All eight members of the Cherokee Patrol in Troop 1011 received the highest rank a Boy Scout can attain. It is only the second time in the 38-year history of Mt. Bethel's Scouting program that an entire patrol has become Eagle Scouts. It's rare to have had all members enter the Scouting program together.
Members of Cherokee Patrol are: Connor Crank, 18, Preston Ehlers, 17, Kirk Malcolm, 18, Benjy Stamberger, 18, Alex Walgren, 17, all Walton High School students; Joseph Privateer, 17, of Wheeler High School; and George Merriam IV, 18, of Woodward Academy.
Johnathan Gopel, 18, of Wheeler High School, just completed his Eagle Scout requirements on Thursday and will have a separate ceremony.
The eight young men have experienced a number of Scouting adventures over the years together, from hiking the Appalachian Trail, biking on Cape Cod, Mass., and snorkeling in Florida, to their most recent outing, a sailing trip to the Bahamas.
Besides entering Cub Scouts at the same time, the patrol has earned numerous awards including the Baden Powell National Honor Patrol, Veteran Summer Camper Award, World Conservation Award and U.S. Heritage Award.
However, meeting the requirements on the road to Eagle Scout wasn't a cakewalk for members of the patrol, which is a group within the troop.
"I was close to wanting to quit, but I didn't want to lose the friendships that I had," remembered Joseph. "They encouraged me to stay in."
Considering how easy teenage boys become distracted by other things and lose interest in Scouting makes the patrol's accomplishment that more impressive, said Al Friel, 84, former Troop 1011 scoutmaster. Fred Gillespie, 56, the group's former Cub scoutmaster, said having active parents was critical in all the patrol members earning the Eagle Scout rank.
"We were blessed to have parents volunteer a lot of their effort to guide the boys. Let's face it, boys in elementary school need guidance," he said. "These guys were lucky to have participating parents."
There are 325 requirements to become an Eagle Scout, said Dr. Tom Haltom, the patrol's former scoutmaster.
Only about 5 percent of those who become Boy Scouts earn the Eagle Scout rank, according to the National Eagle Scout Association. A Boy Scout must fulfill requirements in the areas of leadership, service and outdoor skills to do so. Of the 120 merit badges, he must earn 21 to qualify for Eagle Scout. Of those, there are 12 required badges, including camping, first aid, personal fitness and family life.
In 2009, the Atlanta Area Council awarded 527 Eagle Scout awards, a new record for the council, said Tracy Techau, Atlanta Area Council Scout Executive.
"I think the fact that we're all such great friends helped make every Scout function really fun, as opposed to some kids whose best friends aren't in their patrol," Alex said. "Basically, all of the Scout campouts were really fun for us."
"We've been together since elementary school and getting through it all together is just part of the road to Eagle," George said. "Getting together on a day like this, you really get to see the accomplishments and how we can all stick it through together."
Sunday's ceremony included the traditional lighting of the Eagle candle, the pinning of the Eagle badge by the Scouts' mothers, and a presentation of special pins for their parents. Their current scoutmaster, Tom Whitfield, led the Scouts in the Eagle oath. Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott and state Rep. Matt Dollar were in attendance.
Cathy Walgren, assistant scoutmaster and Alex's mother, was there at the beginning and remembered forming Tiger Cub Den 1 with the boys.
"The fact that the boys insisted on being Den No. 1 was an early signal of their competitive spirit and high aspirations," she recalled.
"Over the years there were many campouts in Jonathan's backyard - Sen. Johnny Isakson even came to one of them. They marched in parades, picked apples in Ellijay, slept at the zoo, camped near the haunted house in McIntosh...and spent endless Saturday's at those Home Depot workshops; all the while their friendships grew."
Members of the patrol said their advise to others looking to make Eagle is to "stick it out" and have fun.
"We wouldn't be here without each other," said George.