South Hadley Boy Scouts learn to scuba dive
By Lori Szepelak
SOUTH HADLEY -- Boy Scout Troop 303 Scoutmaster Steven P. Roberts believes in offering scouts new experiences in a safe and secure environment, and on the evening of March 25, more than half of the troop experienced scuba diving for the first time, led by instructors of At the Water's Edge.
"The scuba experience gives them the ability to challenge themselves and perhaps gain an interest in scuba diving and maybe even continue on to certification," Roberts said in an interview with Reminder Publications.
Roberts' troop includes 46 scouts, as well as an off-shoot of the troop called Venture Crew 303. The venturing program, a co-educational high adventure program for boys and girls, challenges young people to reach their full potential through group experience and challenges that they choose as a group.
During spring break this month, Venture Crew 303 will participate in the Boy Scouts High Adventure Sea Base Camp in the Florida Keys. The trip has been in the planning stages for 15 months, and all participants are scuba certified at the basic level.
"This trip will allow the boys to see coral, fish life and other underwater scenes for eight days and up to nine dives," said Gregory Dunn, an instructor at the dive shop, who will be accompanying the venture crew members.
"My greatest joy from being an instructor is seeing a student get a sparkle in their eye when they start to understand the process and we finish a safe dive knowing they accomplished something they didn't think they would do," added Dunn.
During the March 25 SCUBA Experience, boys were learning how to overcome their fear of being submerged while breathing on a scuba tank, as well as mastering mask clearing, regulator recovery and buoyancy checks. Under the direction of instructors Dunn and Brian Michaud, as well as dive masters Alan Dunn, Jeff Sallfrank and Ralph Mastello, the boys were soon at ease and in the deep end of the pool doing somersaults and tossing Frisbees under water to their instructors.
"Scuba diving fits into the scouting philosophy because it teaches them self-reliance and teamwork at the same time," Roberts said. "It requires physical and mental fitness, and it challenges the scouts to explore new ideas."
Roberts noted that he encourages the boys to try the SCUBA Experience since it also allows them to explore new areas one does not normally see.
"I think it inspires an environmental awareness as well as an interest in science and exploring," Roberts said. "It also satisfies and nurtures a sense of adventure in all of us."
Ralph Mastello, a master diver and part owner of At the Water's Edge, concurred.
"Young people should be exposed to scuba diving because it offers them options for their life," he said. "Some might decide to become marine biologists or consider other environmental studies, and others might go into commercial diving."
Mastello added that scuba diving is also the perfect sport for those wishing to get away from the "hectic world" and relax while viewing another world that few get to see.
"Scuba diving is also fun and a great way to meet other people from all over the world," said Mastello.
Roberts added that the benefits the boys learn from the SCUBA Experience program differ depending on their age.
"The younger boys learn to try something new without fear," he said. "They also learn to relate with adults. The biggest take away for a younger scout is they can do it and be successful. For the older boys, it gives them a desire to learn more, it challenges them, and helps spark their sense of adventure and future learning."
At the Water's Edge, located at the Hampton Ponds Plaza on Route 202 in Westfield, offers SCUBA Experience lessons for free to organizations and companies. For more information, visit www.lovetodive.com
or call 532-5110.