The Day the Clock Stood Still



One of my favorite impromptu Scout games is minute judging, which works like this: Everyone sits on the floor, and a judge with a stopwatch shouts “Go!” Without looking at their watches or phones, the Scouts stand up when they think a minute is passed. Some pop up after 30 seconds; others wait much longer than a minute. The winner, of course, is the Scout who gets up the closest to the one-minute mark.

So what does that game have to do with Eagle Scout courts of honor? It demonstrates that a minute can seem like a long time, which means five or six minutes can seem like an eternity.

If you’re going to include a slideshow in your ceremony, which I think is a great idea, I recommend that you choose just one song as the soundtrack and make your pictures fit. Assuming a three- to four-minute song and three seconds per slide, that lets you show 60 to 80 pictures, which is probably plenty. (Remember: like vacation photos, Scout photos seem a lot less interesting when someone else is in them.)

You can include more music and more pictures, of course, but if you do, don’t be surprised when your guests start playing minute judging!

The Other Shoe Has Already Dropped



A day after the BSA’s widely expected decision to end its ban on gay and lesbian leaders, there’s probably little more that needs to be said. Some have praised the decision by the National Executive Board, and others have panned it–either because it goes too far or because it doesn’t go too far enough. I’m sure countless men are even now boxing up their Eagle Scout badges to mail them to the national office in protest, while countless other men and women are searching for the old uniforms they were forced to shed when they came out (or were outed) as homosexuals. (If they’re like the rest of us, they’ll probably discover that those uniforms have shrunk a bit around the middle!)

I personally think the BSA made the right decision at the right time, but I’m pretty sure a single blog post won’t change anyone’s mind. I’m also mindful of the pain this decision will cause many of my friends, including a few Scout executives who serve in the Southern Region.

If I can’t offer an argument, what can I offer? Perhaps a little perspective.

Yesterday’s decision brought to mind Catherine Pollard, pictured above, who fought a similar battle for inclusiveness in an earlier decade. No, Pollard wasn’t a lesbian. (When she died, she left behind three children, 10 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren!) Instead, she became the BSA’s first official female Scoutmaster after a decade-long legal battle. (As with gay leaders, the BSA won the legal battle but conceded the war.)

Did this seminal event happen in 1968 in the midst of the civil rights movement? No. Did it happen in 1978 at the height of the women’s liberation movement? No. It happened in 1988, just 27 years ago. Until then, the BSA still argued that only men could serve as uniformed troop leaders. (We shouldn’t feel too bad, however; it took until today for an NFL team to hire its first female coach–and she’ll only work with the Arizona Cardinals’ inside linebackers during training camp and the preseason.)

I’m sure many Scouters thought the sky was falling when the doors were open to Catherine Pollard. And the BSA did have to deal with the inconvenience of creating separate bathroom facilities and changing a method of Boy Scouting from “adult male association” to “adult association.”

But guess what? Scouting survived. And today, some of the strongest Scoutmasters (and Scout executives and volunteers at every level of the program) are women.

In announcing its 1988 decision, the BSA made the following statement:

It is time to recognize that in our changing society the unique strength of Scouting lies in the dedicated efforts of both men and women. Our efforts must be focused on helping chartered organizations select the best possible leadership, male or female, to carry forward a Scouting program that serves the youth and adults for whom the organizations are responsible.

The long-standing tradition of providing exclusively male leadership to adolescent boys in Boy Scouting was rooted in the belief that a crucial part of a boy’s development as he grows older is his relationship with a caring adult male. Scouting has provided a structure in which men can interact with boys in a non-threatening way, more as friends or mentors than as authority figures. Under this new policy, community-based organizations that use the Scouting program will continue to select the best available leadership for boys in Scouting, but with an even larger pool of potential leaders from which to choose.

The criteria used to select unit leadership are now, more than ever, in the hands of the individual organization that is using Scouting as a resource. All recommendations for commissions to serve in unit leadership roles shall originate with the unit committee. The heads of the community unit committee and the local council must approve the registration of the leader. The importance of selecting the most qualified person available to be the unit’s leader cannot be overly stressed.

That statement, with a few wording changes, could easily have been recycled for yesterday’s announcement. As was the case 27 years ago, chartered organizations can now “select the best available leadership for boys in Scouting, but with an even larger pool of potential leaders from which to choose.”

And isn’t selected the best leaders–and putting our Scouts first–what we should all be focused on? As a wise Scouter once told me, “If it’s not for the boys, it’s for the birds.”

Note: There’s a great place to argue about this and other weight issues. It’s called the real world. If you do choose to comment below, remember that a Scout is courteous.

Have Eagle, Will Travel



At the 2013 National Scout Jamboree, the star of the National Eagle Scout Association booth was an American bald eagle (shown here) from the nearby Three Rivers Avian Center. At next month’s National Order of the Arrow Conference, NESA’s most popular guest will do undoubtedly be a bald eagle from the nearby Leslie Science and Nature Center. There’s just something about America’s national bird—and the namesake of the Eagle Scout Award—that captures the attention of people of all ages.

Nature centers and wildlife-rehabilitation groups around the country care for bald eagles who’ve been injured and can’t live on their own. Many of them are happy to take their eagles on the road in return for modest donations. The visits help them pay the bills while fulfilling their educational missions.

Including a live bald eagle in an Eagle court of honor is a great way to make the court of honor a signature event. While you probably shouldn’t include the bird in the ceremony itself—eagles can be unpredictable and crowds can disturb them—you could make the bird available for visits and photos before the ceremony (to encourage people to arrive early) or during the reception (to give people something to do after they’ve scarfed down their cake).

What have you done to make a court of honor a signature event? Post your story in the comments section below.

I Think You Can; I Think You Can



Earlier this summer, I was interviewing a veteran Boy Scout leader and asked him his secret for working with the youth leaders in his troop. His answer was simple: “I treat them like the 20-somethings they’re becoming.”

In other words, he understands that people’s performance rises or falls with our expectations, something that has been demonstrated in countless classroom and workplace studies. It’s an old concept, by the way. Nineteenth-century writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has been quoted (perhaps erroneously) as saying, “If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.”

That approach, sometimes called the rule of expectations, applies to all our interactions with Scouts–with one caveat. If your expectations are too high, both you and your Scouts are likely to be disappointed. So don’t treat your 11-year-olds like the 20-somethings they will someday be; treat them like the teenagers they are becoming now.

When you set the right expectations, your “I think you can” will become your Scouts’ “I thought I could.”




Facts and Figures and Flesh and Bone



I had coffee this week with one of former Scouts who’s now in graduate school. We talked about a lot of things, but the conversation naturally turned to Scouting and his memories of his time in my troop.

His number-one memory? The time at Sea Base when everybody but him got food poisoning and the captain, who was also sick, put him in charge of the steering the ship to its next few destinations. He said that incident, and the lessons it taught him, were more formative than anything else he’d done in Scouting.

Nearly every Scout has stories like that, stories that illustrate in a few sentences what the Scouting experience has meant to him. But far too many Eagle Scout courts of honor focus more on statistics than substance. You know what I mean: “Johnny Scout joined Troop 123 on March 12, 2010. He attended summer camp that summer at Camp Crooked Creek and became a Tenderfoot Scout on September 1, 2010. Then he quickly advanced to the rank of Second Class, becoming a Second Class Scout on …………..fafsadfjl,fwfdklfds dklakfd fds;lkfd dfsk;lhgshfdskjlfdsklkfdsl dsflasfhkfds dfskhfs;ljfsdkjldfs j;lkadfskjlsd dfskjldfsjdsf jfskjldfskjl dfskjldfskl gdskjlsafkjl

(Sorry, I dozed off while typing that last sentence.)

Next time you’re planning an Eagle court of honor, save the facts and figures for the printed program and put the flesh-and-blood Scout in the spotlight. Your audience may lose the chance for a catnap, but they’ll gain an understanding of the journey your honoree has been on.

Poison Ivy Show and Do



Depending on who you believe, it was either Confucius or Benjamin Franklin or someone else entirely who said, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.”

Whoever said that probably wasn’t talking about poison ivy, but he could have been. For generations, Scout leaders have been telling their Scouts to wash up after exposure to poison ivy, and for generations Scouts have come home from camp covered head to toe in itchy rashes.

I recently found the solution in the form of a YouTube video by Dr. Jim Brauker, a biomedical scientist who has studied skin inflammations for 25 years. In the video, Dr. Brauker explains that urushiol, the oil in poison ivy and other plants that causes rashes, clings to the skin like axle grease. Getting it off requires soap, water, and vigorous scrubbing with a washcloth or loofah.

To demonstrate, he smears axle grease on his forearm, then tries to wash it off with bar soap, dishwashing liquid, and an expensive first aid remedy. Until he starts scrubbing with a washcloth, nothing affects the grease.

I encourage you to show this video to your troop. (It runs about five minutes.) But then I encourage you to repeat his experiment. Have your Scouts smear grease on their arms and then discover firsthand how much they have to scrub to remove it–and how easily traces can hide between their fingers and on their elbows. They could even replicate Dr. Brauker’s experiment with different cleaners. I’ll bet they carry that knowledge with them to the woods next time they are exposed to poison ivy.

One More Time–Building Connections at Eagle Courts of Honor



When I was Scoutmaster, our troop had a neat tradition: the reception at each Eagle court of honor was hosted by the previous recipient’s family. The troop paid for the cake, punch, etc., but that family took care of ordering everything, serving, and cleaning up afterwards.

Using this system relieved the troop leaders and current recipient’s family of some work, but more importantly, it served as a bridge from one Eagle to the next and kept previous Eagles involved in the troop—at least in a small way.

Consider establishing a similar tradition in your troop. But don’t limit yourself to the reception. Perhaps the previous honoree could serve as master of ceremonies or as part of the honor guard. Perhaps he could deliver the Eagle charge. (Think how powerful the charge could be when presented by a young man who comes back from college for the occasion.) Perhaps all past Eagles from the troop could sit up on stage. Whatever you decide to do, find a way to get your previous Eagles involved. After all, the Eagle Scout trail never ends.

New Boy Scout Requirements Unveiled


First Class with Flag

In November 2010, I was honored to be part of a task force that gathered in Dallas to begin, in the words of the National Council’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, “a thorough program review and assessment that clearly identifies those elements that are appealing, exciting, and culturally relevant to today’s youth and families.” That review–and countless meetings in the ensuing years–led to a complete overhaul of the Cub Scout program, a new set of awards in Venturing, and important (but relatively minor) changes to Boy Scout advancement requirements.

Those changes, which will take effect on January 1, 2016, have now been published on the BSA’s handy Program Updates page. About two-thirds of the way down the page, you’ll find a link to a PDF document that shows the new requirements side by side with the current requirements. Another PDF document explains the transition process for current Scouts.

To me, these are some of the most important changes:

* Scout is now a rank, not a set of joining requirements (although a board of review is not required). This was always a distinction without a difference, so I’m glad the language has been changed.

* There’s a bigger emphasis on fitness. Second Class and First Class build on the Tenderfoot fitness requirements to help Scout make fitness a way of life, not a box to be checked off.

* Scouts will both do and think. For example, in addition to just demonstrating first aid techniques, they’ll also explain how to prevent accidents and injuries at camp and in the home.

* Duty to God becomes more than words. At each rank starting with Tenderfoot, Scouts will explain how they have done their duty to God (as part of the Scout spirit requirement). This requirement has caused some consternation in troops where Scouts and leaders may not come from the same faith tradition. The best approach, as I explained in a recent Scouting magazine article, may be to ask a Scout how his family or faith group defines duty to God and then ask how he is living up to that definition.

So what do you think is most significant about the new requirements? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

Footnote: I’m actually back in Dallas this week reviewing the layouts for the 13th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, which I’ve been honored to write. I can’t wait for Scouts across the country to crack open this book come January. I hope they like it as much as the 9th edition handbook that guided me to the Eagle Scout rank back in a previous century!




My friends who’ve served in the military say that you learn quickly not to lock your knees while standing at attention. Otherwise, you’re likely to pass out on the parade ground.

Two Eagle Scouts learned that lesson the hard way at a court of honor I attended several years ago. Throughout a fairly long ceremony, the twin Eagle Scouts stood at attention on stage, their knees locked. Then, within a split second, they both fainted on stage. Fortunately, neither was hurt, and the ceremony continued—with the Scouts seated this time.

The lesson here is not that we should teach our Eagle Scouts how to stand at attention for long periods of time, however. The lesson is that we shouldn’t put our honorees in an uncomfortable position in the first place. In most of the scripts in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, for example, I leave the honoree in the front row of the audience until just before the presentation of the Eagle badge. This is his moment, and he should be able to enjoy it, not worry about playing statue on stage.