September 8, 2018 10:04:15 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
When high school junior Noel Fisher visited the Boys & Girls Club in Columbus and saw the vacant field next to it, he thought his search for an Eagle Scout Service Project might be over.
Noel, 16, loves soccer; he plays on the Heritage Academy soccer team, as well as the football and baseball teams. His parents, Jay and Marla Fisher, support the Boys & Girls Club. His mother volunteers on its board. Looking at the wide, empty space, Noel saw an opportunity to combine the two interests in a way that would benefit all the children who utilize the club.
"I knew they had a gym inside, but I saw they had nothing outside and there was this big, open field right there," said the member of Boy Scout Troop 2 of the Pushmataha Area Council. "I thought, wouldn't it be great to have a soccer field so they could get outdoors?"
Boys & Girls Club administrators agreed.
"The staff was elated by this new opportunity for our boys and girls here," said Errolyn Gray, director of development and special programs at the club. "We really do appreciate it and look forward to this contribution being a vital part of our commitment to our kids and their healthy lifestyles."
Presenting a detailed, written proposal for approval was part of Noel's Eagle Project responsibilities.
An Eagle Scout Service Project is the culmination of a Scout's leadership training. Completing it before the age of 18 is a requirement for a young man to attain the ultimate Eagle Scout rank. The project must be approved by the organization it benefits, as well as the scoutmaster and troop committee or council.
"I had to lay out what I proposed, how big it would be, what materials I would need, how much money I would need to raise ... " said Noel.
Funds he required to build the field and also supply the club with soccer balls, pumps, cones and team pinnies to wear were raised through the support of his soccer coach, Joe Asadi, and families of Heritage Academy soccer players, including his own.
Noel's duties also entailed taking the leadership role in organizing other troop members for the hands-on work. He had to demonstrate that he could designate tasks and supervise the project to successful completion.
On the first Saturday morning of September, Noel and more than a dozen other Scouts and several adults were at work in the field at the Boys & Girls Club on 14th Avenue North. A brisk breeze tossed the boys' shouts back and forth as they worked at both ends of the new soccer field, or pitch.
Noel walked behind a rolling aerosol paint marker, putting down white boundary lines. Others assembled goal frames and nets.
"We mowed over the grass to get it close and even, and I gave a safety briefing -- in this case, mostly about dehydration and sunburn," Noel said. "Then I assigned teams and explained jobs."
One of the most important ones was accurately measuring off the soccer pitch, the halfway line and the penalty areas so they could be staked with string and then painted.
"We had to make sure we had all the corners at right angles and everything the correct length, or the field could end up slanted," Noel said.
When the work was finished, the boys gathered at coolers for water before pronouncing the field "done."
This past Thursday, Noel returned to the club to present soccer equipment to some enthusiastic children.
"I can't wait to play!" said 10-year-old Ashlyn Nichols, holding a new soccer ball. "I've seen it before but haven't played it."
The kids were even more excited when Noel accompanied several of them to the field. Soon they were running between goals, chasing the ball, getting tips on fundamentals from Noel, as well as his father, Jay, who stood at the sideline. The former Columbus Air Force Base vice wing commander (2015-2017) is a former Eagle Scout himself. Seeing his eldest son come up through Scouting and take on an Eagle Project has made him proud. It's something Noel has been on the path toward since the age of 6, when he joined Tiger Cub Scout Pack 51 near San Antonio, Texas.
Marla Fisher said, "Our boys are very involved in a lot of sports and church, so I get asked a lot, 'How do you do it? I just can't make it work. How can you fit Scouts in, too?' We've always looked at it like Scouting is just something that is going to part of our lives. It's a priority; it's given my boys life skills and helps them be well-rounded."
Every Scout rank has a service aspect, she noted, and merit badges encourage citizenship and community volunteerism.
Scouting also promotes maturity, said Noel's Scoutmaster, Peter Birks. He started out as a Cub Scout leader before becoming Scoutmaster.
"Some of these boys I've been with for about five years, and the amount of maturity is amazing," he said. "It's amazing to see boys, some of them 12 years old, that know what a lot of folks who are 25 or 30 years old don't know."
That can range from knowing how to take care of themselves in the woods to knowing how to plan, effectively communicate and exhibit leadership.
Of Noel's Eagle Project, Birks said, "A big problem in this country as a whole is getting kids out exercising, getting fresh air, and this gives them a chance to do that. It's good, healthy exercise, and something they can play just about anywhere they go in the future."
Noel hopes having ready access to a field and equipment will get kids moving and foster a lifelong enthusiasm for physical activity -- and of soccer. Ideas are in the works for some soccer clinics at the club soon.
"I'm glad I could help out the Boys & Girls Club. It's been a fun experience trying to get all the pieces together -- sometimes a little stressful, but that's OK," he grinned. "I'm very happy I could help the club enjoy a sport that I love."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.