For five high school seniors in St. Matthew Catholic-based Boy Scout Troop 8, scouting is a tradition – a family legacy passed down from generation to generation, from brothers, fathers and grandfathers.
That’s why these five boys wanted to see their time as Scouts through to the end, finally achieving Eagle Scout rank, the highest achievable rank in Boy Scouts, this summer before starting their senior year.
The five boys, Jay Hanckel, Chris Kuuskvere, Andrew Nielsen, Mike Sparre and Michael Vari, have been in Boy Scouts of America together in Troop 8 for six years now. And although their journeys to Eagle all looked different, Scoutmaster Mike Nielsen said he’s proud to see the boys come full circle.
“They each found their own separate paths through scouting,” he said. “They started at the same time and then they ended together. Each one had the ambition to complete it. It does take a lot of drive, especially with competition of school activities and athletics.”
All five boys attend different schools and are heavily involved in extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs. But throughout their Eagle Scout projects, the boys said the accountability of each other helped them become part of the 5 percent of all scouts that earn the Eagle ranking.
“A unique thing for us is that many boys barely scrape by before their 18th birthday, rushing to get their projects done,” Andrew Nielsen said. “But we all got it done early and we don’t have to worry about it. I speak for all of us when I say I’m glad I didn’t wait to the last minute – now we can actually enjoy our senior year.”
Although the boys are finished with Boy Scouts, they still like to show up to a meeting or event every now and again, but more than anything, they’re using the leadership and citizenship skills they learned through scouting in other areas of their life.
Meet the boys and their projects
For Jay Hanckel, a senior at Charlotte Country Day School, he comes from a line of Eagle Scouts, including his older brother and grandfather. For his project, he designed and built 12 large dog houses for Animal Care and Control of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department that were donated to families who adopted dogs.
Hanckel said Animal Control needed doghouses to ensure families adopting dogs have adamant shelter for their new animals.
“This helps out everybody,” Hanckel said, “the families and the shelter – I visited soon after and all 12 were gone.”
Hanckel is captain of the wrestling team at Country Day and is a member of the varsity lacrosse team. He also helped start the Drum Club at the school.
Chris Kuuskvere is a senior at Ardrey Kell High School. Like Hanckel, he found the drive to earn his Eagle Scout rank by watching his brother before him. He developed and led a composting conservation program for the afterschool program at the Morrison Family YMCA. He built two composting bins and taught a composting class to the staff as a model for the afterschool program.
“I also did a beautification project on the YMCA grounds, built a garden and rearranged some picnic tables,” Kuuskvere said.
Kuuskvere said he decided to do his project at the YMCA because it was a great organization in his south Charlotte community.
“And I’ve just always had an interest in conserving the environment,” he added about choosing the composting project.
Kuuskvere is the captain of the Ardrey Kell cross country team, a National Honor Society member and officer in his school’s Key Club.
Andrew Nielsen attends The Fletcher School in south Charlotte, and said from the beginning of Boy Scouts, he decided he would make it to the Eagle Scout rank.
“I just knew when I first started Boy Scouts – I just decided I was going to do it,” Nielsen said.
He built an outdoor classroom and amphitheater at Omni Montessori School in south Charlotte for his Eagle Scout project.
“I went to school there and that’s why I decided to give back,” he said.
For his project, he built nine benches and a stage/deck at the school. He said the point of the project is to provide a friendly atmosphere outside for both students and teachers. So far, Nielsen said parents and teachers have raved about his project and have really put the space to good use.
“They’ve already asked for other Eagle Scouts to add to my project because it gets so much use,” he said. “It’s just a good feeling.”
Outside of school and scouts, Andrew is a Coxwain, or the member of a rowing team who sits in the stern and directs rowers, for Charlotte Youth Rowing sponsored by the Siskey YMCA.
Mike Sparre, a senior at Charlotte Catholic School, wanted to give back to St. Matthew Catholic Church for his Eagle Scout project. And after talking to the grounds manager, he learned the church could use a new stable for their Christmas nativity scene.
The stable, which is life size and standing at 12 feet tall and 9 feet long, is now a symbol in south Charlotte for the Christmas season.
“Lots of people stop and take pictures with it,” Sparre said, adding that he’s glad to see the community appreciates his hard work.
His dad was an Eagle Scout, a reason he wanted to earn the rank himself.
“I just thought if I was going to start it, I’m going to finish,” Sparre said.
Along with Nielsen, Sparre is a rower for Charlotte Youth Rowing.
Michael Vari, a homeschooled senior in south Charlotte, had two brothers achieve Eagle before him along with his dad. He said for him, there was a little bit of pressure to get the project finished.
“It was also just something I really wanted to do,” he said.
For his project, he built a fence addition on the grounds of the St. Joseph’s Monastery for the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration.
“They started building a fence, but it never really got started,” he said, adding he was happy to take on the project.
Vari, who takes classes at Central Piedmont Community College, also likes to sail and hike.