Saved by Happy Birthday



I’ve been researching Scout-led troops recently for a Scouting magazine article, so I’ve been thinking a lot about tricks successful Scouters use in working with youth leaders. My favorite–perhaps because I live in the hometown of Patty and Mildred Hill–is what I call the Happy Birthday Solution.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say it’s 7:33 p.m. and your senior patrol leader has failed to start the troop meeting on time. Perhaps he’s chatting with another Scout or–horror of horrors–checking his texts on his cellphone. Rather than publicly chastise him and undercut his already shaky authority, stand in the back of the room sing “Happy Birthday to You” to yourself while you try to catch his eye. Chances are good that he will get his act together and get the meeting started before you’re done.

If he still doesn’t act, you might need to sing a second verse. If that fails, sidle up to him and remind him of the time. In most cases, however, a verse or two of “Happy Birthday to You” should do the trick.

Very Important Presenters



I had an interesting email from a reader of The Eagle Court of Honor Book recently. She was planning her son’s Eagle court of honor and was looking for a role for her uncle in the ceremony. This uncle is a World War II veteran and a survivor of the D-Day invasion.

What should he do in the ceremony? she asked. Anything he wants, I replied.

Seriously, there are certain people that you simply find a way to include in an Eagle court of honor, whether it’s the honoree’s little sister, his Eagle Scout grandfather, or his great-uncle who came ashore on D-Day. While some roles in the ceremony should go to Scouters, there are plenty of ways to involve people beyond the troop family. Anyone can read the honoree’s Scouting history, anyone can read a text like “The Legend of Eagle Mountain” from The Eagle Court of Honor Book, and anyone can present congratulatory letters the Scout has received. Other roles, like delivering the Eagle charge, would only be enhanced if the speaker has a special connection to the Scout or can speak with special authority–like a great-uncle who served in World War II.

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

So You want to Be SPL?



Have you ever had a Scout run for office who was more interested in prestige than responsibility? Have you ever had a Scout who was frustrated because he couldn’t get elected senior patrol leader even though his only experience was as deputy assistant bugler? Have you ever had a youth leader who had plenty of ability but no vision for what he wanted to accomplish in his term?

Youth leadership is an essential part of the Boy Scout program, yet our Scouts often don’t understand why they should (or shouldn’t!) run for office, which offices they should run for, and what they should do once they’ve been elected. That’s why I like Nick Dannemiller’s recent post, “So You Want to Be Chief?”, so much. Dannemiller is the current national chief of the Order of the Arrow, and his post addresses Scouts who are considering running for office within the OA. However, his advice applies just as well to your troop. Consider, for example, this bit of advice:

Do your job, and do it well. Every elected position in this organization is important. If you find yourself currently in one of those positions with the hope to move on to a different position (note not “higher” or “better”), you first need to make sure you are committing your time and energy into that role. How well you carry out the duties of your current office will speak louder than any election speech.

“So You Want to Be Chief?” ought to be required reading for every Scout who’s thinking about–or ought to be thinking about–running in your next round of troop elections.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles



One of my earliest holiday memories is of my mother’s sugar cookies, cut to resemble Christmas trees, candy canes, and Santa Clauses and decorated with red and green sugar. While other treats probably tasted better, nothing else seemed as Christmassy to me.

The reason I bring this up—other than the fact that Christmas is barely five months away!—is that BSA’s Supply Group offers Scouting cookie cutters: a set that includes a fleur-de-lys, a Wolf emblem, a pinewood derby car, and (drum roll please) an eagle. I can’t think of a better treat to serve at your court of honor reception than Boy Scout cookies—Girl Scouts, eat your heart out.

Here are the direct links to each cookie cutter:

What tasty treats have you seen at Eagle courts of honor? The comments section is open.

Let’s Hear It for Columbusing



NPR’s Code Switch blog ran an interesting article recently on a phenomenon called columbusing, which it defines as “discovering something that’s existed forever.” Often, these discoveries happen across cultural or ethnic lines, and some meaning gets lost along the way. For example, the popular Color Run 5K races draw their inspiration from the Hindu festival of Holi.

Not surprisingly, the people whose traditions are borrowed (stolen?) in columbusing tend to get offended. But columbusing in a Scouting context is actually a good thing.

What do I mean? Our Scouts are always discovering things that have existed forever: the Milky Way, that hiking trail that leads to a breathtaking mountain vista, Dutch oven cobbler, the joy of community service, the challenge of being a leader.

You and I have seen those things a thousand times before. It’s easy for us to get a little jaded, easy for us to point out to our little Columbuses that someone has already seen and done these things. Rather than say, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt,” we need to step back and let them make their own discoveries.

And when we do, we may again experience the joy of discovering something that’s existed forever.


Start the Presses



Do you think your court of honor is newsworthy? It may well be. Many newspapers, especially those in small towns or suburbs, will run stories about Scouts reaching the rank of Eagle. Some have a standard format, much like wedding or graduation announcements, but others will run a full-blown article. (If you often see bylines that read “Special to the Daily Bugle,” you’ll probably have a good shot at getting your story printed.)

Getting coverage starts with a media release, which can be pretty easy to write. Here are a few tips: Use short, direct sentences and two- or three-sentence paragraphs. Be specific and factual. Make sure your story tells who, what, when, where, why, and how. It also helps to focus on what is unusual, interesting, or relevant to the reader. Put the key details in the first few sentences and supporting information toward the end. (The Eagle Court of Honor Book includes a sample release, as well as a worksheet you can use to gather needed information.)

Mail, email, or fax your release a week before the event to daily newspapers, two weeks before to weekly publications, and as early as possible to monthly publications. Follow up with phone calls. Make sure the publication received your release and ask that they print it.

Collect Them All and Win!


Contest Image

Would you like to win a free copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book or The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook? Read on to learn how.

A few months ago, I stumbled across a fun book (at least for English majors like me) called The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal. As the name indicates, the book traces the history of our language through 100 representative words. Number 35 on the list is “gaggle,” as in “a gaggle of geese.” In the entry for that word, Crystal explains that such colorful collective nouns date to the 15th century. The 1486 book The Book of St. Albans contains about 200 of them, including “an unkindness of ravens” and “a prudence of vicars.”

Crystal points out that the game of creating collective nouns continues to this day. He mentions, for example, “an absence of waiters,” “a rash of dermatologists,” and “a clutch of car mechanics.”

Crystal’s book got me to thinking about Scouting. We have terms for lots of groups: Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Venturing crews, etc. But we could always use more! Hence the contest.

Here’s how the contest works: Invent your own Scouting-related collective noun and post it in the comments section for this post (or email me at I’ll pick the top 10 and publish them here–and you’ll win a free book for your trouble.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • An aroma of Philmont hikers
  • A procrastination of Eagle Scout candidates
  • A cobbler of Dutch oven chefs

George Washington’s Scout Law



George Washington might be called America’s first Boy Scout. Although the famous incident about chopping down the cherry tree (“I cannot tell a lie”) is apocryphal, it has endured because it accurately represents the kind of man Washington was.

If you’d like to give your next court of honor a patriotic flavor, consider including this version of the Scout Law that includes commentary by Washington. (It comes from Boy Scouts Year Book, a BSA publication from 1918.) Have one Scout stand at attention and recite each point of the Law while a second Scout reads the corresponding Washington quote (along with the introductory paragraph).

When Washington was 15 years old, he developed 57 “rules of conduct” for his life, many of which relate directly to the values Scouting teaches. Below are 12 of Washington’s rules, each matched with one of the points of the Scout Law.

A Scout Is Trustworthy. “Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.”

A Scout Is Loyal. “Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any. Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.”

A Scout Is Helpful. “Wherein you reprove another be unblamable yourself; for example is more prevalent than precepts. In visiting the sick do not play the physician, if you be not knowing therein.”

A Scout Is Friendly. “Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, tho’ he were your enemy. Let your conversation be without malice or envy.”

A Scout Is Courteous. “Be not forward, but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear, and answer. Speak not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not when others stop, turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; lean not on any one.”

A Scout Is Kind. “When a man does all he can, tho’ it succeeds not well, blame not him that did it.”

A Scout Is Obedient. “Honor and obey your natural parents although they be poor. Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.”

A Scout Is Cheerful. “Speak not of doleful things in times of mirth; nor at the table; put on a cheerful countenance, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.”

A Scout Is Thrifty. “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive. In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to accommodate nature rather than to procure admiration.”

A Scout Is Brave. “Fight to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

A Scout Is Clean. “Use no reproachful language against any one, neither curse nor revile. Let your recreations be manful, not sinful.”

A Scout Is Reverent. “When you speak of God, or His attributes, let it be seriously in reverence.”

How to Make Your SPL Quit



I’ve been doing interviews recently with Scouters for a forthcoming Scouting magazine article on the boy-led troop (or boy-run or Scout-run or Scout-led–you pick the term). The most remarkable quote I’ve heard didn’t come from a Scouter, however, but from a senior patrol leader. He said, “Honestly, I think I would quit Scouting if my Scoutmasters cooked me every single meal. There’s just no fun in that.”

This quote struck me because I’ve seen many, many cases where Scouters do all the cooking or where they take over cooking duties when the troop is in a hurry to get to a fun activity or to pack up before heading home. My representative sample of one SPL says that’s a dumb idea, that those Scouters aren’t doing their Scouts any favors when they “help” in this way.

Interestingly, even the first-year Scouts in this SPL’s troop seem to agree. When they’ve gone to closely packed camporees, some of those first-year Scouts have looked across a campground and wondered aloud why other troops’ leaders were doing all the cooking. Then they’ve turned back to their overcooked pasta and charred French bread and continued having fun.

Are your Scouts having fun? Or are they just eating nice catered meals in a rustic setting?

For more ideas on making Scouting fun, be sure to check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook today.