Janesville scout troop an Eagle Scout factory

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, February 2, 2014

JANESVILLE—In the last 6 years, Scoutmaster Norm Tadt and other officials from Janesville Boy Scout Troop 539 have seen 20 scouts earn their Eagle Scout badge.

The Eagle Scout badge—a bronze eagle that dangles from a red-white-and-blue flag beneath a bronze banner that reads, “Be Prepared”—is recognized by scouts as an honor akin to the American military Bronze Star.

The medal, which is awarded along with a pin and a blue kerchief, is given in a ceremony to those who have reached the highest level of achievement in the Boy Scouts of America.

It has becoming something of a rite of passage for Janesville's Troop 539. Since 1964, the troop has had 83 boys earn Eagle Scouts.

The troop has father-and-son eagle scouts. One family has had three sons become Eagle Scouts since 2010; that's something on the order of 30 years of collective work between the three boys. Sunday, the troop honored four scouts at St. William Parish, all of whom have been scouts since elementary school, and are now Eagles.

The Eagles included Janesville Parker High School seniors Robert Getka and Mitch Treinen, Parker graduate Austin McDonald, Parker junior Jonathan Pollock and Janesville troop 540 scout Travis Hawkinson a freshman at UW-Eau Claire.

The four earned their eagle badges at a time when about four percent of all scouts reach the Eagle Scout distinction in their lifetime. In Janesville, the number is twice that high, eight to 10 percent, which Boy Scouts District Executive Director Andy Olsen said is “unusual” and “significant.”

“It's leadership. Scouts have been trained by great people, great masters, to go forward and be good,” Olsen said in a ceremony speech to new Eagle Scouts.

On Sunday, Tadt told a reporter he was uncomfortable with the term “Eagle Scout factory,” even though the troop he leads alongside Janesville resident Kevin O'Leary has been cranking out an unusually large number of top scouts for years.

“It's not something we look at that way. We just try emphasize and remember that we're a troop led by boys. The boys tell you what they want. It's our job as leaders to facilitate what the boys want to do.”

Most youths who make it to the threshold of eagle scouts start with cub scouts at age 7 or 8, and continue through high school.

For most, it takes 10 years and thousands of hours spent doing service projects and mastering dozens of scouting skills, which range from chess to camping to mechanical and electrical training, before they earn their bronze eagle.

It's no wonder there are so few Eagle Scouts nationwide.

“We've had a slew of kids that are three-sport athletes and honor society,” Tadt said. “This was just another thing that they did when they were younger, but they stuck with it. They're achievers.

One Eagle Scout, Robert Getka, is in chess clubs, plays baseball and participates in a school robotics club. That's on top of his Eagle Scout service project, which involved clearing three acres of wooded land and a log-filled river at the Janesville School Outdoor Lab.

Tadt said that Janesville troops have tried in recent years to help promising young scouts balance their scout duties and time-consuming Eagle Scout service projects with their other activities.

With long, dark hair and multiple lip and ear piercings, Eagle Scout Jonathan Pollock looks more like a young rock musician than someone who would straighten his merit badge sash while helping an elderly lady across a street.

Pollock doesn't worry about the double-takes from classmates when he tells them he's a scout. Tadt and other scoutmasters saw Pollock's leadership abilities and sent him for scout leader training courses that Pollock now uses to advise and mentor young scouts.

Pollock looked at his Eagle Scout badge and reflected on the 10 years he's spent becoming an eagle.

“I don't feel a lot different today,” he said. “I realize all the work it's taken. But I don't feel I've quite gotten where I'm going.”

Last updated: 7:21 pm Sunday, February 2, 2014

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