Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Troop 96 Boy Scouts soaring through the ranks

Ten members of African-American troop awarded Eagle Scout at weekend ceremony

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In June 2001, members of the Boy Scout Troop 96 in Burtonsville had to be rescued from a flash flood on a camping trip in Bull Run Park in Northern Virginia. It was most of the troop’s first camping experience and one that formed an early bond among the boys, who were Cub Scouts at the time, and their families.

Almost seven years later, eight of those boys are among the 10 scouts from Troop 96, the only Africa-American troop in Montgomery County, honored this year for earning the Eagle Scout rank.

‘‘That was something that brought the families together, that crisis,” said Angela Charles, a member of the troop’s planning committee, whose sons Gerald and Gabriel became Eagle Scouts together. ‘‘A lot of us just stuck in it and a lot of our boys made it all the way through to become an Eagle Scout.”

The 10 scouts, two of whom went before the Eagle Scout Board of Review this year, six of whom passed last year and two more who were reviewed in 2005 and 2006, defy national numbers that say only 2 percent of scouts achieve the Eagle ranking, according to the Boy Scouts of America Web site. The troop, which was founded in 1993 by the late Rev. T.J. Baltimore of the People’s Community Baptist Church on Norwood Road, had previously produced just four Eagle Scouts.

A traditional Court of Honor ceremony was held Saturday at the church to honor the scouts in front of their families and past troop members, and to present them with the Eagle Award.

‘‘Right after I became an Eagle, I thought it was an accomplishment,” said Gabriel Charles, a sophomore at Sherwood High School. ‘‘But at the ceremony, with all the people that came, I saw the true meaning of being an Eagle Scout.”

A big part of the camaraderie among the scouts and the families of the scouts can be attributed to the troop’s African-American heritage, said Karen Sullivan, mother of Armando Sullivan, a Kennedy High School sophomore and one of the Eagle Scouts honored Saturday.

‘‘The county is diverse but not as diverse as it could be, so the parents feel camaraderie and the boys feel closer simply because of what they go through,” she said.

The troop was founded through People’s Community when Deacon George Sandidge wanted a social group for his sons that would incorporate prayer and African-American culture with the scout’s way of life. Sandidge then took the idea to the Rev. Baltimore who put the troop together.

‘‘It’s a real challenge,” Sandidge said of the Eagle Scout rank. ‘‘I’m very proud to see so many of our boys make it through.”

In order to become an Eagle Scout, a scout must earn at least 21 merit badges relating to specific skills, life-saving techniques and community involvement. Eleven badges, which include tasks such as camping, first aid, personal fitness and others, are required of all scouts, with the other 10 filled by the scout’s own electives. Each Eagle Scout must also complete an Eagle Project that exhibits leadership and community involvement.

Within Troop 96, Eagle projects ranged from Sherwood senior Gerald Charles’ trip to Ethiopia to teach computer literacy to underprivileged teachers and students, to book drives by Springbrook High School sophomore Andrew Gantz and Richard Montgomery senior Tyler Jackson, to blood drives organized by Our Lady of Good Counsel senior Jordan Myers and his brother Jarrett, a junior at Good Counsel.

‘‘It took a lot of work and a lot of weekends and a lot of days and nights doing extra work,” said Langston Brown, a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and the youngest Eagle Scout honored this year.

All of the requirements must be completed before the scouts graduate high school and an Eagle Board of Review makes the final decision on ranking.

While the achievement is an individual one, Jackson stressed the importance of working toward the Eagle Scout rank right along with his peers.

‘‘Gerald [Charles] and I had a rank race to see who could get to Eagle Scout first,” said Jackson, who will attend Washington University in St. Louis next year. ‘‘We always helped to push each other along.”

Gerald, who beat Jackson to Eagle Scout by six months, will take the values learned through Boy Scouts to Salisbury University next year.

‘‘The things we learned, those skills can carry me for the rest of my life,” he said.

troop 96 eagle scouts honored

Jeffrey Myers, 20: Passed review September 2005, junior at Towson University.

Jordan Myers, 18: Passed review April 2006, senior at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.

Gerald Charles, 18: Passed review February 2007, senior at Sherwood High School.

Kenneth Malloy, 19: Passed review March 2007, sophomore at East Carolina University.

Jarrett Myers, 17: Passed review March 2007, junior at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.

Gabriel Charles, 16: Passed Review September 2007, sophomore at Sherwood High School.

Langston Brown, 15: Passed review October 2007, sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Tyler Jackson, 17: Passed review December 2007, senior at Richard Montgomery High School.

Andrew Gantz, 16: Passed review February 2008, sophomore at Springbrook High School.

Armando Sullivan, 15: Passed review March 2008, sophomore at Kennedy High School.