During organization’s 112 years, only 4 percent earned highest rank of Eagle
By Calvin Nuttall
Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout is no easy feat, but three dedicated young men from Morgan Hill’s Scout BSA Troop 730 recently passed their review boards to attain the organization’s highest honor.
Jake Morgan, Aerin Schmall, and Thomas Kouwenhoven in mid-December joined the elite group of Scouts who have reached the prestigious Eagle rank through years of service, leadership, and completing rigorous requirements.
To these young Scouts, becoming Eagles means more than the completion of a program. It is a rite of passage that affirms their skills, maturity, and moral character as they enter into adulthood.
“There is so much more meaning behind the words,” Morgan said. “It is who you are as a person that makes the Scout. As a kid, I thought of an Eagle Scout as the perfect man. It is the person who matured, it is the person who understands what he is doing — everything you can and want to be when you grow up.”
In the organization’s 112-year history, only four percent of all Scouts have reached the final rank. In order to qualify, a Scout must demonstrate their skills through the collection of 21 merit badges, serve six months in a leadership position within the organization, and complete a service project to benefit their community.
“It helps you build the foundation for your morals, teaches you to take care of yourself, teaches you to take care of others, and prepares you for life,” Kouwenhoven said. “If you want to join scouting but you are not really into camping, you can still earn other merit badges and you’ll even learn more about yourself.”
Each Scout must propose, plan, and execute their own community benefit project to demonstrate their hands-on and leadership skills.
“It demonstrates that a Scout can complete a series of requirements that are quite broad in nature,” said Lynn Liebschutz, committee chair. “Involving both other people, their own planning, and their leadership. With those in their back pocket, I think this prepares them going forward to take those processes and use them again and again.”
For his project, Schmall chose an ecological approach. When he saw construction projects erasing habitat near his home, he decided to design and install bat boxes to provide a safe habitat for the wildlife.
“Bats are really important for our agrarian community, same as bees,” he said. “These fields were the main habitat and feeding grounds of those bats. I really wanted to make something that ensures that these bats have a safe place to live and can continue to thrive.”
Once a Scout has met all of their qualifications, they must face their final challenge: the review board. Board members evaluate the prospective Eagle’s scouting records, attitude, and ideals.
“Typically, I view it as a mirror,” Liebschutz said. “You’re holding a mirror up for the Scout to really be proud of what they have achieved, even though it is only a stepping stone along their way. This really brings it all together.”
The review board consists of three to six members who may not be unit leaders, assistant unit leaders, relatives or guardians of the Scout under review. Though this is not the practice in all Scout Troops, 730 also invites members of the non-Scouting community to participate in the review board to bring in an outside perspective to the process.
“I was nervous at first,” Kouwenhoven said, reflecting on the process. “I know they were just there for an honest review of my scouting experience, so just staying true to myself made it comfortable for me. It was a very welcoming environment. I’d even say it was quite a lot of fun.”
After reviewing the Scout’s experience with them in a large room at Morgan Hill’s Masonic Center, the review board dismisses them to deliberate privately. Once they are certain whether the Scout has met their requirements and lives up to the Scout’s Code and Scout’s Law, they bring the candidate back in to deliver the news. In the end, all three were awarded the prestigious honor.
“The highest priority in my life has been fulfilled,” Morgan said after receiving the news. “It was the thing that mattered more than school to me. It is so great to be in a position to say that I am an Eagle Scout. I can’t even describe it. Now it’s on to the next thing.”
While they are now ready to take on new challenges in life, that doesn’t mean these young leaders will be turning their backs on Scouting, they said. Each has a plan to remain involved with the organization in some capacity in the future.
“I’m a bit sad, because it does mean that I’ll be leaving the troop,” Schmall said. “I don’t want to leave yet. I want to be involved in any way that I can. It has had such a profound impact on me, I really want to be a part of that impact on a kid in the future. I want to see them grow the same way that I grew.”
The Boy Scouts are well known for their emphasis on outdoor activity. Among the required merit badges to become an Eagle Scout are First Aid, Environmental Science, Personal Fitness, Camping, Emergency Preparedness, and one of Cycling, Hiking, or Swimming.
“Learning practical outdoor skills is the most important thing you can do as a human being, I think,” Morgan said. “I have the skills to be a person who can build fires, hunt for and cook food, I can forage, I can do woodworking and I know how to understand directions. You might say, ‘I have Google maps, why would I need to know?’ But I know how to read a map, I know where the North Star is. If I lost all of my connection to the world, I would still be fine.”
Most importantly, he said, the physical challenges of Scouting build “grit and tenacity” that help propel him through all of life’s challenges, in and outside of Scouting.
“We take so many things for granted, and they could just be taken away like that,” he said. “Basic survival is the most important skill you can learn. That is what really makes me understand how important it is to be a Scout: waking up every day and doing what you need to do because it is important, and not because it is what you want. That is what Scouts teaches you.”
While the program has historically been open only to males, the organization decided in 2019 to change its policies and allow girls to join as well, changing the name of the program from Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA.
While troops are still segregated by gender, it is now possible for young women to experience the same program and progress toward the rank of Eagle alongside their friends and brothers. The first female Eagle, Isabella Tunney, was awarded her badge in 2021.
“It is very encouraging now that we have both boys and girls working on Eagle,” Liebschutz said. “It is recognized worldwide, and demonstrates to people who are hiring that this person has dedicated a lot of time to completing a task, and followed through. ”
Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter.