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‘This Makes Me Feel So Awesome’

Lowell High Student Earns Eagle Scout Rank with Octoball Project

Connor Smithee stood on the concrete of the otherwise deserted Alto Elementary playground on a recent afternoon. He wasn’t alone for long. At recess time, students poured from school doors and noisily raced to get in line for the octoball courts.

“Look how long the line is,” Connor marveled, breaking into a grin. “Oh, this is so cool. This makes me feel so awesome.”

He should feel awesome. Connor constructed the courts, and that afternoon the Lowell High School junior may as well have been a rock star, with the high-fiving and the entourage-like following he amassed as he hung out courtside.

Connor took on the project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, which is Scouting’s highest rank. He did the planning in early summer, which included getting the school’s buy-in and raising close to $1,000 on his own to cover the cost of the materials.

Connor Smithee high-fives Alto Elementary students as they wait in line for a turn at Octoball

“My mom and dad have a lot of friends, and we have a really big family,” he said. “I was about $100 short at the end so I just threw that in from money from my job.” Connor, among his many other roles, works on the set-up crew at a local event hall.

Alto Principal Paul Papes said he was impressed with Connor throughout the project. “He showed a lot of initiative and he was very thorough,” Papes said.

Similar to dodgeball but without anywhere near the opportunities for pain and injury, octoball — also called gaga ball — is a game where the aim is to avoid getting hit below the knees.

Connor had help with construction from his dad, Todd Smithee, adult volunteer Charlie Callahan and Don Aversano, headmaster of Troop 102. Fellow Scouts Carson and Collin Clark, Elliot and Allaster Johnson, Don Aversano III, Jared Lezan and Zach Callahan also pitched in.

The team spent a day cutting 48 pine boards and support beams, and another several hours screwing the boards together to make standard-size courts, which opened for play in mid October.

“I’m not real big into building, so this was a challenge,” Connor admitted.

Why Alto Elementary? Because he is a former student. In fact, he started Scouting when he was an Alto second-grader.

“I loved my experience here,” Connor said, “and I just wanted to do something to make the school even more great for kids who are here now.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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