Michael Costello accomplished a lot in less than 15 years. He never let anything — certainly not a heart condition and other chronic health issues — stand in the way of his goals.
Michael died March 11, 2017 — just a week shy of his 15th birthday. He completed all of the requirements for the Eagle Scout award but never had an Eagle Scout board of review.
Knowing that the BSA allows posthumous boards of review, even for the highest rank of Eagle, the adults of Troop 117 of Coatesville, Pa., got to work.
On June 13, 2017, volunteers from the Chester County Council held a posthumous board of review. Scouter Rich Coster called it “quite different, interesting and certainly emotional.”
The board of review members, including Coster, interviewed Michael’s parents, the chairman of his troop’s committee, his Scoutmaster, a den leader and a fellow member of Troop 117.
The verdict was swift: “The outpouring of stories about Michael, his accomplishments, indomitable spirit, passion for Scouting and desire to give back all attested to his qualities as a true Eagle Scout,” Coster said.
Michael’s early years
Michael was born in 2002 in South Carolina. The family that had planned to adopt him learned that the boy had been born with a serious medical condition. They were told he would not live to see his second birthday and decided not to proceed with the adoption.
Three more families opted not to adopt the boy.
Then Patti and Michael Costello showed up.
They drove to South Carolina to meet with Michael’s doctors and begin the paperwork. A week later, Michael was their legally adopted son.
As Michael continued to outlive his initial prognosis, he spent a lot of time at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“One thing about the program at CHOP is their focus on improving the lives, both physically and emotionally, of their young patients and their families,” Coster said.
For example, each patient gets his or her own colorful, personalized pillowcase.
“Michael often stated that the enjoyment and emotional uplift he got from getting this gift helped lift his spirit,” Coster said.
Michael’s time in Scouting
Michael started as a Cub Scout in Pack 36, and Scouting became his respite.
He found a place where his physical limitations weren’t a deal-breaker. He found adults who cared enough to find a way to make Scouting a great experience.
Knowing that his body would continue to break down as he got older, Michael earned the more physically demanding merit badges first. He excelled at earning money for his troop’s Scouting adventures and was his troop’s top popcorn salesman several times. He was known as an excellent camp chef. He served as den chief for a Cub Scout pack in Wilmington, Del.
“The den leader shared at Michael’s board of review that he came to each meeting prepared to lead and teach the boys — always enthusiastic and ready to make her role as den leader worry-free,” Coster said. “She learned that she could count on Michael, and the boys in her den developed a strong emotional bond with him.”
Michael got a heart transplant when he was 12. Throughout his recovery, he continued to work on advancement and merit badges.
After about a year, Michael’s body started to reject the new heart.
It was now a race against time. Michael wanted to continue to be a fully engaged and active participant in the troop and, if possible, complete all of the requirements to be an Eagle Scout.
Michael’s Eagle Scout project
Remember those pillowcases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia?
Michael wanted to make sure that tradition continued, so he made it his Eagle project.
After his project idea was approved, Michael raised $1,600 to buy fabric and materials. He learned how to make the pillowcases and led volunteers as they put everything together. After 450 total hours of service, Michael and his volunteers crafted 300 pillowcases.
Michael completed his project in January 2017.
Michael’s board of review
In March 2017, Michael was beginning his Eagle Scout application when his health began to worsen.
He died soon after. Michael’s parents submitted the paperwork on their son’s behalf, and the district contacted them to schedule Michael’s board of review.
At the board of review, everyone got to hear Michael’s story. Yes, they heard about his Leave No Trace Award and his 55 Cub Scout belt loops. They heard about his time as a den chief and all his merit badges.
But most compelling was the story of how Michael enjoyed life to the fullest. He cared about others and lived the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
“Although plagued with significant medical issues all of his short life, Michael never let this interfere with his positive outlook on life,” Coster said.
A note about posthumous boards of review
These are specifically covered in section 184.108.40.206 of the Guide to Advancement. Here’s the relevant section:
Bestowing Posthumous Awards
If, prior to death, a youth member in any BSA program met the requirements for a rank or award, including age and service, he or she may receive it posthumously. If a required board of review has not been conducted, it is held according to the methods outlined in “Boards of Review,” 220.127.116.11. It is appropriate to invite parents or guardians and friends to discuss the efforts made toward the rank.
For the Eagle Scout rank, the application is verified at the council service center, but it must be sent to the National Advancement Program Team for processing. A cover letter from the Scout executive or designee must indicate it as posthumous. This triggers changes to the congratulatory letter returned with the pocket card and certificate. Note that the same procedures regarding timing of an Eagle Scout board of review apply in posthumous cases. See “Eagle Scout Board of Review Beyond the 18th Birthday,” 18.104.22.168.
Thanks to Ed Crompton for the blog post idea.