Is This Your Year for Philmont?



Muslims go to Mecca. Mickey Mouse fans visit Disneyland or Disney World (or at least the Disney Store). The swallows return to Capistrano. And Scouters go to Philmont.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating the case, but I really think every Scouter ought to get a chance to spend some time at Philmont—either in the backcountry on a backpacking trek or in the classroom at a training conference. In fact, that’s just where I’ll be in August, facilitating one of this year’s “Building Stronger Troops” conferences.

Conferences like that are a great opportunity to recharge your batteries and learn best practices that you can take home to improve your troop. They cover everything from advancement and troop committee operations to geocaching and trek planning, all in the shadows of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Many give you sneak peeks of coming attractions (like the new Cub Scout advancement program) and access to national-level volunteers and professionals.

The Philmont Training Center is also a great place for a family vacation. There are full-day programs for every age from infant through adult, and schedules are carefully coordinated so that families get to enjoy meals and evening programs together.

Given the still-recovering economy, of course, vacations are out of the question for many families. But, depending on the size of your family and how close you live to New Mexico, a week at PTC can be a real bargain. Moreover, as a Scouting volunteer, you may be able to write off your portion of the trip.

To learn more about the Philmont Training Center, visit

Try This: Identify Potential Scout leaders With the Oreo Test


A truly inspired (if fattening) way to screen potential volunteers….

Bryan on Scouting

Wondering whether that parent on the other side of the meeting room would make a good Cub Scout, Boy Scout or Venturing leader?

Try the Oreo Test.

Don Lauer of Troop and Pack 9212 in Summerville, S.C., devised the method, and he said it hasn’t failed him yet.

“Just a simple thing,” he tells me. “Plus I like cookies.”

I think it’s brilliant. Here’s how it works … 

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A Feather in Your (Scout) Cap



A few years back, a reader named Barbara Knowlden told me about a neat idea she picked up at a court of honor. It would be especially meaningful at an Indian-themed ceremony (like the Order of the Arrow ceremony in The Eagle Court of Honor Book), but it would work in other settings as well.

Here’s the idea: You put a jar of different colored pony beads on the lectern and ask anybody who feels so inspired to come up, pick out a bead, and tell the audience why the bead’s color reminds him or her of the honoree. For example, the neighbor medic might choose red because it reminds him of the countless times the honoree came over to get bandaged up. Or the new Eagle’s little sister could choose purple for the countless bruises he put on her arm.

After telling their brief stories, the friends, family, and fellow Scouts then add their beads to a coup feather, which is simply an imitation eagle feather attached to a leather string, perhaps dangling from a hiking staff. Be sure to have someone write down what all the colors stand for and who picked them, so the honoree can have a permanent record.

If you try this idea, keep a few caveats in mind. First, give people some advanced notice before asking them to come forward; otherwise, there may be an awkward pause while everyone tries to think of stories. Second, have one or two people you’ve coached ahead of time go first to set the example. Third, keep the program moving and cut off the reminiscences when the program starts to drag. (Folks could always add to the coup stick after the ceremony if you run out of time.)

Caveats aside, the coup-feather idea can bring out some fun, memorable stories. As Barbara discovered, the time will go by faster than expected and the honoree will be left with some neat memories.

So what great ideas have you come across at courts of honor you’ve attended? The comments section is always open.

Take a Bite out of Your Taxes



I read an interesting article the other day about this year’s Dirty Dozen tax scams. My favorite: arguing that incomes taxes are unconstitutional and that, therefore, you don’t owe Uncle Sam a dime. (Try this one, the IRS says, and you could pay an accuracy-related penalty, a civil-fraud penalty, an erroneous-refund-claim penalty, a failure-to-file penalty, and a penalty for making a frivolous argument in court. Oh yes, and the amount of taxes you owed in the first place.)

Well, here’s a tax strategy that’s not a scam: Many of the expenses you incur as a Scouting volunteer may be tax deductible. The main stipulations are that the expenses must be:

  • Unreimbursed,
  • Directly connected with the service you gave,
  • Only incurred because of the service you gave, and
  • Not personal, living, or family expenses

IRS publication 526 offers more detail and several examples. Among those most related to Scouting:

  • You can deduct the cost and upkeep of uniforms that are not suitable for every­day use and that you must wear while performing donated services for a charitable organization.”
  • Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses nec­essarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organiza­tion only if there is no significant element of per­sonal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” (The publication goes on to say that it’s okay to have fun, so long as “you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip.”)

See publication 526 for more details. And be sure to talk with your tax advisor. After all, you don’t want your tax strategy to make next year’s Dirty Dozen list!

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Happy birthday, B-P!



Today is the birthday of Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (1857-1941), founder of world Scouting. As Scouting becomes ever more diverse, I found this quote from B-P to be especially timely:

“Scouting is a brotherhood – a scheme which in practice disregards differences of class, creed, country, and color, through the undefinable spirit that pervades it – the spirit of God’s gentlemen.”

The quote comes from the 1944 World Brotherhood edition of Aids to Scouting. I’m not sure B-P would have said that when he first created Scouting since his initial focus was more on building good citizens for Britain than on fostering world brotherhood.

Isn’t it great how Scouting expands the horizons of Scout and Scouter alike?

See Bryan’s Blog for seven great ways to celebrate B-P’s birthday.

Wake Up, Parents



These days, kids can take part in a vast array of youth activities, including Scouting, sports, robotics clubs, religious youth groups, arts programs, and video games. But I think Scouting’s biggest competition may actually be the parents of potential Scouts, especially those who can envision a smooth path from Little League and Pop Warner sports to college and the pros (and to a villa in the South of France for mom and dad).

The reality, of course, is that most kids, as recent NCAA advertisements acknowledge, will go pro in something other than sports. But the statistics are surprising. For example, only 3% of high-school basketball players will play hoops at the college level in any division. And only 0.03% will be drafted by an NBA team. (Parents angling for tuition money for their kids might do better to buy lottery tickets.)

Those statistics appear in a great video called Make Time for Scouting that promotes the Be A Scout website. The video doesn’t come across as a dry statistical study, however. Instead, it speaks directly to the dreams parents have for their kids. And it shows how Scouting, better than any other program, can help them fulfill those dreams.

The video, which clocks in at under 3 minutes, would be a great addition to your next troop open house–or to the home page of your troop website.

Fill in the Blank



Many troops have perpetual plaques (like this one from on which they engrave their Eagle Scouts’ names, each one on a separate plate. Such plaques look great when displayed in a meeting room or at a court of honor.

A reader gave me a great idea a few years ago for getting more use out of such a plaque. Her troop displays its plaque at each court of honor, but the plaque also plays an important role in the ceremony. During a Scout’s Eagle court of honor, he unveils his own engraved plate by removing a piece of paper covering it. He then unscrews the next plate in line. The Scoutmaster holds up that plate, points out the open space, and challenges the troop’s Life Scouts to make it to Eagle. The open space remains on the plaque until the next court of honor, providing subtle motivation each time the troop meets.

If you try this idea, be sure to bring a screwdriver whose head is small enough to remove the tiny screws that hold the plates in place. Store the removed plate in a secure place—perhaps taped to the back of the plaque—but put the screws back in the holes so they don’t get lost.