Good Gear for Less Green



Walk into a high-end outdoor retailer, and you can quickly forget the ninth point of the Scout Law (“A Scout is thrifty,” in case you’ve forgotten!). Gear from companies like Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, and The North Face can put a big dent in your troop budget, especially if (for example) you’re trying to buy tents for a new patrol.

Some Scouters avoid sticker shock by buying cheap gear at a discount store, but that can mean leaky bathtub floors, inadequate windows, and rain covers the size of a pocket handkerchief.

So what’s a thrifty Scouter to do? One great option is to visit Hiker Direct (formerly Scout Direct), a 15-year-old online retailer that caters to the Scouting market and sells gear from ALPS Mountaineering, Browning Camping, and other manufacturers.

Here’s a comparison of current prices for the ALPS Mountaineering Meramac 4 tent:

  • Retail: $149.99
  • REI: $99.73
  • Amazon: $99.51
  • Hiker Direct: $80.84

And that’s a regular catalog item. Close-out items and salesman samples can be even cheaper (although quantities are very limited).

You must register to shop at Hiker Direct, but that process is easy. You can pay with a credit card for regular orders but must use a check for sales items.

You won’t find a lot of product details on the Hiker Direct website, so you may need to do a little reverse showrooming by researching products at and then buy at Hiker Direct. (Oh the irony!) That’s a little extra work that can lead to a lot of extra savings.

What strategies do you use to reduce equipment costs? Post your comments below.

George Santayana’s Eagle Court of Honor



Okay, George Santayana wasn’t an Eagle Scout. (Growing up in Spain in the 19th century made that impossible!) But he did have something important to say that relates to Eagle Scout courts of honor: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Everyone who plans a court of honor should bear these words in mind.

What do I mean? As much as I advocate making every court of honor unique, the reality is that some elements and speakers will carry over from one ceremony to the next. That means it’s important to remember what didn’t work last time so you don’t repeat those mistakes this time.

A friend who recently planned his son’s Eagle court of honor figured out an easy way to do this. He and his son watched a video of the troop’s last court of honor, taking notes about things like long-winded speakers and issues with staging. The lessons they learned helped them create a ceremony that avoided those mistakes (and, probably inevitably, created a few more for future Scouts to learn from).

How have you overcome past mistakes in planning courts of honor? Post your comments below.

Creative Calendaring in Scout Troops



Spring is officially here, a perfect time to go camping and a perfectly terrible time to schedule camping trips. Between spring break, Easter weekend, Mothers Day, and Memorial Day, it can be hard to find free weekends to go to the woods. It’s not the smartest career move for a Scoutmaster to take a bunch of boys camping on the one weekend when most moms want their sons at home, clean, and stuffed into nice clothes for church or a Mothers Day brunch.

(And that doesn’t even include local festivities like the Kentucky Derby, which many folks in my neck of the woods assume is a national holiday!)

But celebrations like Mothers Day don’t have to become Scouting black holes. For example, my troop once held an Eagle court of honor on the day before Mothers Day. It didn’t interfere with other festivities, yet it let our three honorees that day give their moms the perfect Mothers Day gift: an Eagle Scout mother’s pin.

This kind of flexible scheduling is becoming increasingly important in Scouting. As kids’ schedules get more and more packed with school and sports activities, we Scouters have to become more and more creative in scheduling activities.

In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I discuss several ways to break the Friday-night-to-Sunday-afternoon outing pattern. One of the best is to exploit dead periods like Thanksgiving weekend, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and three-day weekends created by teacher in-service days—periods that other youth programs tend to avoid. With a little creative thinking, you can even do a Scouting activity on Mothers Day weekend and still keep your job as Scoutmaster!

The Sound and the Fury of Eagle Courts of Honor



One of the most famous lines from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is this: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

That line inspired William Faulkner’s masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury. It also describes many an Eagle court of honor. Not the “idiot part”–don’t take offense!–but the “signifying nothing” part. The audience hears lots of sound and maybe a little fury (when speakers go off-script, for example), but they don’t catch the significance of the honoree’s growth from new Scout to Eagle Scout.

I thought about that situation this past weekend at a court of honor that did focus on significance. Whether it was planned or not, the speakers clearly drew a picture of how the honoree had grown and matured since his time in Cub Scouting. At one point, for example, a speaker talked about how the Scout had once been so shy that he’d let his dad be his spokesman in meetings. Then, near the end of the ceremony, we got to hear from the Scout himself. He was perhaps the most poised and confident speaker of the afternoon, and we could clearly see the maturity that had been lacking before.

As you plan your next Eagle court of honor, think about the one area where the honoree has shown the most growth and use that growth as a theme. Then your ceremony will mean something and be worthy of the Scout it seeks to honor.

Avoiding Scoutmaster Technical Fouls



Over the next few weeks, many Americans (including me) will watch far too much basketball. We’ll see plenty of heroics, mental mistakes, and bracket-busting endings. But we won’t see a single coach shoot a single basket.

Coaches, of course, know that they’ll draw a technical foul if they step out on the court and interfere with the game. And their assistants know that job one is keeping the coach out of trouble. (Every basketball fan has seen a coach’s assistants drag him back toward the bench when his anger or enthusiasm gets the best of him.)

So what about Scouting? Too often, we as adult leaders inject ourselves into the game—interrupting a youth leader when he’s teaching a skill less skillfully than we think would, shouting “Sign’s up!” before the senior patrol leader has a chance to get control of the troop, etc.

Maybe we need to make our meeting room as inviolate as a basketball court. Maybe we need to empower other adult leaders to keep us out of trouble. And maybe we need to give our youth leaders permission to call technical fouls when we get out of line.

Remember: the championship is on the line.

The Court of Honor Couch



Since I received my Eagle Scout award way back in 1982, I’ve led, participated in, or watched countless Eagle courts of honor. Until fairly recently, however, I’d never gone to one that involved a couch.

Let me explain.

Our troop held a court of honor a few years back in our church’s fellowship hall. As we set up the room that morning, I put chairs on stage for the three honorees to use during part of the ceremony. But they had a better idea. In the room’s far corner was a lounge area with several overstuffed leather couches. Why couldn’t they bring a couch up on stage instead of using chairs? they asked.

Why not, indeed? We quickly made the switch, and the Scouts enjoyed the ceremony in splendor (or at least comfort). In fact, that couch perfectly symbolized the playful attitude and strong sense of unity that had carried them through a Philmont trek, an Idaho rafting trip, and numerous other adventures over the past seven years.

That little incident reminded me of one of the incidents that prompted me to write The Eagle Court of Honor Book. Twin brothers were receiving their Eagle badges at a ceremony I attended, but they had neither a couch nor even chairs to sit in. Instead, they were expected to stand at attention through much of their ceremony—which they did until they locked their knees and fainted, almost in unison.

I think my couch-sitting Scouts have better memories of their court of honor than those twins probably do.

What “rules” do you need to break at your next Eagle court of honor? Share your thoughts below.

Don’t Be the Troop With No Scouts



It’s tournament time in college basketball, which means that arenas across the country are full of serious fans, johnny-come-latelys, and the occasional NBA scout. In fact, the Kentucky Wildcats, who just went undefeated in the regular season, are routinely attracting 20 or more NBA scouts to their games.

The scouts don’t attend games to watch great basketball, however. They attend to watch great players–players who could someday fill their own teams’ rosters. They know that the clock is ticking for their teams, that even players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are living on borrowed time. Today’s superstars are tomorrow’s coaches, color commentators, and ad pitchmen.

Of course, college coaches do the same thing. When they’re not prowling the sidelines at their own games, they’re watching high-school and AAU games, looking for the next freshman phenom. The clock is ticking even faster for them, since each player has just four years of eligibility and many turn pro even quicker. Lose the recruiting battle this year, and you could lose your job next.

The stakes aren’t quite as high for you and me, but scouting (lowercase) is just as vital to success in Scouting (uppercase). Your Scouts have, at most, seven years of eligibility, so you need to constantly recruit if you want your troop to survive.

That means being visible in your district. It means supplying volunteers to Cub Scout events like pinewood derbies. It means assigning den chiefs to Webelos dens. It means empowering your Scouts to invite friends. It means advertising your troop in your chartered organization and community. And, most of all, it means providing a program that will attract tomorrow’s Scouting superstars.

Don’t be the troop with no scouts. If you do, you’ll soon be the troop with no Scouts. And a troop with no Scouts is no troop at all.


Not Just for Butterfingers



As small as it is, the Eagle mother’s pin certainly strikes a lot of fear in the heart of new Eagle Scouts. I think some Scouts would rather recite the Scout Law backwards while standing on their heads rather than try to attach that tiny pin to their mothers’ dresses.

One Scouter wrote me with a simple solution to the Mother’s Pin Problem. Before a court of honor, his troop attaches the mother’s pin to a ribbon necklace—and does the same thing with the father’s pin. This makes for a smooth presentation because the Scout can easily slip the awards over his parents’ necks. The ribbon necklaces also allow the parents to proudly show off their pins after the ceremony.

Making a ribbon necklace is simple. Start with a piece of ribbon roughly 30 inches long and a half-inch wide. (White works well for moms, while dark blue looks good on dads.) Make a loop out of the ribbon, overlapping about one inch of each end. Stick the pin through the overlapping ribbon, and you’re done!

The Three Rs of Getting Adult Leaders Trained



There’s an interesting post at Bryan on Scouting this week about the minimum training required for overnight campouts. It’s an important topic, and it begs the question of how to get people to training if they don’t want to go (or say they want to go but keep finding excuses).

One person who commented on Facebook pointed out that every highly trained unit he’s seen has a training champion who promoted training every chance he or she gets. I agree, and I would bet that many of those training champs take their leaders to training instead of sending them to training. (A pack trainer I interviewed a few years back did just that. She said doing so eliminated excuses, demonstrated how valuable training is to her, and gave her the chance to have sidebar discussions about how the course content applied back home.)

Beyond having a designated or de facto training champion in your troop, you should also think about using the three Rs:

* Reimburse: I think every troop should reimburse leaders for completing basic training (usually a minimal expense). Many also set aside money to pay all or part of the fees for Wood Badge and even Philmont Training Center conferences.

* Recognize: Hand out Trained strips as soon as leaders complete training. List trained leaders in your troop newsletter. Hold Wood Badge beading ceremonies at courts of honor. Get your institutional head to send thank-you letters to leaders who complete training.

* Reward: While being trained is its own reward, many troop go a step farther. For example, some cover summer-camp fees for trained adults while asking other adults to pay their own way. Others provide nametags or other rewards. Doing something like this shows that training has tangible benefits to Scouts and adults alike.

Every Scout deserves a trained leader. How does your troop give Scouts what they deserve?