More than 600 young men from Salt Lake County made history of sorts Saturday morning as they gathered at the University of Utah for what is thought to be the largest Eagle Scout gathering ever.

They represented the 1,637 teenage boys from the Great Salt Lake Council to earn the Boy Scouts of America's Eagle rank during 1988 - the largest class ever from a single council.Gathered in the U.'s Union building for the "Breakfast For Champions By Champions," the Scouts and their leaders heard praise and got encouragement from Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, Gov. Norm Bangerter and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah. Though none of the three politicians earned the Eagle rank, they all praised the boys for their perseverance in obtaining the honor.

Eagle Scouts must earn at least 21 different merit badges covering a wide range of topics and complete a major service project to qualify for the award - the highest offered to boys in the Scouting program.

Garn spoke at length about his adventures aboard the space shuttle Discovery and said he was embarrassed at not having earned the Eagle award as a youth. "My only regret as I look out at all of you is that I didn't achieve that distinction. I got to be a Star, but that's as far as it went. It was a failure on my part not to do so.

"And I think it was easier in those days to get your Eagle, because Scouting was the number one activity. We didn't have TV or videos or Nintendo - all the distractions that you boys have."

Garn said the world would be a much better place if everyone would observe the Boy Scout motto to "Be Prepared," and encouraged the boys to continue preparing themselves for future opportunities.

"What an amazing country you live in - where a little boy from Richfield, Utah, who lived in very humble circumstances, could end up being mayor of a great city and then serve in the U.S. Senate. I think how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I've had because I was born in the United States. That's the reason I say be prepared."

With the rapid advance of technology, Garn predicted that many of the boys would someday live on the Moon, visit Mars and orbit the earth in space stations. "There are tens of thousands of jobs out there that haven't even been invented yet. The future is beyond your wildest imagination, and people who are going to go into space in the future won't be the ones that take the easy course."

Bangerter told of serving as a merit badge counselor for personal fitness and having one Scout come to his home repeatedly during one day to complete the ten pullups needed to earn his badge. "I hope that's the kind of perseverance you exemplify. There are times in everyone's life where you just have to make that extra special effort."

DePaulis challenged the boys to make community service a large part of their lives and encouraged each to support the in-school Scouting program for underprivileged youths. The program now serves 400 local youths,and several schools in the area are hoping to initiate it. Proceeds from the breakfast will help fund the in-school program, he said.

Corporate sponsors for the breakfast included Western Savings of Arizona; Van Cott, Bagley, Cornwall and McCarthy; the Deseret News; and Okland Construction Co.