Zachary David-Michael Bryant was on his first Boy Scout camping trip with Troop 213 when he lived up to their motto: “Be Prepared.”
Bryant, a member of Boy Scout Troop 213, was whitewater rafting with other Scouts on the Nantahala River in North Carolina in late July, when he pulled a 12-year-old boy from the cold, swirling rapids.
“It was the hand of God,” said Bryant, 16, a junior at Druid Hills High School. “My left is the weaker hand, and he probably weighed a little over 100 pounds. He was wet, too. I just give all the glory to God.”
Troop 213 is chartered out of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which recently recognized the troop for the heroic deed during a men’s prayer breakfast and, later, during Sunday services. The troop from Ebenezer was started by the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., although under a different troop number.
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“I was just beaming with pride,” said C. David Moody, president of the board of the Atlanta Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, which has more than 30,000 Scouts. “They were prepared and they were ready. These were young boys and they stayed calm. That’s what Scouting teaches you, and I think this is something they will carry with them through life.”
The afternoon of July 19 began quietly enough.
Members of Troop 213, which has 19 youths registered to the program, had spent the week camping at Woodruff Scout Camp in nearby Blairsville, said Byron King, committee chairman of Ebenezer’s Boy Scout Troop . They had planned to return to Atlanta the next day and decided to go whitewater rafting with other Scouts.
DeShaun Baker, 19, an Eagle Scout and assistant junior scoutmaster for Troop 213, was leading one group in one of the rafts.
Bryant and Baker of Decatur, a sophomore accounting major at Reinhardt University, said they were just having fun when they heard a youth screaming for help, who turned out to be a Scout from Effingham County, had fallen in the water.
Barbara Rafferty of Marlow was in a raft with seven others, including her two sons.
The raft had hit some rocks earlier, and members of Troop 213 had helped them off the rocks. This time, though, as they neared the end of the trip and hit rocks again, her 12-year-old son, James, was thrown into the water.
“Most of it had been pretty calm and fun,” she said in a phone interview. Near the end of the ride, she said, the water was rougher and the rapids were stronger. Everyone calls that area the waterfalls.
Their raft went backward at times. Other times, it went sideways or in circles.
James, she said, who’s a good swimmer, didn’t just fall in, “he fell in and took off. The current just took him. I could tell from his face he was shocked. The water was really cold. He looked at me and I looked at him.”
He bobbed up and down in the water. Each time he came up, he later told his mom, he got a gulp of air.
She said a kayaker tried to get James closer to the raft. James had yelled for help, and the kayaker told James to start swimming. Bryant and others were off to the side, trying to row against the current.
Baker said his group had hit the rocks earlier. The currents were now hurling James toward a huge rock.
Bryant, a 170-pound guard on his school’s basketball team, wanted to help, but the more experienced Baker told him to wait until he could safely maneuver the raft to get closer to the boy.
Bryant reached in and grabbed the boy, who was wearing a life jacket and a helmet, and pulled him in the raft that contained Scouts Tafari Cooke, Kai Harris, Mateo Hunter, Prince Clark and Jamari Aycock. The ordeal seemed to last only a few minutes.
Rafferty watched as Bryant stood up in the raft and grabbed her son.
She said her sixth-grader is more than 80 pounds, but knows it was no easy task because he was wet.
“They were in the right place at the right time, and that is wonderful,” she said. She said her son was bruised but otherwise OK.
Bryant has a little brother who is about the same size and age. Thoughts of his brother in the same situation flickered through his mind.
“He was kind of quiet at first,” said Bryant. “I knew he was scared because my little brother would have been.”
Before hitting the water, outfitters will advise people how to place themselves in the raft to minimize the risks of falling overboard, especially if the raft hits rocks. They also tell people how to place their bodies so as not to get their feet — or heads — wedged between rocks, which could cause injury or worse. An experienced guide is usually in each raft.
King is proud of his Scouts. “It was a bit surprising that they acted immediately without anybody telling them what to do,” King said. “I appreciate the fact they lived up to the Scouting oath.”
Bryant’s mother is equally proud.
“God uses whomever he chooses,” said Deitra Crawley, Bryant’s mother. “I’m just thankful to God this morning for having his hand on those children.”