Spotlight: Florissant teen picks up every Boy Scout merit badge
Oct. 21, 2017
Nigel Bailey wants to be a commercial pilot, or a welder.
Regardless of what he eventually decides, the wise move for any employer would be to hire him as soon as possible.
Although he only recently turned 16, Nigel has earned every merit badge the Boy Scouts have to offer — 137 — and is ready to earn more if new ones are added. And he earned Eagle Scout honors when he was just 12.
“Once Nigel sets his mind to do something, I don’t have to push him very much at all,” said his mother, Erika Bailey, who schools Nigel and five younger siblings at their home in Florissant.
Then she tossed a deliberate glance across the kitchen table toward Nigel.
“Though I am still trying to figure out how to get him to clean his room,” she said in the mom-like tone every child recognizes.
But in Nigel’s defense, room maintenance might be tough to squeeze into his schedule, for he has more than merit-badge mastery taking up his time.
For three hours on weekday mornings, Nigel takes welding classes at North County Tech, a pursuit spurred by his earning a scout badge in metalworking a few years ago.
“I like putting metal to metal. The teacher tells me I’m doing good on my practice joints and stringer beads,” Nigel said.
“And he said that when I got old enough, I could work as a professional welder,” he said, with only a slight, brief smile exposing his pride in the praise.
Possibly he could tidy up his room in the evening, except for Wednesday nights, when he takes a class at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley.
“I take Japanese,” he said, as if most U.S. teens were picking up that second language in night school.
Nigel doesn’t recall what he initially loved about the Boy Scouts, which he joined when he was in first grade.
“I liked camping first of all. Then when I got an ‘overachiever’s award’ in Cub Scouts, I decided when I got into Boy Scouts, I would try to get them all,” he said of the merit badges.
And so he did, even though he admits some were something less than labors of love.
“Textiles, that was boring. So was pulp and papermaking, truck transportation and dentistry,” he said.
“But then some were really cool: Scuba diving, robotics, welding, white-water rafting. Those were great.”
He also spoke highly of earning his veterinary science badge, in which he got hands-on experience by helping with removing a tumor from a cat and neutering a dog.
And before we forget, his idea of flying commercial jets as a career started when he earned a merit badge in aviation, which included taking a trip to an old airplane museum in Rantoul, Ill.
Although Nigel is hazy on how or why his scouting journey began, his mother’s recollection is quite clear.
It goes back about 11 years, when she quit her job as a district manager for Lowe’s after she and her then-husband, St. Louis police officer Robert Bailey, decided to home-school their children.
“I didn’t really know anything about home schooling,” said Bailey, a Cardinal Ritter High graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree from Dillard University and a master’s from St. Louis University.
“And the one thing I worried about was how they were going to be socialized,” she said, so she signed him up for Cub Scouts to introduce him to educational opportunities outside of standard school work.
“I don’t want my children to be know-it-alls,” she said. “I want them to be learn-it-alls.”
Then she laughed and added that she thought Nigel should pick up interests and activities “before the ‘fumes’ hit — car fumes and perfumes.”
Nigel is a member of Troop 942 at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Florissant. Though he mentioned several important people who have helped him on his badge quest, he hesitated being specific, fearing that “I might leave somebody out.”
Moving on to how his peers react to scouting, at least those who hold the teenage notion that scouting isn’t cool, Nigel said he doesn’t try to talk anyone into joining.
But once they’re in, he expects them to respect the privilege. He talked about being at a camp-out recently and posing for a photo with some friends.
“One guy took off his Scout shirt and said he didn’t want people knowing he was in the Boy Scouts,” Nigel said.
“I told him ‘You should take pride in this and all the things it lets you accomplish,’” he said.
Given his history of achievement, Nigel has his sights set on at least one more badge, of sorts: a driver’s license.
“I have my permit, but I’m waiting,” he said, then shot back his mother’s earlier glance across the kitchen table.
“We’ll see,” she said with a smile, “if we can get that room cleaned first.”