Eagle Scout builds bocce court in Bennett Park

By Abigail Tucker

Brian Donahue, 18, juggles bocce balls in front of the bocce court he built as his Eagle Scout project in Bennett Park. “I wanted to build something that would last,” he said.
The News-Times/Michael Duffy

Brian Donahue, 18, juggles bocce balls in front of the bocce court he built as his Eagle Scout project in Bennett Park. “I wanted to build something that would last,” he said.

BETHEL — Brian Donahue, 18, used to be the laughingstock of Bethel’s Boy Scout Troop 54. "I was the one who everyone made fun of at Eagle parties,” he said. Over the past two years, seven of his peers had completed long-term service projects to become Eagle Scouts, the organization’s elite rank. "Everyone said, ‘Brian, when are you going to get yours?’ź”

Nobody is laughing these days, except maybe Donahue himself, as he expertly lobbed a tiny ball — or "paulina” — down the bocce court he built last month at Bennett Memorial Park to complete the Eagle requirements.

"It’s really looking beautiful, isn’t it?” he mused, pacing the 60-foot by 12-foot court that he planned over the past two years. Before it was finished, Donahue and his team of boys and parents had to transport and pack more than 20 tons of stone dust and processed gravel and use heavy machinery, including a compactor and a mini bulldozer. The group logged in almost 200 labor hours.

The new grass is just starting to fill in around the edges of the court, where the earth was torn during the building process. "I can’t believe it’s done,” Donahue said, shaking his head.

Built with donated materials by volunteers, the court is worth an estimated $7,500 and is a gift to the town of Bethel, where Brian lives with his parents, Barbara and Thomas, on Nature View Trail.

The sophisticated Eagle service project is meant to benefit the community and to demonstrate the scout’s leadership and citizenship, said Bob O’Neil, scoutmaster of Troop 54, which has produced more than 20 Eagle Scouts over the past 20 years. After rising through six other ranks and earning a minimum of 21 merit badges, a prospective Eagle Scout must complete the project before his 18th birthday.

Donahue was down to the wire, sending in the paperwork with just three days to spare.

The bocce court was an extremely ambitious project, said Donahue, a recent graduate of Bethel High School who will study business at Bentley College in Boston next fall. He organized and oversaw the effort from start to finish, proposing the idea to Bethel First Selectman Judy Novachek, gathering materials and recruiting volunteers.

"I never really wanted to give up, but I didn’t know where to start,” Donahue said. "I knew it would be a hard project. Some kids do pretty easy things, but I wanted something hard, something that would last.

"It made me think a lot about what being an Eagle Scout means,” he continued. "I thought a lot about why I wanted to do it, which is to make my friends and family, my troop, proud.” He spoke with the quiet authority that you might expect in an Eagle Scout, albeit a slightly sleepy one, who—in addition to building the bocce court—also works two jobs this summer as a bus boy and pool attendant and often stays at work until past 11 p.m.

Donahue said he got the idea to build a bocce court two years ago when a Bethel citizen pointed out an old court, where the new one now lies, that had gone to ruin so long ago that most residents had forgotten it.

Bocce is an Italian sport that is becoming increasingly popular in the Bethel community. Brian, along with several fathers who helped build the court, is a member of the Bethel Bocce League.

Brian called these fathers his "angels.” He excavated the old court, leveled the ground, packed the stone dust and gravel, nailed together the wooden perimeter, and replanted the grass with the help of men like Tony DiIorio, who owns a construction company in Bethel and has built 12 bocce courts, including the one in his own front yard.

"It’s very difficult,” DiIorio said. "You need machinery and machine operators. You have to excavate the site and establish a drainage factor.” Over a period of five days, DiIorio estimated that he spent at least 12 hours helping Brian.

"Once we got going he was right there alongside me, through bad weather,” DiIorio said. "He gradually gained control of the project, and he knew what he wanted to do.”

The summer is in some ways a difficult time to complete an Eagle project, because many businesses have already donated their quota of free materials to other groups, O’Neil said. But vacation time also meant that Troop 54’s 25 members, their ages ranging from 11 to 18, were free to assist.

While Brian was the last of his friends to "make Eagle,” O’Neil said he never doubted him.

Donahue also holds varsity letters in four sports and is a champion wrestler.

He said he counts the bocce court as one of the biggest achievements of his life. Before he leaves for Boston, he will present Novachek with a donated bocce set and turn over care of the court to Bethel.

"They messed up on the last one. They better take care of this one,” he said.

O’Neil is not optimistic about the future of the court, which is difficult to spot if you’re not looking for it, a perfectly flat surface on the far side of the lake. As scoutmaster, he knows too well that weeds grow and wood rots.

"There’ll probably be vandalism,” he sighed. "In a few years you’ll see another Eagle down there, fixing it up.”


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