At Luke Wertz’s high school in Mechanicsburg, Pa., much of the athletics attention is focused on the football and track teams.
But Luke thought another team deserved its day in the spotlight. So, in true Scouting fashion, he planned that day himself.
For his Eagle Scout service project, Luke planned, developed and gave leadership to a Bocce Fest for life skills students at high schools in his area. These are students with an intellectual disability who get together each week to play the game of bocce, considered the third most-participated sport in the world — after soccer and golf.
It’s also a sport offered at the Special Olympics, where it gives “people with special needs the opportunity to have social contact, develop physically and to gain self-confidence.”
After COVID canceled his school’s bocce season last year, Luke wanted to do something not just for the bocce players at his school but for young bocce players from across the region.
“Bocce ball showed me how meaningful it was to these students to be able to compete and be part of a team, maybe for the first time in their lives,” Luke says. “I wanted to give them an exciting day amid a very uncertain and worrisome time.”
In addition to a fun, well-organized bocce tournament, Bocce Fest included food, entertainment, crafts, coloring and carnival-type games like you might see at the Special Olympics.
With Luke’s project, we have the latest example of a “nontraditional” Eagle project having a big impact. It’s a reminder that Eagle projects don’t have to involve construction or something physically permanent to have a lasting impact.
After hearing about Luke’s impressive project, we contacted him to learn more.
How it started
Luke first got involved with the Special Olympics in sixth grade when he and his troop volunteered at the local Special Olympics at Dickinson College.
Something clicked inside Luke that day. He liked this kind of service and felt he was making a real difference.
So Luke got involved with his school’s life skills classroom, helped with T-ball at the park near his house and volunteered to be a “buddy” for his school’s Special Olympics bocce ball team.
“It was impactful to see my partner improve as a player, but more importantly, to see him come out of his shell and have fun,” Luke says.
A different kind of Eagle project
Many Eagle Scout projects involve a young person leading a construction-based effort. We’ve seen bridges, baseball dugouts, animal habitats and many more — all impressive and positive experiences for all involved.
But Luke saw himself on a different path.
“Many projects, you leave something behind that you hope will impact people later,” he says, “but I wanted to help people directly and see the impact I was having — having an immediate effect on their lives.”
Like all Eagle projects, it was hard work. And like most Eagle projects, there were roadblocks to overcome.
“I learned the importance of persistence and following up with people,” Luke says. “One unforeseen problem was that the bocce teams at local schools were largely unorganized because there hadn’t been a bocce season the year prior. I learned how helpful it was to Be Prepared, which, considering that’s the Scout Motto, I should have figured was important long before then.”
‘The easy part’
Many people who organize a huge, complicated event agree that if you plan it properly, the actual day of the event is the easy part. It’s like meticulously aligning a thousand dominoes. After you knock over that one, you get to sit back and watch the others fall perfectly into place.
Luke experienced this, too.
“It was actually planning the event that took so much time,” he says. “The event went a lot smoother because of everything I’d done beforehand.”
Of course, he didn’t do all this work alone. He recruited volunteers from his troop, church youth group, cross country team, neighborhood and school.
“I never could have pulled the event off without them,” Luke says. “They were just as dedicated to making sure the attendees had an exciting day.”
And how did those attendees like the Bocce Fest?
“Seeing their smiles made all of the work and roadblocks worth it,” Luke says.
Taking the experiences with him
Though Luke’s formal Scouting journey will end when he turns 18, he knows that the lessons learned from his project and years with his troop will stick around for life.
“As I decide what career I would like to pursue, I know that I’d like to do something that allows me to work hands-on with other people and make a positive impact on those around me,” Luke says. “Regardless of if I pursue special education, I would love to stay involved with the life skills community.”
Luke discovered that promoting his Bocce Fest event was one of the most challenging parts of his project. But that challenge turned out to be fun.
“It sparked an interest in marketing for me, which is what I intend to study in college,” he says. “My experience reaching out to sponsors, communicating with large groups and spreading awareness for an event will prove helpful in the future. My project and Scouting as a whole showed me that hard work needs to be a constant. And helping others is always worth it.”