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LEAP YEAR BABIES: Feb. 29 babies share a unique bond for life

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - It’s unusual, even rare, but not impossible. For those involved, it’s even kind of special. A handful of Bullitt County Public Schools’ students, and one teacher, share a common birthday on Feb. 29, also known as Leap Year Day.

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Or is it just Leap Year? Or is it Leap Day?

“When people say I’m born on Leap Year, I say I’m born on Leap Day,” said Bullitt East sophomore Autumn Baker, who turns 16 and/or 4 today.

At least three Bullitt County students hit the 16/4 mark today. Bullitt Central sophomore Ramsey Hoffman prefers ‘Leap Year’ while Jacob Branch, the North Bullitt Leaper, uses both.

The students haven’t met one another, and for that matter they don’t really know anyone else with the birthday. Autumn’s aunt has a sister born on Leap Year; Ramsey recalled a second grade teacher’s husband.

Autumn discovered a website, www.leapyearday.com, which hosts a gathering place for the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. Anyone born Feb. 29 can join for free and learn about other Leapers.

Who leaps?

Anyone born on Feb. 29 is considered a Leap Day baby. The 2000 United States Census reported an estimated 187,000 Leap Day babies in the US.

There have been famous Leap Day babies in history, including Pope Paul III, the last Renaissance pope, born in 1468.

Other famous Leap Day babies include Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini, famous for “The Barber of Seville,” and “The William Tell Overture” (sometimes known as “The Lone Ranger” theme), in 1792.

Songwriter/composer Jimmy Dorsey, famous for the orchestra formed with his brother Tommy, was a 1904 Leap Day baby. Actress/talk show hostess Dinah Shore, according to some records, was born Feb. 29, 1916. Rap artist/actor Ja Rule was a 1976 Leap Day baby.

Singer/songwriter Gretchen Christopher (1940) was a member of The Fleetwoods, the first band to have two songs reach the Billboard number one singles position in one year (1959). Christopher wrote the lyrics to the first of the two, “Come Softly To Me” (The second was “Mr. Blue”).

Famous athletic ‘Leapers’ include baseball stars John “Pepper” Martin  (1904), a member of the St. Louis Cardinals “Gas House Gang” of the 1930s, and Al Rosen (1924), a slugger for the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s. Both men played in the World Series.

Football stars include John Niland (1944), who appeared in two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, and Bryce Paup (1968), the 1995 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year with the Buffalo Bills.

Other pro athletes are NBA forward Chucky Brown (1968), NHL left wing Simon Gagne (1980) and former NHL superstar Henri “The Pocket Rocket” Richard (1936), a Hall of Famer with the Montreal Canadians who played for 11 Stanley Cup champions.

John Holland, the inventor of the American submarine, was born in 1792. American astronaut Jack Lousma was born in 1936.

You’re HOW old?

Sometimes women don’t like to share their age. Crossroads Elementary second-grader Cheyenne Judd is not one of those women.

“This year I get to have my real birthday and I’ll be two,” she said. “I like how I’m just like a toddler. I’m probably the youngest in the whole school.”

Autumn admitted both of her ages could be used to various advantages.

“When I play a game and the play starts youngest to oldest I actually use it as an excuse to go first,” she admitted.

Cheyenne and Old Mill second-grader Riley Gentry both turn 8 and/or 2 today. Like Cheyenne, Riley gets her share of double-takes when she tells her age.

“Sometimes I tell my real age and they don’t believe me,” Riley said.

What the girls like to focus on more than age abnormality is the extra excuse to party.

“Last year I went to Puzzle’s Fun Dome, and I’ll have a special party this year, more party activities and longer,” Riley said. She’s hoping her family will take her to Puzzle’s twice this birthday.

Cheyenne said her church planned a big party with everyone invited.

“I think I’ll get more presents,” Cheyenne added.

You don’t have to be age 2 and attending school to enjoy the special birthday. Bullitt East instructor Amy Herrod enjoys teaching teenagers chemistry while she herself is only turning eight.

“Eight is my lucky number, and I get to have it for the next four years,” she said.

Age is just one of the advantages Herrod mentioned for her unique birthday.

“Everybody remembers my birthday,” she said. “On that day everybody calls. It’s always a big deal on the year of it.”

Herrod said she once had two Leap Day students in one class, one of which she still keeps in touch with. She recalled former Bullitt County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Michael Eberbaugh sharing the birthday.

Age is relative

Zoneton Middle School sixth-grader Evan Mooney came closest of all the local Leapers to having relatives with a shared birthday.

“I think maybe two in the family,” he said. “But they’re distant.”

Mooney looks at Feb. 29 like any other day on the calendar, except for the birthday side of it.

“I do get a lot more presents,” he admitted.

The Leap Day baby list includes its share of oddities: The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Heidi (1960), Olav (1964) and Lief-Martin (1968) Henriksen of Norway, three siblings born on consecutive Leap Days.

Another odd Leaper, born in Germany in 1904, was Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, Sr., who had a Christian name for every letter of the alphabet. He officially shortened his moniker to “Mr. Wolfe Plus 585, Sr.” and was recognized with the world’s longest official name used by a person.

In case you’re wondering, Junior doesn’t include all of the first names but does use the name Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff. This moniker is still the short version of the 585-letter name (For a glimpse of the full name and its English translation search the Internet for ‘Wolfe+585 Sr.’).

The Guinness Book also recognizes a three-generation Leap Day family, beginning with Peter Anthony Keogh of Ireland born in 1940. His son, Peter Eric Keogh, was born in 1964. Peter Eric’s daughter, Bethany Walth, was born in 1996. All three share the Feb. 29 birthdate.

None of the local Leapers were actually scheduled to be born on Feb. 29. Herrod said she was due Easter Sunday; Autumn said she was due on Valentine’s Day.

“I’d rather have Leap Day,” Autumn added.

Riley wasn’t due until May; she was born 10 weeks premature. Ramsey also arrived about two months early.

Why do they leap?

The local Leapers seem to understand somewhat how their unique birthday situation works, but not so much on the why.

“I know it’s to keep seasons,” Autumn said. Cheyenne said she knew it involved the Earth’s rotation around the Sun.

Leap Day exists because the earth rotates around the sun every 365 days. Precisely, every 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds.

Past world calendar makers included formulas to keep the calendars aligned with the seasons. The Troth, an early Egyptian calendar created by King Ptolemy in 283 BC, included an extra day every fourth year.

The original Roman calendar was once set at 304 days and then 355 days with an extra 22 or 23-day month (February) added every other year (The new year then began on Mar. 1).

In 46 BC Julius Ceasar introduced the Julian calendar, based on the Troth, with an extra day every four years.

Following Ceasar’s death in 44 BC Roman officials accidentally began adding an extra day every three years. To compensate, there were no Leap Days from 10 BC to 8 AD.

By the 16th Century the vernal equinox no longer coincided with the March 21 date. This became a problem for the Catholic Church and its placement of ‘movable holidays’ such as Easter.

In 1582 a commission formed by Pope Gregory XII officially adopted the Gregorian calendar, the one used today by most of the world including the US. To realign with the vernal equinox, Oct. 4, 1582 was followed the next day by Oct. 15.

The Gregorian calendar is not mathematically correct, either: The calendar is mathematically a day off every 3,236 years.

Also, the Leap Days don’t exactly take place every four years, so a formula was added to the Gregorian calendar allowing for 97 Leap Days every 400 years. The formula is implemented by not including Leap Years that end with a double zero, such as 1700, 1800 and 1900.

Every fourth double zero year, however, still includes a Leap Day, so the year 2000 was 366 days. Because of that last rule, Evan joined the club of local Leapers.

“It makes me special,” Evan said. “It’s good luck. It’s the only day like that and I happened to be born that day.”

Lucky 29?

The basic odds of being born on Feb. 29 are roughly one in 1,506, the number of days within a four-year calendar span.

In the Middle Ages people considered it unlucky, in some cases possibly even a curse, to be born on Leap Day. Today’s Leapers don’t see it as such, viewing the day as a special opportunity.

“It’s neither good nor bad, it’s my birthday,” Jacob said.

“I don’t believe in luck,” Cheyenne said. “I just think it’s cool.”

There are occasions where the special birthday constitutes an inconvenience. Herrod, the senior member of this group, has experienced some of them.

“One time a doctor’s office computer wouldn’t accept my birthday,” she said. “And on Facebook I didn’t receive a birthday greeting. I got a reminder on the 28th and it was gone on the 1st. But this year they’ve fixed that.”

The only student that mentioned an inconvenience was Evan, but he felt it was mostly lighthearted.

“My Dad says I’ll have to be 64 to drive a car,” Evan said.

Where non-Leapers look at a true birthday every four years as a disadvantage, the Leapers tend to compensate during the other three years.

“I celebrate on 28th and on the 1st,” said Jacob. “Nobody can tell me I can’t. My aunt makes me a special cake on Leap Year. She usually makes me a kids’ cake, because I’m 4. Usually it’s Winnie the Pooh.”

There are no requirements, and all Leapers celebrate in different ways. Evan said he alternates, celebrating the 28th one year and the 1st the next year.

Riley said she celebrated her birthday on the 28th “so I can keep my birthday in the same month.”

Ramsey just celebrates on the closest weekend, one day with friends and the other with family.

“It’s just a birthday,” he added. “There’s no extra fuss to report.”

Herrod always celebrates big on Feb. 29. Today she’s having a roller skating party in honor of her eighth birthday.

“That’s what you do when you turn eight, you have a skating party,” Herrod said. 

Herrod said celebrating her birthday is always a big deal every fourth year.

“I’ve always looked at it as making me kind of unique,” she said.

“I’m more unique,” said Jacob. “I’m more special. It maybe made me a little better.”