Every time I see an article in a newspaper talking about Boy Scouts who have earned their Eagle rank, such as the eight Scouts from Troop 25 who were promoted to Eagle several weeks ago, I silently say “Welcome to the club.” It is a uniquely singular kind of club, one in which not many boys actually belong.
The Eagle Scout rank was first awarded in 1912. One hundred years later, in 2012, 83,486,083 boys have been in Boy Scouts, but only three percent, or 2,209,000, have achieved the Eagle Scout rank. That’s a pretty elite club.
I earned my Eagle in 1972 with Troop 175 in Decatur. It was kind of a family tradition. My father had helped start the troop and my oldest brother Jimmy was one of the first Scouts in the troop. He earned his Eagle rank in 1960. My middle brother Johnny earned his Eagle rank in Troop 175 in 1964. So when I got old enough, it was just natural that I join the troop. I had some good times on my way to Eagle.
I joined in the spring of 1966, just after I turned 11. The troop would do weekend hikes on the Appalachian Trail, and I went on my first hike that fall. I remember stopping in Helen on our way to where we would hit the trail. When you think of Helen today, you think of a Georgia version of an Alpine village. But in 1966, Helen was still just a sleepy little town. I’m sure none of us had the slightest inkling then of what Helen would become a few years down the road.
I remember going to Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee with my troop. We camped out inside the caverns overnight, and hiked and crawled our way through sections of the cavern where it was so tight you had to lie flat on your belly and crawl. I’m glad I did it then, because I’ve gotten claustrophobic in my old age, and just the thought of being in a place that tight gives me the shakes now.
I worked my way up through the ranks and made Life Scout, one step below Eagle, by the time I was 15. I really enjoyed some of the merit badges, like the Citizenship badge. One of the troop’s earlier Eagle Scouts taught it. His name was Pierre Howard, and at the time he was an attorney in Decatur. Later on, he became a State Senator, and eventually Lieutenant Governor under Zell Miller.
One badge I didn’t really enjoy earning was my Swimming merit badge. I was taught how to swim at an early age, but I’ve always been more of a floater than a swimmer. To me, water is for relaxing, and how are you supposed to relax by flailing your arms and legs around until you get tired. I’d rather just float along and take it easy. But for the badge, I had to swim a mile. I did it in an Olympic-size swimming pool and, lucky for me, there was no time limit. I took my time and spent a lot of it on my back, doing a lazy back stroke. When I finished, the instructor told me that was the longest mile in terms of time that he’d ever seen.
After all that, I almost didn’t make Eagle. I finished up my last requirements for Eagle in the fall of 1972. The Boy Scout program was in the midst of changing the requirements, and if I didn’t get approved for my Eagle before December 31, 1972, the required number of merit badges was going to increase from 21 (which I had) to 24. Thankfully, my troop committee held my Eagle Scout Board of Review on Dec. 23, 1972, and airmailed my results to Boy Scout Headquarters. I didn’t officially receive my Eagle rank until January 1973, but it was approved under the old standard. (The new standards proved to be a disaster, with the number of Scouts drastically dropping, and the old standards were reinstated in 1976.)
So I understand all the hard work and determination it takes to make Eagle rank, and I say, “Welcome to the club.”
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.