It’s the rich history and tradition that has made south Charlotte’s Boy Scouts of America Troop 8 successful.
Established before Interstate 485, Rea Road and Ballantyne Commons Parkway, the troop has grown along with south Charlotte’s Ballantyne area and St. Matthew Catholic Church, this year celebrating 25 years.
“It all started with a wild idea,” Johan Rief, the troop’s first scoutmaster, said. “It was (1987) and St. Gabriel was the nearest parish to this area. We wanted to start a troop that would include everyone south of 51 (Pineville-Matthews Road).”
The Catholic Church is the second largest supporter of Scouting nationally, Rief said, adding that so many Boy Scout programs are formed out of Catholic churches as youth ministry initiatives. Starting with eight Scouts in 1988,
Troop 8 has grown to about 80 Scouts this year, ranging from ages 11 to 17. They’ve seen thousands of Scouts pass through their group, leaders said, with more than 100 of their boys achieving Eagle rank, the organization’s highest honor.
The troop started with the establishment of St. Matthew Catholic, which is now known as one of the largest Catholic churches in the United States with more than 8,000 families, troop leaders said.
“Part of our growth was luck,” Don Herzhauser, Troop 8 assistant scoutmaster, said. “It was just organic from the church. The Catholic church was here, everybody was moving here and with the growth of Ballantyne Corporate Park, the volume was just going to be here.”
But it’s the activities, relationships and traditions that have kept the boys coming back, Herzhauser added, like the annual Christmas tree and wreath sale, which started out as a fundraiser more than 20 years ago. At the time, troop leaders expected to sell around 15 to 20 trees and maybe 25 wreaths, but the sale has grown to be more of a service to the St. Matthew community. Now the troop annually sells about 300 trees and 300 wreaths, Mike Jarina, a longtime Troop 8 leader, said.
“It’s more than just fundraising, but also is a way for us to interface with our parish, too,” Herzhauser added. “Troop 8 is different because of the personality. Every boy knows we’re going to sell Christmas trees; they know there is probably going to be a rafting trip and hiking trip. As long as the traditions continue to live, Troop 8 will always be here.”
Scout leaders, including the troop’s fourth scoutmaster, Mark Spisak, said meeting in south Charlotte has helped the troop grow from the start. What he calls a “transit area,” Spisak said getting boys interested about Scouting was easy as long as troop leaders encouraged committee members and Scouts to be active in the community and within the troop. Known around town as a Boy Scout “mega” troop, Spisak said there are few troops that have grown to the size of Troop 8, but it’s the strong community support and commitment that has made the troop successful.
Many of the Troop 8 leaders became involved when their boys were in Cub Scouts, meeting at St. Matthew’s own Cub Scout Pack 8 or at packs at area schools like McAlpine Elementary or Omni Montessori. But leaders said they were drawn to St. Matthew because of the group’s constant activity and initiatives to keep the program boy-led.
Current scoutmaster, Mike Nielsen, who has been in the leader post since 2010, said with 25 years of troop history, he’s happy to have three of his four predecessors still active in some aspect of Boy Scouts and Troop 8. He says having the leadership committed to the troop even after their own boys aged out shows the commitment of Troop 8 to rising up well-rounded and responsible boys.
“The objective isn’t to get everybody into the Eagle Scout rank, but it’s about citizenship training, character development and mental and physical fitness,” Nielsen said, “and whether they stick with it for three months or seven years, we’re just happy to help influence these boys.”
And for the future of the troop, leaders agreed Troop 8 isn’t going anywhere and will for sure be around 25 years from now.
“There will be times where there will be higher volumes and lower volumes, but we’ll always have a good crowd as long as parents recognize what scouting does,” Herzhauser said. “Nowhere else teaches God, country, family and self but scouting.”
Troop 8 is working to create a database of alumni Scouts and could use the community’s help. If you were part of Troop 8 as a boy, contact Troop 8’s second scoutmaster, Jack Barton, at 704-805-9824.