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Adults organize to keep kids' birthdays happy

By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- When Keon Bolden turned 8 years old on Sept. 11, 2001, he worried he would never have a happy birthday again. News of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington forever left a dark cloud hovering over his special day.

So when Keon's homeroom teacher sent him to the front office at Tyrone Elementary School on Sept. 11, 2002, the third-grader was certain he was in for another bad birthday.

"I thought they wanted to talk to me about my grades," he said.

What Keon didn't know when he dutifully marched to the principal's office was that his teacher, Sandy Cochran, and about two dozen classmates were getting ready to make sure Keon's ninth birthday was his best one yet.

"We were so busy talking about everything that happened that day," Cochran said of the day terrorists rammed jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "He didn't even tell us it was his birthday. We wanted to be sure he knew we remembered his birthday this year."

Keon's mother, Eyvette Smith, said her son is not likely to forget the giddy shouts of "surprise" and the birthday balloon ambush that greeted him when he returned to his classroom from his fool's errand.

Keon was not the only one in the Tampa Bay area celebrating a birthday on Sept. 11. In Tampa, the Florida Aquarium expected nearly 1,000 people to show up for a special "Take Back Your Birthday" celebration for kids born on Sept. 11.

FM radio station Mix 100.7 spokesman Will McLaughlin said the station and the aquarium began planning the party several months ago after radio personality Nancy Alexander interviewed a child who missed his birthday last year because of the attacks. Dozens of area businesses donated gifts and entertainment for the party, which ran from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Although aquarium staffers received more than 1,000 inquiries from parents of children with September birthdays before the event, McLaughlin said children with birth certificates dated Sept. 11 were given priority at the door.

Back at Tyrone Elementary, Smith and Cochran said they hoped Keon's surprise party would help erase his memories of last year's subdued celebration.

And judging from Keon's wide-eyed look of glee as he feasted on red, white and blue frosted cupcakes and lunged after a shower of candy that fell from a Spider-Man pinata suspended in the middle of the classroom, their mission was accomplished.

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