by BRANDON KATHMAN
The Boy Scouts of America’s Withlacoochee District announced that more local Scouts have earned the rank of Eagle in the past twelve months than in any year prior, with this year’s total doubling the previous record.
“The Eagle Rank is the most honorable, prestigious and sought after award in the Boy Scouts of America,” Dwayne Jones, director of field service for the Greater Tampa Bay Area Council, said. “That the number of recipients in Withlacoochee has grown exponentially speaks to the dedication of the youth and their adult leaders.”
Twenty-eight young men achieved the rank in the last cycle within Withlacoochee District, which encompasses units in Hernando, Sumter and Citrus Counties. According to the Boy Scouts of America, only 6 percent of Scouts earn the rank of Eagle within the seven years they can participate. However, approximately 9 percent of all local Scouts earned the Eagle rank in the past year alone.
At a time when many youth organizations are reduced to limited operations, local leaders credit the surge to Scouting’s endurance through the pandemic and the accessibility of online program options.
“With the kids being out of school, they've been working on their Scout stuff,” Steve Epple, the district’s Eagle Board of Review chair, said. “It has been a banner year. They all wanted to get their stuff done, and we’ve got four or five more in the pipeline.”
Epple projected that with the growth of the district and the continued availability of program options, the number of local Eagle Scouts will continue to climb in the future.
The rank of Eagle Scout is only earned after planning and conducting a large service project for the benefit of the community. The district’s newest Eagle, Paul Weaver Jr. of Troop 462, held an essentials drive in collaboration with Connections, a homeless shelter in Hernando, Florida.
“It felt fantastic,” Weaver said. “We got anything they might need. We got clothes, made little drawstring bags with toiletries, the whole 9 yards.”
His mother, Cindy Weaver, said she was surprised by the support they received from the community for his project, describing the donations received as “too many to count.” She also credited Scouting with giving her son confidence and the means to succeed in the world.
Some local troops have been active for over a century, while others were established more recently. Troop 443 celebrated its first ever class of Eagles this year with recipients Eric Pease, Shawn Sully, Lucas Rogers and Jared Matthews.
“The four have been together since Cub Scouts,” Assistant Scoutmaster Michael Pease said. “Scouting has brought us close together as families. We are together almost every weekend and spend holidays together.”
With the recent incorporation of female Scouts BSA Troops, the district expects to see its first female Eagle Scouts by the year’s end. Tony Bryant, the father of one such Scout, said he earned his own Eagle rank in Withlacoochee District on November 24, 1986. He believes his daughter, Hannah, will finish hers almost 34 years later to the date, becoming the first Eagle Scout of Troop 8681G.
For the Greater Tampa Bay Area Council, these are all encouraging signs of a healthy program in the three counties.
“Hopefully these young people either stay in or return to the area to make their living,” Jones said. “Their character will make a positive impact on their communities for years and years to come.”