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Earning all Scout badges merits national honor, group says

If an unofficial Scouting organization has its way, Scouts like Harrison Hatcher will receive national recognition when they earn 121 merit badges.

The Merit Badge Knot, a national group of Scouting enthusiasts who keep track of high achievers like Hatcher, says Scouts who obtain all 121 merit badges — the maximum number a Scout can earn — deserve a place of honor in Boy Scouting.

The group is lobbying the National Council of Boy Scouts of America for the introduction of an award called the Merit Badge Knot to be given to such Scouts.

Through word of mouth, reports from troops and newspaper articles, the group said it has verified that 108 Scouts nationwide have earned all of the Scout merit badges that were available at the time they were Scouts.

There haven't always been 121 badges.

Founded by Maj. Gen. Robert S.S. Baden Powell in England in 1907, the Boy Scouts came to America on Feb. 8, 1910, when Chicago publisher William Boyce started a loose-knit organization based on Powell's version.

In 2009, the organization welcomed its 100 millionth member, according to the Boy Scouts of America. Next year, the organization will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The Boy Scouts organization issued its first badges in 1911. Over the years, badges have been replaced and added in keeping with the times. Recent merit badges include the composite materials badge, created in 2006, and entrepreneurship, created in 1998.

Every year the Boy Scouts review and update a certain number of merit badges. The nuclear science merit badge, created in 2005, replaced the atomic energy badge; snow sports, created in 1999, replaced the skiing badge; and fly fishing was split off from the fishing merit badge in 2002.

Scout historian Steve Henning, a 44-year Scouting veteran from Kutztown, Pa., researches merit badges and publishes the information on his Web site, scouters.us/homemb.html.

According to Henning's research, Eagle Scout John Stanford of Limestone, N.Y., earned the most merit badges ever, 142 badges between 1970 and 1975.

"This accomplishment will never be matched since there are only 121 merit badges now," Henning said. "I had an Eagle Scout in the '90s that earned every merit badge that was offered, but that was only 126."

A number of the original badges created in 1911 are still in existence, including bugling, camping, gardening, painting, public health, sculpture, scholarship, plumbing, pioneering, photography, lifesaving, surveying, forestry, horsemanship, cooking, electricity, archery, architecture, aviation and astronomy.

In 2007, Henning researched which merit badges were most and least popular among Scouts.

Most popular was first aid, earned by 82,274 Scouts that year, followed by swimming. Least popular was American business, earned by only 539 Scouts, followed by bugling.

Times correspondent D'Ann White can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

Earning all Scout badges merits national honor, group says 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 5:30am]
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