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13-year-old earns Eagle Scout rank

May 17, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

KEEDYSVILLE -- The idea of spending a weekend huddled in a tent in below-freezing temperatures is enough to make even a dedicated outdoorsman shudder, but it never stopped Mark Johnson, 13, of Keedysville, from trekking out with his Boy Scout troop into whatever weather their year-round monthly campouts brought.

"We had one time it was calling for freezing rain and we had most of the kids drop out, but he showed up with two other kids, so we had about as many leaders as kids," said Scott Farrow, Scout master for Troop 265 in Hagerstown.

Mark's dedication paid off in March when he became one of the youngest boys in the Mason-Dixon Council's history to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.

There are no official records of the youngest Boy Scouts to become Eagles, but 13 is pretty much the youngest age such an achievement is possible, given the amount of time that must be spent on the various prerequisites, said Mark Barbernitz, Scout executive for the Mason-Dixon Council, which includes Washington County, Fulton County, Pa., and parts of Franklin County, Pa.

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The average age Eagle Scouts obtain the rank is 16, but some don't complete the requirements until weeks before their 18th birthday, the upper age cutoff, Barbernitz said.

Nationally, only 4 percent of Boy Scouts ever reach the Eagle rank, he said.

Completing the requirements in such a short time period reflected tremendous persistence and dedication from a boy who balances numerous other commitments, Farrow said.

In addition to Scouting, Mark, an eighth-grader at Boonsboro Middle School, participates in 4-H, rides horses, holds a position with numerous responsibilities at his church, and serves as team captain of a local trivia team that placed second this year in a Horse Bowl trivia contest at the University of Maryland.

Despite the busy schedule, Mark said he was determined for several years to become an Eagle Scout and set a goal to do so by the time he was 13 1/2.

"My older brothers, my dad and all of his brothers were all Eagle Scouts," he said. "It's like a family tradition."

To become an Eagle, Scouts must complete 11 required merit badges and another 10 of their choice, complete a service project, and complete a review that includes a binder presentation, letters of recommendation and an extensive interview.

Some of the badges can be a real challenge to complete, such as Citizenship and the World, which Mark's mother, LeAnn Johnson, said was like taking an entire course on world governments.

Many Scouts lose steam when they finish the more fun badges and are left with more academic ones, she said.

Mark said he persisted because achieving his goal was important to him.

"If I say I'm going to do something, I'm going to try my hardest to do it," he said "And also, a lot of the experiences were really fun."

He said his favorite badges were the water-related ones, like swimming, kayaking and lifesaving, though it took him two tries to successfully swim a quarter-mile for one of the requirements.

For his service project, Mark organized the construction of equine trail obstacles for use in horsemanship competitions at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

He said he got the idea because his 4-H group planned to host a trail ride to raise money for charity, but had only makeshift obstacles with which to work. Instead of a gate, the center had a rope stretched between posts, and for a bridge, it had planks laid across two-by-fours, he said.

Last year on Labor Day, he coordinated a group of more than 30 volunteers, who built a new gate, bridge and steps in a matter of hours.

The smooth project day required months of preparation, such as distributing fliers requesting volunteers and asking companies for material donations, Mark said.

For part of that time, Mark woke up early to spend an hour working before school each day, LeAnn said.

"Everything was hectic," Mark said.

With all the work behind him and his Eagle insignia attached proudly to his uniform, Mark has shown no signs of slowing down, Farrow said. He serves as a patrol leader in his troop, helping other boys work toward their Eagle rank, and has almost completed enough extra badges for an Eagle Palm recognition.

The next goal on his list? Mark says he is thinking about working to create a horse trail as a service project for the Diamond-Clover Award, a 4-H distinction comparable to Eagle Scout.

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