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Teen becomes Eagle Scout despite Duchenne muscular dystrophy

BRANDON

Ben Osenton steered his electric wheelchair into the large multipurpose room at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Brandon for his final official Boy Scout meeting with Troop 11.

For 11 years, 36 merit badges, and six ranks, he has been attending meetings, but Tuesday night was just a bit different.

For a Scout who uses a wheelchair because of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the 18-year-old just cannot stay still. His wheelchair is constant motion — forward, back, left, right, repeat, repeat again. It is not nerves or excitement that has him moving.

According to his father, that is just Ben, who despite his disability, will be presented the rank of Eagle Scout at a Court of Honor on Friday night.

"I'm most proud of everything," said Ben, following the presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Scout Oath that has opened every meeting for all those years.

"I'm proud of everything I've done."

Ben began Scouting in 2002 as a Tiger Cub in Logan, W.Va., where his mother, Lesa Osenton, served as cubmaster.

Throughout the years, he advanced to Webelos and earned the Arrow of Light, Cub Scouting's highest honor, then crossed over to Boy Scouts. He has held a number of leadership positions including troop historian and assistant patrol leader.

However, it is not just the years of service and merit badge achievements that have earned him Eagle Scout status. Most recently, Ben completed his Eagle project, the biggest task facing boys who strive for the Boy Scouts of America's highest rank.

Because of his disability, a disease that causes progressive muscular degeneration, and the Boy Scouts' policy, Osenton was able to achieve this final feat through alternate comparable requirements.

For his project, he wrote, illustrated, published and distributed a children's book, Mooseman and Beagle Boy Save the Children, a story about a superhero and his sidekick seeking to find a cure for children's cancer.

"He saw this character and started drawing it," said Reginald Osenton, Ben's father. "Then, of course, he has been to Shriners Hospital several times, even though he's never been admitted, and at some point thinking about the project it clicked."

Said Ben: "I made it for the kids in the hospital with disabilities."

Because a major component of the project is leadership, Ben organized a distribution network, sending Boy Scouts from Troop 11 to local hospitals and pediatricians' offices to deliver copies of Mooseman and Beagle Boy Save the Children.

According to Gulf Ridge Council executive director George McGovern, the Eagle project involves identifying a need within the community for another organization outside of Scouting. Once identified, the Scout must plan the activity, prepare, raise money, provide leadership in carrying it out and then write the entire thing up.

"We're talking hundreds of hours of community service," McGovern said. "This rank is hugely significant in how difficult it is. And on top of that, to do it with a disability is incredible."

How incredible is it? According to McGovern, of the current participants in Boy Scouts of America, only 6 percent will attain Eagle Scout. Of the 110 million Boy Scouts alumni, less than 2 percent made Eagle.

"Holding these leadership positions requires dedication to stick with something for years — years in an age where we want everything now," McGovern said.

ForBen, finding the motivation for the perseverance wasn't difficult. No matter the path he took, becoming an Eagle Scout was inevitable because Scouting is sort of in his blood.

Ben is now a third-generation Eagle Scout. Reginald Osenton earned Eagle Scout in 1982 as a senior in high school, and his father, Owen Osenton, was an Eagle Scout prior to becoming Reginald's scoutmaster. It is to his grandfather, who died in July of last year, that Ben dedicated his Mooseman book.

During the ceremony on Friday, Ben will receive his grandfather's Eagle pin.

"It's a family tradition, it's a way of life," said Reginal Osenton. "Of all the skills you learn, some are practical, like first aid. More importantly, it's about having the right attitude.

"It's been such a big part of our lives and it's nice that the tradition has continued."

For any Scout, reaching Eagle Scout is a daunting journey that takes dedication, perseverance and leadership. A Scout must progress through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star and Life, each with its own time, experience and leadership requirements.

In addition, a boy must earn 21 of the more than 120 possible merit badges available, 12 of which are mandatory.

According to the Scouting for Youth with Disabilities Manual produced by the Boy Scouts, the organization began making accommodations for Scouts with disabilities in the 1970s, including flexible advancement requirements (1972) and substitution of merit badges for the Eagle Scout rank (1979).

Ben Osenton's father earned 21 merit badges. When Ben earned his 22nd, his father conceded that his son bested him by one. Eventually, Ben recorded 14 more, including his favorite: reptiles.

"He said that? For that one, he got two firebelly toads and we had to keep them for three months," Reginald Osenton said. "We had to buy crickets every week and he decided not to keep them at the end."

Ben, a senior at Durant High School, has without doubt faced many challenges on the way to Eagle Scout, from expected physical disadvantages (it is easy to get stuck in deep sand at a campsite) to less-anticipated mental ones.

"He is smart and observant," said Reginald Osenton. "He has watched the other boys grow taller, while he grows weaker. That's not easy."

Shannan Powell can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Teen becomes Eagle Scout despite Duchenne muscular dystrophy 01/29/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 4:02pm]
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