September 6, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.

Alma mater amenity

Gilk completes Eagle Scout project at Greenwald playground

By HERMAN LENSING | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Isaiah Gilk, 14, of Greenwald, saw a need at his grade school alma mater, St. John’s-St. Andrew Catholic School, and addressed it.

The result is a gaga ball pit and two new benches at the Greenwald playground as his Eagle Scout project. 

“They were popping up everywhere,” Isaiah said Aug. 15 looking over the pit. “Sacred Heart (Catholic school in Freeport), St. Mary’s (Catholic school in Melrose) and Melrose elementary all have one, so I thought St. Johns’-St. Andrew’s should have one.”

The idea of a pit at the school appealed to him. His brothers, Jackson and Andrew, attend SJ’s-SA’s school.  

Gilk had been looking for an Eagle Scout project ever since he joined Troop 68 in Melrose, as a second grader. He is going into the ninth grade, and there was a deadline he had to meet to become an Eagle Scout.

“You have until your 18th birthday to become an Eagle Scout,” Isaiah said. 

Eighteen-years-old was not the deadline Isaiah was trying to meet. His dad, Steve, was a Scout who earned the Eagle rank. 

“He wanted to beat his dad,” said Kathy Gilk, his mother. “His dad became an Eagle Scout when he was 15 years old.”

Isaiah presented his idea, which included another improvement, to Mary Miller, St. John’s-St. Andrew’s principal. 

“After Mass, his younger brother would come out to play, but there were no benches for parents or family to sit on,” Kathy said. “He offered to build the benches.”

Miller was all for the project. It would address a playground problem for the school. She did have one request.

“She said it was fine as long as it didn’t interfere with Barley Days,” Isaiah said.

A gaga pit is an octagon-shaped structure about 30 inches high. Inside the area a dodgeball-like game is played.

“You hit the ball around until it touches someone. The ball has to stay on the ground. You can’t throw it,” Isaiah said. “When you get hit by the ball, you are out.”

The game is played until one person is left. The name and game are said to have come from Israel. Most sources say gaga is based on a Hebrew expression meaning “touch-touch.” It was said to have spread from Israel to other countries through summer camp exchange programs. There is another story about one person who saw it being played and said participants looked like a bunch of infants playing “goo-goo ga-ga.” Whatever the story, the game spread internationally and quickly became popular at elementary schools. 

Isaiah was involved in all aspects of the project, from raising the funds to paying for the materials to gathering people to help build it.

“Counting everybody’s hours, we have about 79 hours in the project,” Isaiah said. “I had to get the lumber cut. We built it from scratch.”

An Eagle Scout project encourages the development of organizational skills for all elements of the project. Acquiring the lumber and materials required fundraising. Isaiah caught a break in his fundraiser, with local businesses donating to his project.  

Isaiah organized the work schedule and work days.

“We had about 10 people who worked on it,” he said. “The main construction was May 20. We did some touchup in June and on June 20 put the plaques on.”

The pit was used almost from day one. 

“The kids were really excited about it and were using it every day,” said Miller, Aug. 15 while watching camp students playing a game. “It was really neat to have it from an alumnus.”

With the work done, he submitted his project documentation to a board of review. He then had to wait to see if it was accepted.

“I heard on Aug. 8 I had made Eagle Scout,” Isaiah said. “I now need to hear from the national office. They make sure all the dates of my badges are right.”

The official ceremony awarding him the badge will take place later this year. 

During Barley Days and other times this summer, he saw students play in the pit and people relaxing on benches. That is reward enough for Isaiah. 


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