The Boy Scout’s motto is “Be prepared.” Josh McCoy is prepared for just about anything.
On Nov. 10, the Alexandria 14-year-old earned his 135th Boy Scout merit badge. That represents every single merit badge that is available, from American Business to Woodwork. Josh’s patch-covered sash — actually two sashes stitched together — is so long he could use it as a tourniquet, which is presumably something he learned about while getting his First Aid merit badge.
What Josh does not have is a sewing merit badge. That’s because there isn’t one. He asked his mother, Darlene, to sew the round fabric patches to his sash.
“I would say sewing would be a good merit badge [to add],” Josh told me. “Whenever you go look on blogs on what merit badges the Scouts should introduce, sewing is always in one of the comments.”
Speaking of blogs, there is not a Blogging merit badge — yet — but there are ones for Nuclear Science and Space Exploration. Scouts needn’t split the atom or achieve orbit to earn them, however.
Josh has been a Boy Scout for 3½ years. He is a member of Troop 1145, which meets in Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Springfield under the direction of Scoutmaster Dwayn Hanford.
Josh decided to earn every merit badge after learning that his father, Timothy, had earned 83 when he was a boy.
“I’m a competitive person,” Josh said. “My dad had gotten 83. I wanted to get more than him.”
Josh tied his father with the Athletics merit badge. He beat him with Law. And then he kept on going till he had them all: Archery, Architecture, Dentistry, Disabilities Awareness, Dog Care, Fingerprinting, Leatherwork, Public Speaking, Soil and Water Conservation, Wilderness Survival . . .
Josh earned many of the merit badges during merit badge jamborees, where speakers and materials are brought in to help Scouts tackle the requirements in a three-hour burst. That’s how Josh earned his first badge, Salesmanship. A silverware salesman explained his job.
“You just talk and do some projects and stuff,” Josh said. In the afternoon, Josh earned his Bird Study badge.
“When I was starting I was getting about five [merit badges] a month,” Josh said. “Then it started to slow down. When there’s less to earn, you can’t earn as much.”
Josh’s favorite merit badge was Geocaching, which is using a GPS device to find specific locations and the tiny treasures stashed there. The most useful was Pioneering, “which is tying knots and stuff.” (Every year Josh’s troop goes on a campout where they build a rope bridge.)
Is there, I asked, a merit badge for helping a little old lady cross the street?
“No,” said Josh.
The final merit badge that Josh earned was also the hardest: Bugling. To get it, a Scout must master 15 songs, from reveille to taps. “I practiced an hour a day for two years,” Josh said. Whatever fondness he might have had for the bugle evaporated over time. He hasn’t touched the instrument since nabbing the badge.
Josh is also an Eagle Scout. He said attaining that accolade was far easier than getting 135 merit badges. His younger brother, Zach, is a Boy Scout, too.
Scouting has evolved over the years (though to many of us, too slowly and not enough). To peruse the list of discontinued merit badges on Wikipedia is to watch America changing. The Cement Work merit badge was retired in 1952, Masonry in 1995. Corn Farming, Cotton Farming, Forage Crops, Fruit and Nut Growing, and Small Grains were separate badges until they merged into the single Plant Science in 1975. Bee Keeping was a merit badge from 1911 to 1995, when it was phased out.
You used to able to get merit badges in Rabbit Raising and Taxidermy, a pair that seem to go together nicely. Not any more.
Stamp Collecting and Journalism are still merit badges. Which, I wonder, will disappear first?
Don’t forget that I’m in the midst of Helping Hand, the new Washington Post program to help raise money for three Washington-area charities. Community of Hope serves homeless families in the District. Sasha Bruce Youthwork works with homeless teenagers. Homestretch is a nonprofit assisting single mothers in Fairfax County.
You can read about their vital work — and make a donation — at www.posthelpinghand.com.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.