A group of four Chief Cornplanter Council Boy Scouts took the plunge recently.
On Wednesday, April 15, scouts Kurt Sherrard and Sammy Sherrard of Troop 6, Philip Dorn of Troop 13, and Thomas Henry of Troop 31, dove into the world of scuba at the Warren County YMCA pool.
"It was really cool to feel weightless underwater," Dorn said. "I want to do it again."
"It was a good experience," Kurt Sherrard said. "It was fun."
"It was really fun to go down deeper and deeper without having to come back up to take a breath," Henry said.
Sammy Sherrard agreed. "It was better than just swimming," he said. "You didn't have to come back up to get a breath."
Merit Badge Counselor and Professional Association of Diving Instructors Master Scuba Diver Trainer John Beard led the boys through the dive step-by-step.
He started by explaining the importance of following the rules and being safe.
Two of the primary dangers of scuba diving did not apply to the scouts.
"The number one rule of scuba diving is never ever hold your breath," Beard said.
Divers who hold their breath risk potentially fatal lung problems if they ascend quickly.
In a pool with a maximum depth of 12 feet, there was no danger of that, he said.
He also warned the boys that they had to get out of the water when their air gauges were in the red.
The tanks were all full, enough air for about six hours, Beard said, and the boys' lesson involved less than two hours of tank time.
Once the basics were covered, the group, Beard, the boys and the Rev. James Swanson, who has an interest in becoming certified in SCUBA and served as the second adult for safety purposes, got their gear on and got in the water.
Beard started with more instruction with the group in a corner of the shallow end of the pool.
Safety is Beard's main concern. "I'm able to watch the scouts in shallow water where they can always stand up if they are scared or panicked," Beard said. "I will not allow them to move into deeper surroundings until they have successfully demonstrated mastery of a skill and are comfortable."
The boys had to demonstrate the ability to perform some safety and emergency procedures before they were allowed to move about the pool.
They checked their gauges and, using hand signals, shared how much air they had.
Because holding breath is bad, each had to take their regulators out of their mouths and breathe out until they put it back in.
A more advanced maneuver involved removing the regulator and throwing it out to the side before using an arm to track the hose down and bring it back into position.
Clearing a mask with water in it was, according to Beard, the most difficult skill the group covered. The divers had to push on the top of the masks, tip their heads back slightly, and exhale forcefully through their noses.
After each of the scouts had demonstrated their ability to perform each skill, they were on their way.
After roaming the shallows, Beard sent the boys with Swanson to the deep end.
They swam down to the bottom, playing games and just experiencing scuba.
The scouts will earn scuba activity patches, something less than a merit badge.
"A merit badge is designed to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of a particular skill," Beard said. "There may be 15 to 20 requirements demonstrating activity, knowledge, attainment of a skill and a mastery of a certain body of knowledge. An activity patch demonstrates that a certain activity has been undertaken and completed but falls short of mastery."
Merit badges are coming soon, and sooner to local boys than to most others.
"I get updates on the program as it is developed and will be able to offer the merit badge as soon as it is approved but before it's distributed," Beard said. "Look for Cornplanter to continue to show the leadership they've always demonstrated."
The price is right, too. A typical scuba certification program might cost $750, according to Beard.
A program at the YMCA will be much less, the cost for members will total about $320, he said.
"Thad Turner, the YMCA director and Cathy Peterson, aquatics director, have made it possible for youth groups to experience scuba diving at no cost and for divers to become certified for less than half the cost of a regular diving class," Beard said. "Their generosity to this community is astounding."
"Boy Scouts taking the SCUBA BSA course are able to participate at no cost thanks to the generosity of the Y," Beard said.
Sunken Treasure SCUBA Center is providing the gear at no cost, Beard said.
He said he has certified more than 150 Boy Scouts in recent years, and safety is always key.
"In an open water environment, I or an assistant will always be within arm's reach of a scout ready to assist or share air if the need arises," he said. "I am proud that I have never had an underwater injury in all my years of instructing."
The mothers of the boys all stayed at the pool to watch. They were impressed and they weren't worried.
"We thought it was great that they could have professional instruction," Caroline Dorn said. "It looked like they were very well tended."
"I just thought it was a great experience, something for them to experience that they probably wouldn't have," Jeni Sherrard said. "When he explained it, they really got it. You could tell."
"I was really impressed with all the boys," Amy Henry said. "It was a wonderful opportunity."
"We are scuba advocates," she said.
The boys are, too.
"If I got a chance to do it again, I would," Thomas Henry said.
The course was offered to Boy Scouts again on Tuesday, April 21. The final class of three will be on Monday, April 27. Beard said he can take a maximum of eight scouts in a class.