Autism may slow this Scout, but hasn’t kept him from Eagle honor

Anthony Schmaltz (center) is recognized after receiving his Eagle award, with his parents, Michelle and Gerald Schmaltz, at his side.
Anthony Schmaltz (center) is recognized after receiving his Eagle award, with his parents, Michelle and Gerald Schmaltz, at his side. Photo provided.

Originally published June 30, 2014.

It's not every Cub who grows up to be an Eagle.

Nationally, only 2 percent to 4 percent of all boys who enter Scouts will persevere to earn the program's top award, says Bill Oswalt, who helps coordinate Eagle projects for local Troop 637.

There are a host of challenges on the way from Cub to Eagle - Scouts are required to earn nearly two dozen merit badges and recommendations from respected adults, hold positions of responsibility in the troop and, as the final challenge, coordinate a service project in the community.

Anthony Schmaltz conquered those challenges, capping his quest by spearheading the rejuvenation of a neglected playground at the PAL Club.

"We had to pull the weeds out," Schmaltz explains, speaking only after a lengthy pause to consider his words.

Another pause.

"I found people to help with it," he adds.

Schmaltz is not quick with his words. It's just one of the additional challenges he's faced during his climb through the ranks of Scouting.

Schmaltz has autism. While it may slow him down on occasion, it hasn't hampered his participation in, or his acceptance by, Troop 637.

"They understand when he doesn't answer," his mom, Michelle Schmaltz, says. "They help him when he needs it, and they push him when he doesn't."

The national Scouting program doesn't have a special program for boys with special needs, Oswalt explains, preferring instead to integrate those boys into the troop and make accommodations when necessary. For example, he says, leaders can help a boy who uses a wheelchair find an alternative to hiking.

"You just have to take each kid individually," Oswalt says. While Troop 637 has previously had members with special needs, he adds, Schmaltz's needs have been the most challenging so far - and even then, not insurmountable.

"We don't really go out of our way," Oswalt says. "We just try to blend them in as best we can."

"We were never sure he could be a Boy Scout," Michelle Schmaltz says.

That fear proved to be groundless.

"There's not much he's not been able to do in Scouts," says Schmaltz's dad, Gerald Schmaltz.

"We just kind of put him out there and say, ‘Go do it,'" Michelle Schmaltz adds. "Boy Scouts give children like him a lot of help. The leaders helped a lot."

"For him, it's been a social outlet," Gerald Schmaltz says.

"He doesn't play regular sports," Michelle Schmaltz says. "This was something he could do."

Schmaltz has been lucky; his parents are active in the Scout program, Oswalt notes, and he made a lifelong best friend, Daniel Zahm, when the two met during their early days of Cub Scouts.

"He was the kind of friend who always pushed you to do what he knew you could do," Michelle Schmaltz says to her son, prompting him when his words failed.

"Daniel never really looked at that (autism)," Daniel's mom, Jodi Zahm, says. "He just looked at how nice he was."

Schmaltz earned 31 merit badges throughout his Scouting career, but admits that he farmed out the task of sewing those badges onto his sash.

"Jodi did," he says with a grin.

"None of the boys do that," Zahm says with a laugh.
"Sewing's not one of their things."

The first aid badge was his favorite, Schmaltz says, and the shotgun badge was the hardest to earn.

While shooting at clay pigeons, "I got hit with it twice," Schmaltz says.

"He hit a bunch of them," his dad says.

"I did hesitate, though," Schmaltz responds.

He's gone camping, set up tents, roasted marshmallows and survived a whitewater rafting trip.

"I did fall out, though," he says. "Twice."

Even with the unplanned trip into the water, he says, he'd go whitewater rafting again.

He's not so eager to repeat the experience required to become a member of the Order of the Arrow.

"I would not go through another ordeal weekend, though," he says. "You can't talk."

Meals were sparse - "Just a hard boiled egg and a piece of bread," he says.

"I was crying because I wanted to come home," he says.

His friends wouldn't let him.

"That's the attitude his friends have had with him - ‘There's no reason you can't do it,'" Michelle Schmaltz says.

Over the years, Zahm says, "Daniel has made him try many things he wouldn't have tried on his own."

Schmaltz realizes that. Each time a boy earns the Eagle award, he selects a mentor to honor during the award ceremony. For Schmaltz, Daniel Zahm was that mentor.

In the speech Schmaltz wrote for the ceremony, he has this to say about his friend:

"We were not even sure that I could make it as a Boy Scout because of all the requirements that are needed. But through all the activities we have done together, whether it was Boy Scouts, driving go-carts, riding all the roller coasters at Indiana Beach and Cedar Point, to whitewater rafting in Pennsylvania, you believed that I could do it all and you made me believe it too."

Schmaltz has aged out of Boy Scouts - he'll be a senior this fall at Huntington North High School - and is now a Venture Scout, an adventure-oriented group designed for older boys. And he's signed up as a junior assistant scoutmaster for his old troop.