Scout earns all 121 merit badges
By Dave Marcus
Sunday, January 11, 2009
In this family photo, Eagle Scout Shawn Goldsmith shows all the merit badges he earned as a member of the Boy Scouts of America in New York.
MELVILLE, N.Y. — Last May, Robert Goldsmith sat down his son, Shawn, to share dire news.
"Grandma's going to be dying soon," he said.
Shawn, then 17, a senior at Oceanside High School on New York's Long Island and an Eagle Scout, decided to honor his grandmother, Celia, by earning all 121 merit badges offered by the Boy Scouts of America.
By then, Shawn had earned not only the 21 merit badges needed to become an Eagle Scout, he'd racked up 62 in all.
That left 59 to get by Nov. 28, when he would turn 18 and become ineligible. His father, who had been an Eagle Scout himself, said it couldn't be done. His Scoutmaster, Joe Acquafredda, agreed.
Shawn dismissed them. "Mr. A," he recalled recently, using the nickname of his Scoutmaster, "always told us, 'If you can see it, you can be it.' So I told him the same thing."
Shawn learned to fire a shotgun accurately for a shotgun shooting merit badge. He took a few headfirst flops water skiing in a lake on the way to getting a water sports badge. He scaled a 40-foot climbing wall three times and repelled down, then helped another climber up three times for a climbing badge. "I was black and blue and bloodied, but I did it," Shawn said.
To earn a merit badge in any discipline, from cinematography to canoeing, a Scout must show proficiency and demonstrate specific skills. Shawn surpassed 100 badges last summer less than three months before his birthday.
"Anytime you get over 100 badges, you are outstanding," said Ed Stewart, a national BSA spokesman.
Sean wasn't content, though. "I felt if I got 120 merit badges and not 121, there was no point."
Shawn's grandmother had some markers of her own. Fifteen years ago, she was diagnosed with emphysema and given three years to live. Last summer, suffering from lung cancer as well, she was hospitalized, and Shawn visited her regularly to report on his latest adventures. Her response: "I believe in you."
When she died in August, he had 18 badges to go.
Shawn's grandfather, Milton, 80, accompanied Shawn as he won some of his final merit badges in carpentry, plumbing and aviation. Acquafredda said one of Shawn's toughest was his final one, in bugling. "He had to learn how to play the bugle, which isn't easy. He kept practicing till he could do it."
He bugled his way to badge No. 121 on Oct. 25, with a month to spare.
Acquafredda is proud that Troop 240, based in Riverdale, N.Y., in the Bronx, has had 190 Eagle Scouts in its 89-year history. Still, no one else has come close to accumulating all merit badges. Stewart said no more than 4 percent of Scouts nationwide become Eagle Scouts, and the organization doesn't keep statistics on the number who earn all merit badges, "but it's almost unheard of."
Now a freshman at Binghamton University, Shawn is working on a project to get teenagers to leave their video games behind and enjoy Nassau County parks.