Blake Hughes’ Eagle Scout aspirations may have begun before he even started first grade Tiger Troop through Loper Elementary.

“I was going to (Boy Scouts) meetings when I was in my mom’s belly,” he said last week, a couple of days after completing his board of review for Eagle Scout rank.

The Shelbyville High School junior and long-time member of Troop 223, which meets at First Baptist Church, recently installed two benches along the Blue River Trail to complete his Eagle Scout project.

“They have a good view of the cross country course,” Blake, a cross country runner himself, said.

He was responsible for overseeing the entire process: obtaining permission from the Shelbyville Parks Department, securing funding, getting pea gravel and concrete and installation. He had help, though. 

His grandmother, Mary Lou Hughes, purchased a bench in honor of her late husband, Jim, and Shelbyville Middle School teacher Stephanie Munger purchased one in memory of her late fiancé, Gary Oldham Jr. “In memory” plaques will be installed on the benches next. Help also came from Matt Haehl with Shelby Materials, as well as from other Scouts and long-time troop leader Gary Fuller.

The Hugheses are a Scouting family. Blake’s three older brothers - Todd, Lance and Cole - were Scouts, with Lance also obtaining Eagle rank, and his parents have been active, his mom “unofficially,” Blake said, and Scott for the past 19 years. 

Scott Hughes’ adult association started when he took his oldest son, Todd, to the first meeting.

“They get the kids and their parents into a room. We’re all newbies, sitting in chairs in a circle,” Mr. Hughes recalled.

Gene Hopkins, who was leading the meeting, asked for a volunteer to head the Tiger troop.

“Everybody starts looking at their shoes,” Hughes said, laughing. “You know, don’t make eye contact!”

With no hands raised, Hopkins said, “Hey, Scott, you’d make a good leader. What do you think?”

Having arrived in Shelbyville just a few years prior to teach at Shelbyville Middle School, Hughes knew virtually no one in the room. 

“I said, ‘I’ll be the leader if this guy will be my assistant,’” he replied while turning to the guy next to him, who he didn’t know. It was Nathan Lee, who accepted the appointment, and the families became friends.

Hughes never stepped back.

“I learned that the more I invested into Scouting with my kids, the more I got out of it,” the former Shelbyville High School varsity baseball coach said. “Monday nights was when I carved out time to make sure I was doing something with my boys. No baseball. No side distractions. That was it.”

That commitment has inspired Blake, who pushed through merit badge challenges, such as tracking his habits for 13 weeks to earn a personal management badge, and learned to give back to the community.

“It teaches you basic life lessons, and to respect everyone,” Blake Hughes said.

He has no plans to “Eagle out,” either, a phrase that means earning the Eagle Scout honor and then moving on.

“I’m going to stay involved,” he said. “But it’s not going to be them helping me this time. It’s going to be me helping them.”