The Scout Oath in Four-part Harmony



This week, the Scouting magazine blog featured a video of three Scouts singing the National Anthem at an Eagle court of honor. It was a great reminder of the power of music—and of the hidden (or not-so-hidden) talent in every troop.

It also remind me of “On My Honor,” a musical setting of the Scout Oath. Here are the lyrics:

On my honor, I’ll do my best to do my duty to God.
On my honor, I’ll do my best to serve my country as I may.
On my honor, I’ll do my best to do my good turn each day,
To keep my body strengthened and keep my mind awakened.
To follow paths of righteousness.
On my honor, I’ll do my best.

Several years ago, I coordinated an Eagle court of honor for six members of my troop, and we ended the ceremony with the honorees singing this song in four-part harmony. It was a beautiful ending to a great event.

You can find the “On My Honor” sheet music on my website at To hear a recording by Burl Ives of a different arrangement, visit

Be Prepared for Trailer Theft



The Scouting magazine blog recently ran a great story about a troop whose trailer had been stolen. Spoiler alert: Donors replaced what had been stolen–and then some–so the troop shared its bounty with other troops in need.

It was a heartwarming story–and an important reminder about trailer security. If your troop has a trailer, you should take steps now to make sure it’s secure from thieves, who would love to sell it for a few hundred bucks or use it as a mobile meth lab. (They’re probably not interested in your battered cooking stoves, rusty Dutch ovens, or well-seasoned water jugs.)

The best way to secure a trailer is to keep it inside a locked building or fenced compound. Check with your chartered organization or troop families for possibilities. You might even find a local mini-storage business or police department that would be happy to help.

Beyond that, invest in a hitch lock, which prevents the trailer from being attached to a truck, or a wheel lock, which prevents the trailer from rolling. (The latter will be familiar to you if you’ve ever found your car booted by the police–not that that would ever happen to a Scouter!) Other possibilities include alarms and GPS trackers.

A wheel lock can cost less than $100, although low-end models can be defeated if they don’t prevent a thief from removing the wheel. But even the best security is better than nothing. Your odds of keeping your trailer are higher if your security measures slow a thief down or make him choose an easier target.

For more ideas, check out these resources:

No Gifts Please



I had an interesting conversation with an Eagle Scout mom a few years back. We were planning her son’s court of honor, and she started off by saying that the family (and presumably the Scout!) would prefer that people not bring gifts to the court of honor. She wanted to know if that would be okay. (Gifts aren’t generally expected at courts of honor, but many people do bring them.)

I told her that of course it would and that they should simply say “No gifts please” in their invitations. A few people will probably “cheat,” but most people comply with such requests, just as they do at weddings and other events.

Then, she had an idea that I liked even better: in lieu of gifts, why not ask people to make a donation to the charity the Scout’s Eagle project helped? This particular Scout’s project was a blood drive for the American Red Cross, and I thought it would be really neat if people gave blood in his honor prior to the court of honor.

Your next Eagle doesn’t have to go without gifts, of course, but he doesn’t have to take them either. And tying the “no gifts please” request in with a donation to his favorite charity only serves to emphasize the meaning behind the badge.


If I Had a NAYLE



One of the ongoing challenges most Scoutmasters face is keeping their older Scouts interested in the program. And keeping them around is important. The troop needs them to provide leadership to younger Scouts, and they need the troop to provide them a safe haven from the storms of their teen years.

Perhaps the best way to keep older Scouts interested is by offering them fresh challenges, such as high-adventure trips or advanced programs like Project COPE at summer camp. And when those fresh challenges teach them leadership skills they can use back in the troop, both they and you win.

That’s why it’s good news that all four BSA high-adventure bases are now offering National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience (NAYLE), a fantastic weeklong experience for Scouts who have completed National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT). NAYLE gives Scouts ages 14 and older the chance to apply the skills they learned at NYLT while participating in fun activities like geocaching and search and rescue. Each course also makes special use of its setting, whether that’s the Sangre de Cristos Mountains at Philmont or the blue Gulf of Mexico waters at Sea Base.

For more information on NAYLE and the offerings at each high-adventure base, visit

A Luau of a Court of Honor



Since the first edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book back in 1996, I’ve recommended applying Outback Steakhouse’s “No Rules. Just Right.” Slogan to court-of-honor planning. Recently, I heard a great example of how that approach can turn a stuffy ceremony into a fun celebration.

When Sue Fiebig of Grand Rapids, Mich., asked her younger son what he wanted his court of honor to look like, he said he didn’t know—but that he didn’t want it to be a long, boring gabfest. So what did the family end up planning? A Hawaiian luau of sorts!

The setting was the park-like grounds of the local council service center. The decorations included tiki masks, shells, and other luau-themed items. The guests wore Hawaiian shirts and received leis as they arrived—the nicer ones being reserved for grandparents and other special guests.

Everyone enjoyed a taco bar, free time, and other outdoor games, interrupted only by a relatively brief ceremony (for which the Scouts and leaders donned their uniforms).

As the days get longer and warmer, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a young man’s achievement of the Eagle Scout rank. It certainly beats a long, boring gabfest!

What unique twists on Eagle courts of honor have you seen? The comment section is open.

Money in the Bank



On two different Philmont trips, our troop has faced unexpected financial difficulties. In one case, our gear was stolen in Denver the day before arriving at Philmont, and our leaders had to quickly resupply the crew at REI. In another case, plans to travel via Amtrak fell through, and we had to rent 15-passenger vans and arrange for drivers. Fortunately, we had plenty of cash reserves to take care of those surprises.

I occasionally hear people arguing that a Scout troop shouldn’t keep much money in the bank or that it should zero out its bank account every year. Otherwise, they say, you’re just hoarding money.

The truth is, however, that it’s okay—even advisable—to keep some money in the bank. That’s certainly true if you’re saving up for a major expense like a troop trailer or a high-adventure trip. But even if your troop isn’t planning big expenses, it’s still a good idea to maintain a rainy-day fund. As we learned on those two Philmont trips, it’s really a question of when—not if—you’ll need to dip into your reserves.

According to the American Institute of Philanthropy, “a reserve of less than three years is reasonable.” Or, to use more Scout-like language, it’s okay to be prepared.

What Shall We Tell the President?



Here’s a question to ponder. If you knew a Cub Scout who was going to meet President Obama in the Oval Office, would you:

  1. Tell him how lucky he is to have that opportunity.
  2. Remind him to watch his manners.
  3. Suggest that he too could become president one day.
  4. Encourage him to tell the president to go to hell.

I raise this question because two Cub Scouts did get to meet the president recently as part of a youth delegation that presented him with the BSA’s Report to the Nation. When a photo of the event appeared on the Scouting magazine blog and Facebook page, a number of people who I assume are Scouters decided to vent their spleens with decidedly un-Scout-like comments. The prizewinner, in my opinion: “I wish that Cub Scout would have told Obamajad to go to [hell]. Lord knows Obama is against everything being a Cub Scout and Boy Scout stands for.”

So much for “A Scout is courteous”!

I totally get that many Americans don’t like President Obama–according to RealClearPolitics, 45.2 percent of Americans approve of his job performance while 49.8 percent disapprove–but the recent Scout visit wasn’t about this president; it was about the president. When a president meets with a bunch of Scouts or the winners of the Little League World Series, when he unveils his NCAA Tournament bracket, or when he leads the nation in mourning after some tragic event, he is acting more as the head of state than as the head of the government or the head of his party. You don’t have to love him to respect his office. (Perhaps we’d be better off if we were like those parliamentary democracies where the president is head of state and the prime minister is head of government.)

It’s also worth keeping in mind that every president since 1912 has served as honorary president of the BSA. That includes the first Eagle Scout president (Gerald Ford), the first president to resign from office in disgrace (Richard Nixon), and a host of other presidents that people either loved or hated depending on their politics. I think we should celebrate the fact that support for Scouting is a thread that runs through all their presidencies.

And one more thought. We as Scouters are called to teach our Scouts citizenship, not partisanship. Perhaps those of us who can’t tell the difference should go back and read the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge pamphlet.

Lest you think I’m an Obama partisan–and I’ve written before about why I keep my political leanings private–I’ll leave you with this comment from Thomas Kisner who is not:

Congratulations to the Scouts who earned this opportunity. For the record, I’m a very conservative Republican, and it is an honor to visit with the sitting President of the United States, no matter who is the current occupant of the office. Shame on all of you for suggesting otherwise. I’m not sure where you learned civics, but it wasn’t in the BSA.

Amen to that.

Avoiding Courts of Foolery



I’m writing this post just after April Fools Day, the highlight of the year for practical jokers the world over. In recent years, April 1 gags have gone beyond whoopie cushions and prank phone calls to include elaborate hoaxes planned months in advance by major companies, websites, and media outlets. For example, the Scouting magazine blog this year offered “breaking news” that merit badges will soon double in size.

Online pranks are fun to follow because you can see people’s reactions in the comments. Some people play along, helping make a prank seem legitimate; others cry uncle when they realize they’ve been had. (My favorite comment on the merit-badge hoax: “I promised myself that none of these would catch me off guard today. I made it to 9 a.m. Doh.”)

Unfortunately, some people take offense at April Fools Day gags, demonstrating the truth of what Erma Bombeck once said: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

People planning Eagle Scout courts of honor should keep those words in mind. It’s fun to have people share anecdotes about the honoree–as long as those anecdotes don’t cross the line between humor and hurt. If your next ceremony will include anecdotes–and especially if you plan to offer an open-mic opportunity–be sure someone previews the speakers’ comments. Remember that you’re planning a court of honor, not a court of foolery.