WHITEFIELD — It makes sense that Robert and Stephen Soohey, identical twin seniors at Erskine Academy, have been drawn to sports such as wrestling and cross country.

They like to be part of a team and want to perform well for their school, but on the mat or on the trail, they’re competing solo against the other wrestler or their own best time.

“You have to push yourself. No one’s going to run the race for you,” Stephen said. “But at the same time, you might have one of your buddies run up alongside you and be like ‘Come on, you can push it more.'”

It’s a little like their relationship as brothers, best friends and classmates.

“I support him like my teammates support me,” Stephen said. “He’s still running his own race, I’m running mine, but we’re here to support each other.”

Now the twins are at the finish line of high school, and Team Soohey cleaned up at Erskine Academy this year with Robert as valedictorian and Stephen as salutatorian of the class of 2013.

With no other siblings, the brothers were always close. They were in the same classroom for nearly their entire time at Whitefield Elementary. In high school they’ve played some of the same sports, are both involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and have excelled in science and math.

Now they’re graduating as the top two of their class and will both attend the University of Maine, where Robert plans to major in microbiology and Stephen in bioengineering.

Earlier this year, however, there was more separation in their class rankings. Robert has long been No. 1, but at the beginning of the second trimester of his senior year — the last one that counts for rankings — Stephen was at No. 9.

In part to solidify his position in the Top 10, Stephen loaded up on weighted courses this year, including four Advanced Placement classes and two dual-enrollment, college level courses. But he wasn’t sure what to expect at the assembly where the Top 10 were announced in April.

“They called out No. 9 and it wasn’t me, so I was thinking positive, hopefully I moved up, because I’m no longer nine,” he said. “Then they called eight, and then seven, and then when they got up to around six I started to get a little worried: Well, what if it happened the other way, what if I actually went down and out of it?”

As the countdown reached No. 3, Robert got worried, too.

“I tried to be optimistic, but it got to the point where it seemed highly improbable he made this jump,” he said.

Robert said he didn’t know what he’d say to his brother if he were No. 1 and Stephen didn’t make the Top 10 at all.

Betsy Benner, a guidance counselor at Erskine and Stephen’s homeroom teacher for four years, said the moment Stephen was announced as salutatorian was one of the best moments she’s ever experienced in an assembly.

“He stood up completely shocked,” she said. “It looked like he was going to pass out or throw up, or a combination of both. Robert was sitting right next to him, and he was so excited. They high-fived each other and were just thrilled. It couldn’t have happened to two nicer boys.”

Robert said the climb Stephen made in the rankings is completely in line with his tendency to set a goal and follow through.

“He probably had better grades than I had the whole year,” Robert said. “I really think, if there was another trimester, he would have been No. 1.”

The brothers may have similar interests and strengths, and they share many of the same friends, but their personalities are distinct. Both they and their teachers say Stephen is quieter. Robert is more talkative, given to running metaphors and out-loud philosophizing.

“He’s reserved not in the way that he’s shy,” Robert said, “but when he speaks it’s going to be something important and insightful. Me, I kind of blabber on about random stuff and rant, and maybe you can glean good information.”

They didn’t consciously plan to attend the same college, but they weren’t opposed to it, either. It made sense for them financially, especially because their class rank qualifies them both for the $8,000 per year UMaine Presidential Scholarship, and they want to stay in Maine.

Robert wants to go to medical school, but he keeps changing his mind about what type of medicine he’d practice because he’s fascinated by so many things about the human body and mind. Oncology and neurology are two possibilities.

Stephen is especially strong in physics and calculus, so many people have recommended he pursue engineering, but he also has an interest in human biology. For now he plans to major in bioengineering, but he may consider medical school as well.

Both said they’re excited about having the freedom to choose their own course of study in college, meet new people and branch out into new activities. But they have anxieties, too.

“One is that I won’t do anything other than school work because I know I’ve got to focus on my school work,” Stephen said.

“There’s what I was talking about with his personality,” Robert said. “If he has a goal, he’s going to stick with it. Sometimes even too much.”

“I could have fun and stuff, but if I don’t get anything out of my college education, I just wasted money and won’t have a career,” Stephen said. “So I’ve got to focus now to get a career, but at the same time I don’t want to be stuck in my room doing homework all day.”

For his part, Robert is concerned about burnout. He initially thought he’d be able to relax a bit after putting so much pressure on himself to be valedictorian, but now he’s realizing that he’ll have to get top grades and test scores to get into medical school.

“That’s the hardest part, keeping that pace, and I feel like I’ve been keeping that pace for 12 years now,” he said.

The brothers’ parents, Bob and Terri Soohey, said they were excited and relieved when they found out their sons were the top two in the class. Bob Soohey said he had to walk over to his neighbor’s house while awaiting the call after the assembly because he was so stressed out.

“For well over a year, there were plenty of times when I wished they were No. 50,” he said. “It really didn’t matter much to us that they were one and two, but we were excited for them. They put so much effort into it, and you worry about a disappointment for your kids.”

They’re proud of their sons, but bracing themselves to become empty-nesters all at once.

“If you asked me last week, I was ready to be finished with cooking dinner and grocery shopping,” Terri Soohey said, tearing up. “So I was telling all my friends it’s going to be fine when they go, I’m kind of looking forward to it. But now that you bring it up, it makes me feel sad, because we will miss them.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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