For children in a Boy Scouts of America troop, achieving the highest ranking of Eagle is a moment of pride.
For five boys from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, it was a family affair.
The quintet of cousins completed their final projects and earned the coveted ranking together in a court of honor last Sunday.
The boys were all members of Boy Scout troops at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Newport Beach. The church announced about a year and a half ago that it was going to wind down its Scouting program, so the boys decided to buckle down and work for their Eagle ranking before the troops closed down.
“It’s pretty rewarding,” said Jeffrey Dangl, 14. “People who I’ve told about it have been like, ‘Oh good job. I was in Scouts and it was hard.’”
To achieve the Eagle rank, Scouts must earn 21 merit badges, serve in a leadership position in their troop, pass boards of review and complete a community service project. Each of the five cousins undertook a different project to give back to their communities.
Spencer Kettley, a Newport Harbor High School senior, made 300 paracord bracelets to give to military members and first responders — who could use the durable material in case of emergencies. His stepbrother, Newport Harbor freshman Caleb Wheeler, assembled 67 backpack kits filled with pillows, pillowcases, pajamas and toiletries to give to children in the foster system.
Brian Gilmore, also a freshman at Newport Harbor, built large boxes to hold sports balls that children use at the playground. His brother Tyler, a seventh-grader at Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach, collected, cleaned and donated more than 500 pairs of shoes to local families.
Jeffrey built a ga-ga ball pit and installed three new tetherball stands at the Kaiser Elementary School playground in Costa Mesa.
“Some congregations, it’s like ‘Yeah, we’re done,’” said Sherrilynne Dangl, Jeffrey’s mother. “But ours, we’re like, ‘All right, we’re going to put on the fire. We’re going to get this done.’ And [we] just forged ahead.”
The cousins passed another hurdle together, too — a 50-mile hike through the Sierra Nevada. Their troops took three days to climb and then spent a few days fishing, playing and enjoying a mountain lake, Jeffrey said. On their way back down, one of the boys suggested doing the last 20 miles in one day.
“We said, ‘Yes, that’s technically possible, but you’ve got full backpacks on, and that’d be hard,” said Rich Kettley, father and stepfather to Spencer and Caleb, respectively. Kettley served as Scoutmaster for Troop 764, one of the three troops at the Newport Beach church.
But the boys insisted. After all, completing the arduous journey would earn them a hiking merit badge.
As they pressed on in the difficult hike, though, most of them faltered at different points. Many of them cried.
“I don’t know if I’d call it spiritual, but it was a really emotional experience to pull these kids back and say, ‘You know, you made a commitment to do this and even though your body is telling you no, there’s more energy deep down inside. Dig deep,’” Rich Kettley said.
The Scouts arrived back at the parking lot just before midnight.
“We were really close to the wire,” Jeffrey said.
All five of the boys mentioned the hike at their court of honor — the celebration held to recognize their ascension to the Eagle rank. The boys’ grandmother, Sherry Kettley, joined several family members at Sunday’s event.
“They’ve done such a great job and they’re young,” she said.
Rich Kettley watched proudly as the boys from the next generation of his family sang “I’ll Live with Honor,” a song penned for his own Eagle court of honor.
“All of the experiences that I’ve had and that I’ve been able to provide for these kids, I can look back directly to the Scout leaders that I had as a kid who taught me key principles in life,” he said. “It’s neat because it allowed me to pay it forward to give it back to these kids. I’m expecting that, as they get older, they’ll pay it forward.”