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They look alike, walk alike, talk alike, share a clothes closet, answer questions in tandem and grace Amherst Central High School with infectious smiles.

And the similarities of identical twins Leah and Shannon Tibbetts hardly end there.

They rank first and second in their graduating class, were co-captains of Amherst's championship field hockey team, tackled the same eight Advanced Placement courses and were awarded scholarships to big-name colleges.

On Thursday night, Leah and Shannon will be among 234 students from 79 public, parochial and private schools in Erie and Niagara counties honored at the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Associations' 23rd annual Scholastic Achievement Recognition Dinner.

The Tibbetts twins aren't the only family act. Shea and Jacquelyn Mathis, two of the three honorees from North Collins High School, are first cousins.

While those "Academic All-Stars" are chosen on the basis of class rank, their resumes -- like those of Leah and Shannon -- overflow with athletic, musical, leadership, volunteer and religious activities.

How do these students manage to do all that and still earn the highest grades in their graduating classes?

The Tibbetts Twins -- as they did numerous times in an hour-long interview -- tackled that question in rapid-fire, tag-team style.

Shannon: "We probably study a few hours a night."

Leah: "We come home from practice, eat dinner, then do our work."

Together, laughing: "Dorks!"

But dorks they aren't.

Laurie LeGoff, their guidance counselor and field hockey coach, said Shannon and Leah played a huge role in establishing a winning field hockey tradition at Amherst High, and in helping the team strike a healthy balance between working hard and having fun.

"They've got it all -- they're bright, articulate and caring," LeGoff said. "They were the most receptive athletes I think I've ever coached. They absorb, process and apply immediately."

Katie Mahoney, Amherst's third "Academic All-Star," also played on the field hockey team that won the sectional championship last fall.

Once a year -- around April Fool's Day -- Leah and Shannon pull one over on their classmates and teachers by dressing in the style of the other, switching class schedules and "trading places."

Their toughest stumbling block was the year Leah had to take Shannon's flute lesson, and Shannon pretended to be playing Leah's saxophone.

"They threatened detention, but they were only kidding," Shannon said of their bamboozled teachers.

After all, the Tibbetts twins are hardly the class clowns. Leah earned a 4.37 grade point average on a scale that only goes up to 4.0 by earning extra credit for Advanced Placement and honors courses. Shannon was close behind at 4.31.

Leah and Shannon said they don't compete with each other, but LeGoff sees a spirited rivalry at field hockey practices that raises the enthusiasm and intensity of the entire team.

"They'll battle one-on-one until they're both sprawled on the ground, but then they help each other up and laugh," she said. "It's friendly but competitive. They bring out the best in each other."

Leah and Shannon said their parents -- John, who is an orthodontist, and Betsey, a physical therapist -- encourage them to do their best, but are never pushy or unreasonable.

If anything, the twins said, they are trying to keep up with their brother, Evan, who is studying aerospace engineering at the University at Buffalo on a full scholarship.

Although they've never been apart for more than five days, the twins will head in separate directions for college next fall.

Leah won a full scholarship to study psychology at Michigan State University, while Shannon's scholarship will cover her tuition but not living costs at the University of Pittsburgh, where she will study social work.

Look-alikes, teammates and best friends since they were born one minute apart, Leah and Shannon more recently began hanging out with different groups and spending a little less time together.

"Yeah, we're just friends," Shannon said.

"It's kind of cool," Leah added.


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