Only 5 percent of Boy Scouts nationally attain the rank of Eagle Scout, the organization's highest honor. But a small troop in Fairfield this year has produced Eagle Scouts at nearly five times that rate.
At a Court of Honor ceremony last month, Troop 199 -- which has 25 members -- awarded Eagle badges to six Scouts, nearly one-quarter of the troop. U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, was in attendance at the event.
The troop also produced six Eagles two years ago, and its high levels of achievement have come at a time when video games, smartphones and dozens of other teen diversions have driven down participation in Scouting nationwide.
Gordon Fulda, the troop's Scoutmaster for the past six years, said he cannot explain why his troop is far exceeding the national rate for Scouting's highest honor.
"It's really about the boys and all their hard work," he said.
One of the cornerstone requirements of becoming an Eagle is to complete a public service project. The boys' projects ranged from building and installing benches at a local lake, to carrying out a conservation project, to collecting food and money for a local food pantry.
The local troop is producing a high proportion of Eagles even as participation in Scouting nationwide continues a steep, four-decade decline.
Membership in the Boy Scouts of America -- which includes Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and others -- has fallen from a peak of about 6.5 million Scouts in 1972 to 2.6 million Scouts today, a 60 percent decline, according to figures on the BSA's website.
Of nearly 850,000 Boy Scouts, just over 50,000 -- about one in 20 -- were Eagles in 2011, the most recent year for which Eagle statistics are available.
To become an Eagle, Scouts must rise through the ranks of tenderfoot, second class, first class, star and life, the website said. They also must earn 21 merit badges, such as first aid and emergency preparedness; serve six months in a troop leadership position; and complete an Eagle Scout board of review.
They also must individually plan and execute a major project that benefits a community, school or religious organization.
Michael Connelly, a sophomore at Fairfield College Preparatory School, collected 668 pairs of new and "like new" sneakers for the Bridgeport Rescue Mission and the Bridgeport Prospect House, a homeless shelter that provides substance abuse rehabilitation services, according to a troop news release. He also donated 200 bus tokens to the Prospect House to help the homeless shelter's clients travel to jobs and interviews.
Will Fulda, a senior at Fairfield Warde High School and Gordon Fulda's son, designed, built and installed several benches at Lake Mohegan's beach area, where residents often take their dogs. While walking the family dog, Will Fulda "noticed that there wasn't a place to sit and relax at the `dog beach,' " the release said.
Conor McGuinness, also a Warde senior, organized a drive to collect food and monetary donations for the Bridgeport Rescue Mission. He collected more than 2,400 pounds of food and more than $1,500 to purchase additional food, plus clothing for the homeless shelter's inhabitants.
Michael Eaton McQuade, a freshman at Central Connecticut State University, carried out a conservation project at the Burr Street Audubon Society in October. He raised the money for the project by collecting donations from members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
William G. Poling, a junior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, led a team of friends, Scouts and parents in gathering food and monetary donations for the food pantry run by Fairfield's Operation Hope. The collection helped the nearly 450 families who depend on the pantry every month.
Eric Rasmussen, also a Ludlowe junior, worked with Trout Unlimited to clean up a section of Halfway River on the Monroe-Newtown border polluted with junked cars, appliances and household trash. City Carting provided a large dumpster for the project and donated to the troop the proceeds from selling the scrap metal.
Gordon Fulda said the Scouts deserve all the credit for reaching the Eagle Scout rank, which took about a year to earn.
"The Scoutmaster is just the facilitator," he said. "The Scouts did all the work."