A Scout Is … Tech-savvy



Earlier this month, Deputy Chief Scout Executive Gary Butler wrote a guest blog at Scouting magazine in which he compared cellphones to utility knives. His bottom line: “I guess if we can control the proper use of a pocketknife, it should be possible to do the same with a smartphone.” (I reblogged Butler’s comments here.)

About 14 months ago, the leaders of Troop 96 in Grayslake, Ill., hit upon that same comparison, realizing that a cellphone (like a pocketknife) can be a tool or it can be a toy. Rather than ban cellphones from outings, they teach their proper use. They don’t have a long list of dos and don’ts, however. Instead–and this is the cool part–they’ve created a presentation that uses the Scout Law as a guide to cellphone use. For each point of the Law, they offer several related guidelines. Here are a few examples:

Loyal: A Scout needs to keep track of his device so that he is not making the troop wait for him while he locates it.

Courteous: A courteous Scout does not interrupt a conversation with others to stop and check for inbound messages. The courteous Scout focuses his attention on his personal interactions, such as conversations in which he is engaged.

Thrifty: A Scout is a smart consumer. He knows his voice, text, and data plans and uses them wisely, careful not to run up charges on apps and sites.

You can view the whole presentation on the troop’s website. I think it models a great way to teach proper use of technology–and to show Scouts how the Scout Law can guide all of their decisions.

So how effective has Troop 96’s electronics policy been? Here’s what Scoutmaster Pat Klemens told me: “We are now 14 months into this program and have had ‘zero’ issues.  All I ever had to say to a Scout (or an adult) is, ‘Excuse me, is that a tool or a toy you have there?'”

Feathering Your (Eagles’) Nest



Have you noticed how presidents and presidential candidates often speak in front of a group of VIPs or firefighters or schoolchildren? Using people as a backdrop makes for good footage on the evening news and communicates subtly that the candidate has a lot of supporters.

Depending on the space you have available for an Eagle court of honor, you can achieve a similar effect. Create an “Eagles’ nest” area at the back of the stage and fill it with past and present troop members who are Eagle Scouts (as well as any other Eagle Scouts in the audience). They’ll have a great view of the ceremony and demonstrate to the rest of the audience that the new Eagle Scout is joining a select brotherhood of successful men.

While you could seat Eagle Scouts in the Eagles’ nest from the beginning of the ceremony, I recommend waiting until shortly before the actual badge presentation. That way, they won’t feel like they’re in the spotlight for the full 45 minutes or an hour that the ceremony takes.

When I’ve done this in courts of honor, I’ve had each Eagle Scout as he comes forward step to the microphone to give his name, hometown, troop number, and the year he earned his Eagle badge. Note that some more seasoned Eagles won’t remember all this information, so give them a heads-up at the beginning of the ceremony to give them time to remember!

For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

A Token of Thanks



When I served as Scoutmaster, I always ended up carrying around a lot of paperwork. And there was one thing I never left home without: a folder of Honorary Critter certificates. Our troop’s mascot was (and is) The Critter, the bucktoothed uniformed creature of unspecified species shown above, and the Honorary Critter certificate was a handy way to say thank you to people we met on our travels. Recipients included especially patient tour guides, people who helped with roadside breakdowns, and old Scouters who took the time to share their stories with us. Having the certificates on hand let us make instant presentations and not have to worry about remembering to mail certificates when we got back home.

I thought about those certificates this week because a friend and fellow Scouter, Greg Jameson, reminded me of the free certificate generator he provides on his website, Cyberbase Trading Post. With a few mouse clicks, you select a background image, add a seal, and enter the text that should appear on your certificate. Once you’re done, the generator creates a PDF version of your certificate, suitable for framing. Here’s a sample:


Unless you travel with a portable printer, you might have a hard time printing them on the road. For ongoing recognition back home, however, they might be just the ticket to show your appreciation to people who support your unit.

Don’t Forget to Play the Game



Scouters often complain about youth sports. They say that sports are all consuming, that coaches only care about building character when they’re winning, and that sports just teach kids to win at games while Scouting teaches kids to win at life.

Be that as it may, there’s one thing coaches do better than Scouting. They remember to play the game.

What do I mean by that? After months of conditioning and drills and watching film and a host of other tasks, athletes eventually don their uniforms and head for the football field, the basketball court, or the baseball diamond. They never forget that all the preparation they’ve done is just that: preparation.

In Scouting, however, we sometimes confuse the preparation for the game itself. Consider pioneering, for example. Many troops spend so much time teaching the basics—how to tie knots and lashings—that they never get around to the main event—building a signal tower or a monkey bridge or a merry-go-round. The same thing happens with orienteering; we produce kids who know how to use a map and compass but who have never used them in a real orienteering competition. (Take a look at this video and think about how it compares with the orienteering your troop does.)

I encourage you to take a hard look at your troop program and make sure your Scouts are playing the game, not just getting ready. Nobody wins trophies just for practicing.

Strike Up the Band



Music, William Congreve argued 300 years ago, has “charms to sooth a savage breast.” But music can also stir up emotions, as Hollywood filmmakers regularly demonstrate.

If you can recruit a musician or two, you can capture a little bit of music’s emotional impact at your next Eagle court of honor. How? By including a performance of “Trail the Eagle,” the unofficial anthem of Eagle Scouts, in the ceremony.

“Trail the Eagle” is a short song, sung to the tune of “On, Wisconsin!” Here are the words:

Trail the Eagle,
Trail the Eagle,
Climbing all the time.
First the Star and then the Life
Will on your bosom shine.

Keep climbing!
Blaze the trail and we will follow,
Hark the Eagle’s call;
On, brothers, on until we’re Eagles all.

So where can you find the music (assuming you don’t live in Wisconsin and know it by heart)? Many online sheet-music vendors sell it; here’s one: http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtdFPE.asp?ppn=MN0099476. You can also find a free facsimile version of the music from 1910 at http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/hasm_n0625/.

Secrets of Philmont, Part 2


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In my last post, I talked about the importance of tradition to the Philmont experience–and how you can add tradition in your troop. Philmont does something else that I think is equally important. It takes backpacking to another level by mixing in program activities at backcountry camps. Depending on your itinerary, you might shoot black-powder rifles, meet some mountain men, enjoy a chuck-wagon dinner, pan for gold, and/or experience geocaching. In fact, program activities are available every couple of days, depending on how motivated a crew is.

Your troop obviously can’t set up an extensive network of backcountry camps for your next backpacking trip, but there are other ways that you can add a little extra measure of fun to outings. Here are some ideas to enliven a simple hike:

  • Hike to a destination: a gorgeous waterfall, a historic site, or a mountain stream where you can soak your tired feet.
  • Turn the hike into a geocaching treasure hunt. Plant caches along the way with clues that guide Scouts to subsequent caches.
  • On a hike in the heat of summer, figure out a way that some parents can meet you at the midpoint with homemade ice cream.
  • Have two patrols start hiking from opposite ends of a trail and meet in the middle. The last to arrives fixes lunch.
  • Play the alphabet game. Challenge the Scouts to identify natural features starting with the letters of the alphabet in order (ant, bark, cirrus clouds, etc.)

You can do similar things with other types of activities. When you do a familiar activity in an unfamiliar place or when you add just a little twist to a routine activity, you make the activity more memorable–and heighten interest in what comes next.

Smartphones in Scouting: A curse or a cure?


Great thoughts on the use of smartphones in Scouting, which I support. Of course, many Scouters disagree, some with valid reasons. (My successor as Scoutmaster was quite surprised at summer camp the day a mom showed up to pick up her homesick son, who’d brought a contraband phone to camp.) Whether you agree or disagree with allowing smartphones in your troop, remember one thing: It’s not your troop. 🙂 The patrol leaders’ council, with your guidance, should set policies like this. Too often, we say we support the youth leadership method but then make decisions by fiat or pull rank when we disagree with the decisions our youth leaders make. And think about this question: Which of these options will teach youth leaders more about leadership: 1) “I’m the Scoutmaster, and I say no smartphones.”) or 2) “Guys, you all remember the problem we had at summer camp last year when Johnny called his mom and she drove out to pick him up. How could you craft a policy that would prevent problems like that but still allow Scouts to use smartphones as a tool?”

Secrets of Philmont, Part 1


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This week, I’ll be traveling to Philmont Scout Ranch to participate in a series of meetings. As I’ve been making travel plans, I’ve been thinking about why people go to the ranch–and how those reasons can improve your troop.

If you’ve ever been to Philmont, you know that getting there is not the easiest thing to do. Tucked into a remote corner of New Mexico, Philmont is 2 1/2 hours from the nearest airport–and 4 hours from the Denver airport, which most people fly into. The ranch is 20 miles from the nearest interstate and farther than that from the nearest big town. A consultant would never suggest building a Scout camp there. Yet every year, troops and crews from across the country flock to Philmont, often driving past or flying over other Scout camps that offer similar activities. In fact, as many groups are on the waiting list each year as actually get in.

Why? One reason is the sense of tradition. Philmont is 76 years old and has countless traditions, including the Philmont Hymn, the arrowhead patch you can only receive for completing a trek, its own lingo (for example, chipmunks and ground squirrels are called mini-bears), and songs and legends shared across generations of backcountry. Philmont has even spawned its own bands, like The Tobasco Donkeys.

But here’s where you and your troop come in. Traditions don’t have to be old to be appealing. Since Scouts can only stay in your troop for seven years, when you do something for just a few years in a row, it becomes a tradition, and your troop becomes that cool troop that does X, Y, or Z every year.

What sorts of traditions could enhance your troop’s mystique? Here’s a simple example:

Every spring, our troop holds what it calls the Golden Spoon campout. The patrols compete to prepare the best-tasting and best-looking dinner for a panel of adult judges, and the winning patrol gets to keep the Golden Spoon–a kitchen ladle spraypainted gold–for the year. It’s a simple tradition, but it gets the Scouts serious about cooking (our original intent) and has become a can’t-miss event. It’s also a great recruiting event for the Webelos dens that sometimes participate.

Other troops have other traditions: a polar-bear patch for Scouts that camp in below-zero temperatures, for example, or special privileges accorded to Scouts who’ve served as senior patrol leader.

What traditions does your troop have? How do they make a difference? Post your ideas in the comments section below.

Later this week: another secret of Philmont that you can use in your troop.

Learning From Our Mistake



Wanting to make her son’s Eagle court of honor especially memorable, one of our troop moms decided to hire a caterer. She arranged for the caterer to arrive and set up about the time the ceremony was scheduled to begin. You can imagine her shock when she went into the reception room right after the ceremony and discovered there was no caterer and no food! (Fortunately, someone else had picked up the sheet cake from the bakery, and we were able to scrounge soft drinks from the church kitchen.)

So, where was the caterer? At another church with a similar name. This simple communications snafu guaranteed that the reception was memorable. In fact, I don’t think that mom will ever forget it!

You can draw two lessons from this cautionary tale. First, be absolutely clear that caterers, presenters, and guests know where your ceremony will be held. Specify the street address and provide maps if necessary.

Second, put people other than parents in charge of details like meeting a caterer, even if they have to skip the ceremony. If a troop committee member had been on the lookout for our phantom caterer, for example, he could have placed a phone call when nobody showed up and perhaps tracked down the food in time.

What’s the worst court-of-honor mistake you’ve committed or observed? Post your story in the comments section for the chance to win a free copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book.