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Real Troopers

Boy Scouts with special needs find a comradeship in O.C. units geared to educational, recreational and social opportunities to help build self-esteem and achieve goals.

September 12, 1997|DEBRA CANO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some of the Scouts gather around the roaring fire at Doheny State Beach, others try their hand at poker on a nearby picnic table.

To get his troop into the camping spirit, scoutmaster Russ Rinner grabs his guitar and hoots, "In your best voice let's sing 'I Am a Pizza.' "

The boys whoop, and as Rinner strums and sings, they repeat the words to the silly song.

"I am a pizza, peppers on top, out of the oven and into the box.

"Into the car and upside down, I am a pizza dropped on the ground.

"I was a pizza, I was the best. I was a pizza and now I'm a mess."

Next comes "Gnarly Dude Boy Scout," a song Rinner wrote, and a half-dozen other tunes troop members like to croon on their camping trips.

The weekend outing at the beach is a special treat for members of Boy Scout Troop 722 of Placentia: It is a time to get to know one another better and a chance for troop members, who are all developmentally disabled, to be out on their own.

They pitch tents, cook up carne asada tacos and blueberry pancakes, take hikes along the shore to search for seashells, play horseshoes and dunk themselves in the cool ocean water.

"What I like about camping is being in the outdoors--away from home," says Rinner's son Chris, 19. He's barefoot and happily digging his feet into the warm sand. "And I like the camp songs we sing."

Scout Joshua Kerr, 20, of Anaheim agrees: "I don't like to just sit at home and do nothing. I like to be out by myself without my parents."

Some parents volunteer to accompany the troop on camping outings and have an equally good time.

"Camp-outs are my favorite," says Dorothy Moore. The reason: Moore enjoys seeing her son, troop member Ryan Sirmans, 21, having a good time.

"We just love to camp, even though it can be difficult because of his wheelchair," she says. "But with this troop, everything is geared for kids with limitations."

Rosemary Murphy of Fullerton says there was a time she would not have felt comfortable sending her 16-year-old son, Kevin, on an overnight excursion with the troop. "Now I can leave him by himself, and he gets to do what other boys do: camp and work on merit badges. This is part of growing up, and our troop makes it as normal as possible for these kids."

These parents agree that having a troop for boys with special needs gives their sons a wealth of educational, recreational and social opportunities that help them build self-esteem and achieve goals.

"The more they get to do and participate in, the higher quality their life is," says Moore, of Yorba Linda. "They should have the same opportunities and activities as anyone else."

And that's what Troop 722 strives to achieve.

Scoutmaster Rinner says the boys learn the same skills, must memorize the same oath, work to achieve merit badges and even the highest rank of Eagle Scout, just like their counterparts in mainstream troops.

"We work around each Scout's ability," says Rinner, who became involved in the troop eight years ago. "With our troop, what really matters for us is they do the best that they can."

For the 19 troop members, ages 13 to 35, (there is no age limit for special-needs Scouts) it may take extra time to grasp how to tie a clove hitch, learn the words of the Scout motto or earn a merit badge.

Like their mainstream counterparts, members of Troop 722 have earned scores of badges.

"It makes me feel really good," says Scott Moore, 24, who has earned two dozen merit badges and proudly carries his Scout handbook tucked under his arm.

Moore's father, assistant scoutmaster Larry Moore of Placentia, has been involved since his son joined 10 years ago. The program is flexible to meet the boys' needs, he says. "Because of their disabilities, it takes them longer to learn. But they work at it with the same enthusiasm as regular Scouts."

Tim Lotz, 24, of Yorba Linda says that of the 23 merit badges he's earned, the one for fishing is his favorite. Not only does he like to fish, he says, but "I like to go fishing with my dad."

Several members of the troop are working toward becoming Eagle Scout.

Chris Rinner says for his Eagle project he wants to help distribute food to homeless and needy people. "I just thought it would be good to help out the community because there are a lot of hungry people," he says. "I'm really going to try my hardest to do it. I would feel proud."

"We would all be proud," his father adds.

*

Nationwide, there are 4,000 Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Explorer posts registered as special-needs units, according to Gregg Shields, spokesman for Boys Scouts of America.

Those units have an estimated 109,000 youth members and 22,000 adult members, he says.

Many more Scouts with disabilities, though, are members of mainstream troops.

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