By Joseph Palmersheim - Sun Post Newspapers
“You can achieve your goals if you want to.”
The man who said that should know. He’s proof.
David Spragg, a 43-year-old Golden Valley man, earned his Eagle Scout rank Jan. 19 at St. William’s Church in Fridley. He is the first member in the 27-year history of the Fridley Knights of Columbus Troop 364 to earn the rank.
Spragg, who has been involved with scouting since 1980, has cerebral palsy and lives in a Golden Valley group home.
But he’s quick to point out that cerebral palsy doesn’t define him.
“It’s not about the disability that matters,” he said. “It’s about what the person did that matters.”
Eagle Scout is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America. Famous recipients have included the likes of Neil Armstrong and Steven Spielberg. To become an Eagle, a scout needs to earn 21 merit badges, serve actively as a Life Scout and do a service project. When these and other requirements are completed, candidates go before an Eagle Scout board of review for approval.
Spragg spent the past year-and-a-half working on his 12 remaining merit badges. He also served as his troop’s senior patrol leader and completed a service project building planter boxes at Oak Grove Church in Golden Valley.
Troop 364 scoutmaster Keith Sparks is in charge of 18 scouts with various special needs. In spite of those special needs, the troop participates in many of the same activities as other scouts.
“We do campouts, we do hiking, we do week-long camps, we do community service,” Sparks said. “It allows them to do lot of stuff they could not do if they were by themselves. It’s a great social setting, not only in the troop, but also outside the troop. We function like a normal Boy Scout troop and we do what everybody else does, but at a different pace. It takes us a little longer to earn or learn something.”
Scouting, Sparks said, recognizes people in the community with disabilities. In such cases, age limits for ranks no longer apply.
Sparks said Spragg talked of being an Eagle from almost the moment they met more than six years ago.
“I suppose everybody has goals in life,” Sparks said. “Some people want to be professional baseball or football players, and they dedicate their life from an early age. There is a spark in David that happened very early on. (Bill Anderl), his former scoutmaster from 30 years ago, talked about this at his Court of Honor (Jan. 19). David, at 10 years of age, was saying that he wanted to “get Eagle.”
Anderl, a Crystal resident, recalled that Spragg was the first person to sign up for anything.
“David was probably the most energetic of all of them,” Anderl said. “David was always first in line to be the leader. He really enjoyed all of the events we did.”
Anderl lost track of the young scout after Spragg changed schools, but when he was asked to help on an Eagle scout project two years ago, the description of the candidate sounded familiar.
“That sounds like David Spragg,” Anderl remembered thinking to himself.
Anderl was on hand to present Spragg’s Eagle charge (a recitation outlining the duties and responsibilities that come with the rank) during the Jan. 19 ceremony.
“It was nice to see (David) achieve that rank,” Anderl said. “He was very persistent, and he didn’t let one barrier stop him. He kept moving toward his goal.”
Less than 3 percent of all scouts reach Eagle Scout. Rick Smith, District Commissioner for the Polaris District, said Spragg is not the only Eagle with special needs. A 53-year-old man with Down Syndrome from Inver Grove Heights earned his Eagle rank last year. The total number of Eagle Scouts with special needs is not known, Smith said.
The Polaris District organizes troops and other scouting units for people with special needs. It covers the whole North Star Council, which manages the scouting programs in the area. Three troops within the Polaris District focus on scouts with special needs.
“Everyone is different, and it’s most obvious in the special needs community,” Smith said. “Physical impairments and cognitive impairments take their toll, but it’s easy to overestimate how ‘damaged’ a person is simply because they have some special needs. David Spragg shows us how easy it is to misjudge. I sat on David’s Eagle board and I had no reservations about awarding him his Eagle. Despite his disabilities, he had clearly earned this honor and could stand with any Eagle in the council.”
In doing so, he showed others the power of perseverance.
“If you have a goal, and you want to make it, by gosh you can get there,” Sparks said. “(David) is very persistent, and that’s how he got to where he was. He had some help along the way, but I can tell you, the last five years, a lot of those things he did on his own. To earn Eagle, you have to demonstrate an ability to do this by yourself.”
How will Spragg look back on the experience?
“It will have been a good experience for me, and all I want to do is give back to people and show people that it can be done properly,” Spragg said. “It can be done with much dignity and respect as well.”
Contact Joseph Palmersheim at firstname.lastname@example.org