When Norcross Scout Troop 26 was on a hiking and camping trip on the Appalachian Trail, one of the boys sat a pot of boiling water on an uneven picnic table. The pot spilled out onto one of the boy’s feet, causing a serious burn. The troop said their training kicked in: They built a stretcher out of tree branches to carry the injured scout back to safety.
Aside from being versed in survival skills, the troop of about 25 is unusual for another reason. Many of the members have been together since they were six years old and are now achieving Eagle Scout at 18. Eight of the scouts graduating last were in the troop since the elementary school, while six more this year and five next year will be a part of that close-knit bunch. “You really don’t get that anymore,” said Scout Master Kevin Dunn, who has been involved with the boys in one way or another since they started out.
The Eagles said they can remember back to camping trips with their families when they were cub scouts—tornadoes and all.
But some of their favorite memories include more daring feats that they took on as group. This year, the boys will finish the High Adventure Triple Crown Award. When they were about 14 they did a 110-mile backpacking hike that took 11 days at Philmont. Then they completed Sea Base in Florida. Now they’ll be canoeing through a series of lakes on the U.S.-Canada border called Northern Tier, hiking with canoes in tow to get to the next push-off point.
“It’s cool because we’ve grown up together and we get in trouble together as a group,” joked Andrew Dunn, Kevin’s son, an Eagle who laughs about food fights started in the shower at camp. “It’s all innocent stuff, of course,” he adds.
Kevin agrees, Eagle or not they are still teenage boys. At a recent gathering of Troop 26, the last of the year, younger scouts the mood was playful--and loud--as they did a gift exchange game.
Only two in 100 scouts achieves Eagle, according to Dunn. Eagles have to earn a variety of merit badges, including some that test their physical fitness, survival skills and teach them about professions. They also must complete a project that they plan out and execute themselves, which shows “adult-level leadership skills.” And it all has to be completed before their 18th birthday.
The real key in achieving Eagle Scout is learning leadership, says Dunn. If an Eagle project includes building park benches, the scout who is going for Eagle would likely find a park that needs benches, learn how to build them and get the materials donated—but he would be overseeing, orchestrating.
The troop started in 1983 at in Norcross, where they still hold meetings in a hut that the boys themselves helped build. “In the last three years, we’ve produced more Eagles than in the entire 27 year history,” Dunn says, proudly.
“Getting my Eagle has taught me a lot about organization and keeping a calm head,” said Edward Duke, one of this year’s group of Eagles. He said it took him a year and a half to put together his project to build a sign for the church. “It’s like sending it off to a publisher,” Duke said, and they send it back with revisions.
Andrew Min and Kam Hopper both built raised garden beds for the Norcross community for their Eagle projects, with Hopper’s creating the and Min’s being used by the Garden Club at . Kam even thought to create one bed that was twice as high so people with disabilities could access it.
“It has taught me responsibility,” said Hopper, who wants to study Information Systems at Georgia State when he finished up at Norcross High. “How to keep on top of things and not procrastinate.”
By the other scout leaders’ accounts, it is Dunn's leadership that has helped make that happen. “This whole thing revolves around one person: Kevin,” said David Wilson, a leader with the troop. “We all respect him so much.”
“You aren’t going to remember everything you learn in scouts,” said Duke, but the friendship and the leadership, those are things that stick.