry said, pointing to his brother.
“In the past, (cerebral palsy) was a bad thing,” Tony added. “The way I used it was to take advantage of people’s sympathy.”
Today, the only thing that gives away Tony’s cerebral palsy is a slight limp. He has accepted his condition and even pokes fun at his disorder.
“He would go around and tell his friends, ‘This is what happens when you make my mom mad,’” said his mother, Rachel DeWeese, referring to the casts on Tony's legs.
“I always joke around about it,” Tony said. “It makes people who don’t know me a little uncomfortable actually.”
Terry insists he has never been jealous of the attention paid to his brother. In fact, he believes it has taught him a lot about compassion.
“I want people to know that no matter what someone is going through, you always have to give them help, no matter what,” Terry said.
Father's death led to a shift in their family
When Tony and Terry were 8, their father died of cancer, leaving their mother to take care of the boys.
Burdened with her husband's medical bills and the cost of raising two children, she gave custody of the boys to her sister Rachel and her husband.
Rachel and Kelly DeWeese officially adopted the twins when they were 11. The couple had been in the boys' lives since they were born, so the transition was fairly seamless.
“It really wasn’t that big of a change,” Rachel DeWeese said. “I just kind of went with it.”
Tony and Terry also gained three sisters — Madeline, 12, Katelyn, 7, and Shyanna, 3.
“I definitely think boys are cheaper,” Rachel DeWeese said with a chuckle.
The twins applaud her for quickly adjusting to having two boys in the house and value Kelly DeWeese's leadership abilities.
“He shows us right from wrong,” Terry said. “That’s really strong in today’s society, where there’s not a lot of good father figures.”
Their biological mother is still in their lives and calls often.
“She tells us how proud she is of us,” Terry said.
Both boys are adjusting to the impact of their upcoming separation, however, they said their family hasn't quite accepted it yet.
“I just don’t like talking about you guys leaving,” Rachel DeWeese said. “It makes me sad.”
“I don’t think it will hit our parents until we are actually gone,” Tony said quietly.
Making the most of senior year
Because graduation is fast approaching, the DeWeese twins are taking full advantage of their last year in high school.
They are invested in speech and debate, which they joined at the beginning of their senior year. They have thrived on the team, winning first place in the duo interpretation at a Warrenton tournament in January.
In early February, the twins won first place again in a Jefferson City tournament, advancing them to the district round of competition. Their ultimate goal is to make it to nationals.
“The reason they have been so successful this year is because of their work ethic,” Johnson said. “They have a drive to try new things and not stop until they have succeeded.”
With each competition, Johnson said she is impressed with their performance and leadership abilities.
“They take risks when picking performance pieces, so they taught me not to limit kids with the things I give them,” she said. “Kids surprise you.”
The twins' weekdays are just as busy as their weekends.
Terry wakes up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to do crunches, sit-ups and body conditioning as preparation for Marine basic training. In the evenings, the twins are either at speech and debate practice, practicing for the spring play or attending Columbia First Nazarene Church.
As for homework, they said they don't have much.
“It’s our senior year,” Terry said. “All we’re taking is electives, so they don’t give us homework. It’s really nice.”
What the future holds for the twins
As June approaches, Terry said he is excited to enlist in the Marines but admitted to some apprehension, as well.
“I’m terrified,” he said, widening his eyes. “But I joined the Marines because I love the brotherhood and because I’ve always wanted to serve my country.”
Tony has embraced his limitations and is molding his future around them. He describes a dream job in computer programming, which wouldn't demand much physical skill.
“I want to eventually know enough information about computers to be able to invent something that can help people around the community or around the world,” Tony said with a grin. “I want to kind of be like Bill Gates.”
“Good, maybe I can retire early,” his dad said, prompting the room to fill with laughter.
Although they aren’t following the same path, both boys hope to leave a legacy in their small mid-Missouri town.
“Just because you have something or something goes wrong, don’t let it knock you down and keep you down,” Tony said with determination. “Pick yourself back up and go on.”
Click this link to read more stories in this series.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.