Legion youth program alums share bond

Jamie Beyerle of Lebanon, Pa., was a multisport athlete, but she excelled at BB-gun shooting. She practiced for hours on end with her brothers in the basement of their family's home. At the age of 15, BB-gun competitions were no longer available to her, so she turned to The American Legion's Junior Shooting Sports Program and in 2002 bagged a national air-rifle championship in the Precision category. That accomplishment helped her land a spot on the nationally renowned University of Alaska-Fairbanks rifle team, and after a 2004 attempt at the U.S. Olympic team fell short, she made the cut in 2008 and competed for the United States in Beijing.

Last summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told thousands gathered at Fort A.P. Hill that his experiences in Boy Scouts defined the rest of his life. "I am here today because I believe in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its boys and young men," he said at the Centennial Boy Scout Jamboree.

Eva Marie Witt was waiting tables for less than $4 an hour when she received an American Legion Legacy Scholarship in remembrance of her Air Force father, who lost his life in a plane crash. The money was essential for her to attend college. "I am so thankful for the help that has been given to me," she told us recently. "He was the main supporter in our family, and it was really hard for Mom to pay for college."

Famed broadcaster Tom Brokaw, who has covered many of the world's most profound moments in the past half-century, says that American Legion South Dakota Boys State is one of his most enduring memories. "I made friends that I have to this day," he says of his Boys State experience. "I am still in touch with many of the people I met at Boys State."

Jeff Kent, who retired from Major League Baseball as the all-time leader in home runs among second basemen, says American Legion Baseball taught him intangibles that helped propel his career. "Without playing with passion and intensity," he once told the Legion, "it can be an empty game. There is no shortcut to success. It takes desire, determination and a dedication to not allow anything to get in the way."

Scholarship recipients, Oratorical Contest competitors, Boys State and Boys Nation delegates, baseball players, shooters and Boy Scouts may sound like a disparate combination, but people like Beyerle, Gates, Witt, Brokaw and Kent are among hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been influenced by Legion youth programs.

National Headquarters now has a place online just for alumni of these programs. The website - www.legion.org/youthalumni - offers former participants the opportunity to network with one another in an online forum, learn how the Legion's youth programs have grown over the years, and share their success stories. Volunteer opportunities will also be posted.

American Legion youth programs have guided future presidents, business executives, pro athletes, teachers, doctors and others. By visiting the site and reconnecting, former participants, volunteers and staff will see the impact of these vital programs, and help us advance them to new generations.