BHS students learning ‘valuable skills,’ making ‘lifelong friends’ in Boy Scouts

Not everything can be taught within the four walls of Bearden High School – especially if you’re considering becoming a master of Indian lore, snow sports, or space exploration. These are just a few of the optional merit badges offered by the Boy Scouts of America. To become an Eagle Scout, an individual must earn a total of 21 merit badges, including required ones like Camping and First Aid. “There’s hundreds of merit badges,” Eagle Scout and BHS senior Seth Watkins said. “They have one for everything.” In fact, Bearden is home to several Boy Scouts. Sophomore Drake Hamby and junior Stewart Turnbowl in addition to seniors Barrett Burgin, Abram Bradley, Tor Voorhees, and Jimmy Weir are also involved with the program; some have even achieved the prestigious status of Eagle Scout. A number of troops ranging in size make up the BSA Knoxville district, which is part of the Great Smoky Mountain Council. Troops typically meet weekly to discuss activities and achievements. “You start the Boy Scout process in fifth grade, and then you get all your different rank advancements,” Watkins said. Participants spend three years as Cub Scouts before transitioning to Boy Scouts. Once they have met a set of qualifications, they are eligible to become an Eagle Scout. To do so, they must “plan, develop, and lead a project that benefits a non-profit organization,” as potential Eagle Scout and Bearden senior Ben Householder explains. “After completing your project, you have to attend an Eagle Board,” he said. “The Eagle Board is made up of unrelated Eagle Scouts and at least one district representative. “All the Board does is review your project and make sure it was carried out correctly and showed signs of BSA ideals, then go over scouting in general to make sure you meet BSA standards.” Householder has just started this process, choosing to build a bridge in his neighborhood. Watkins also contributed similar community efforts to receive the Eagle Scout honor when he rehabilitated a collection of benches in poor condition at Ebeneezer United Methodist Church. Mr. Matt McWhirter, BHS Social Studies teacher and Eagle Scout, even remembers his project of choice in the BSA process. As a member of “Troop 27, based in First Presbyterian Church of Karns, Mississippi,” Mr. McWhirter sorted the church choir’s massive collection of sheet music into a case. “I did things I never would have ever done in my life otherwise,” Mr. McWhirter said. “I did the archery and basketry merit badges, but also learned some very valuable skills like first aid and emergence preparedness, and all these other things you have to do to be prepared for life. “Plus, it’s a lot of fun too.” BSA sponsors a wide variety of activities for its members, from camping competitions to canoe trips. Natives of Knoxville typically pay a visit to Camp Bucktoms just outside of Rockwood. “I’ve met lifelong friends that I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Watkins said. “I’ve gone on campouts, I’ve canoed on a river and slept on the river for almost a week. “It’s just a great opportunity to hang out with people and really get to know how to survive in life.” The Eagle Scout experience not only provides young men with the opportunity for adventure in the great outdoors, but also opportunities for their futures. “Simply being a part of the community of scouts opens many doors for me,” Householder said. “It gives me plenty of connections for jobs and schools across the country.” Many colleges offer scholarships to BSA members. Even if Eagle Scouts don’t find specific scholarships, there’s no doubt that admissions officers will consider their participation admirable. “I hope it looks good on a college application, because I’ve worked all my life for it,” Watkins said.