Eagle Courts of Honor: Stop Reinventing the Wheel

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It’s amazing how much you forget from one court of honor to the next—especially if your troop only produces new Eagle Scouts every couple of years. To help her troop build a sort of institutional memory, an Eagle mom I met created a very useful tool: a pair of matching binders stuffed full of resources for planning Eagle courts of honor.

Each binder includes the following:

  • A copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book (of course!)
  • Actual invitations, programs, and scripts from past ceremonies (from her troop and others in the area)
  • Sample letters to dignitaries, along with names and addresses
  • A sample press release and the local newspaper’s contact information
  • A list of helpful websites
  • Information on Eagle Scout gifts from ScoutStuff.org
  • A CD of court of honor materials another Scouter developed

(By the way, pocketed dividers hold the items that can’t be hole-punched.)

The troop loans a binder to each family that’s planning a court of honor, and the mom said the feedback has been great. Even if your troop doesn’t put the honoree’s family in charge of court-of-honor planning, it makes sense to put together a similar binder for your troop.

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Old Man Winter and Old Reliable

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As I write this post, the mid-Atlantic states are still digging out from a historic snowstorm that dropped at least a foot of snow on communities from Kentucky to Virginia to New York. Not surprisingly, countless Scout outings over the weekend were cancelled as a result. (See my previous post for ideas about cancellation policies.)

In most cases I’m sure the decisions made sense–health and safety should always be our primary concern–but in other cases I’m just as sure the decisions were made in haste. Here in Louisville, for example, we only got a few inches of snow, half what was predicted. The roads were easily passable by Friday afternoon and dry by midday Saturday. My troop took its annual ski trip as scheduled and got to enjoy more real snow than usual in southern Ohio.

Are unnecessary cancellations–whether due to poor weather or poor planning–a big deal? I think they are. As Scouters, we are in constant competition with other activities that our Scouts could be participating in. The more we can convince them and, more importantly, their parents that we have our act together, the more we’ll become their activity of choice.

When I was Scoutmaster, I promised parents that we would stick to our published calendar if at all possible. That sometimes meant replacing one type of activity with another or turning a campout into an overnight at our meeting place, but that was better that moving an outing to another weekend and messing up people’s plans. We found that if we respected families’ schedules, they remained more committed to us.

What about your troop? How consistent is your calendar? What have you done when Mother Nature has rained on your parade? The comments section is open.

Guess Who’s Coming to the Eagle Court of Honor

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Here’s a problem many Scout leaders would like to have: Where should you put a U.S. senator in your court of honor program? An Eagle Scout mom posed that question to me after she successfully recruited one of her state’s senators as a keynote speaker for her sons’ court of honor.

Someone had told this mom that getting a senator to attend a court of honor was impossible, but she wisely ignored that advice. Instead, she persisted in getting what she wanted for her sons.

So what do you want for your next court of honor? A special guest presenter? A certain sought-after location? A bald eagle on display? Start early, be flexible on dates, and refuse to take “no” for an answer, and you just might get your wish.

Do you like this tip? Find more great court of honor ideas in Showtime!: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book. It’s available now for immediate download at just $2.99.

Is Philmont in Your (Near) Future?

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One of Scouting’s persistent urban legends is that Philmont Scout Ranch always fills up–and so there’s no need to even enter the annual lottery for crew slots. The reality is that winning the Philmont lottery is much, much easier than winning the Powerball. And this year, you actually have a second chance to win.

As of this week, Philmont still has space for about 70 crews for this summer; you can see the complete list on the Philmont website. While five or six months is pretty tight timing for putting together (and paying for) a high-adventure trek, Philmont makes the process as easy as possible. The website is chockfull of helpful information, and the ranch provides most of the crew gear and food you will need.

I should also mention that my favorite part of the ranch, the Philmont Training Center, still has plenty of summer vacancies as well. I don’t think there’s better place on the planet to take adult leader training, as I’ve discussed in a previous blog post. And best of all, you don’t have to undertake a physical conditioning program to get ready for a PTC conference, where the steepest climb is up the steps to the dining hall!

Promises Made, Promises Kept

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In the alternate universe that is college football, we stand at the end of one season and the beginning of another. Last season ended with the recent national championship game. Next season has already begun with the hot-and-heavy recruiting of a new class of freshmen athletes.

A big part of recruiting is making promises. Come to our school, a coach will say, and you’ll get to enjoy our great new practice facility … or be our starting quarterback … or win a national championship … or (insert your fantasy here). Great coaches make honest promises; shady ones make promises they don’t necessarily intend to keep.

So what’s the connection with Scouting? We’re in recruiting season as well, working hard to convince graduating Webelos Scouts that our troop is where they should spend the next seven years or so. It’s incumbent upon us to make some promises—honest ones, of course—to them and their parents. Before they sign on the dotted line, they need to understand what they can expect—and what will be expected of them.

If you’re not sure what to promise, re-read pages 7 and 8 of the new Boy Scout Handbook, which I was privileged to write. (You have bought a copy, haven’t you?) They highlight some of the experiences the Boy Scouts of America promises every new Scout. Use those promises as a starting point, then customize them for your particular troop.

Doing the Impossible

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This week, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a new e-book, Showtime!: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book. (It’s available now available for just $2.99 at www.eaglebook.com/cart. I hope you’ll check it out.) In the process, I’ve been reviewing some of the tips I’ve sent out over the past decade. Some of those are going in Showtime! and future publications; others will appear here on the blog.

Here’s a great example from 2007.

One of my favorite illustrations from Baden-Powell’s Handbook for Boys (reproduced above) shows a uniformed Scout kicking the “IM” out of “IMPOSSIBLE.” I remembered that illustration when Arne Roe told me about his son’s “impossible” court of honor location.

Arne’s son, Sam, decided a few years ago that he wanted to have his court of honor aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Of course, America was at war, ships were being deployed to the Persian Gulf, and terrorism concerns made access difficult.

Arne had some reservations but started working the phones. A retired command master chief, he called the Abraham Lincoln’s CMC, who quickly got permission from the ship’s skipper and executive officer.

That was just the beginning, however, as Arne explained:

We started in November 2003 to set up this impossible court of honor and brought it to fruition in July 2004. During the planning period, the nightmare of logistics to meet the security requirements of the Navy nearly sunk the COH several times. The ship was sent out on an unscheduled mission, the Task Group Command changed admirals, the skipper went on leave, the ship received orders back to the fighting, and it all looked as if it wasn’t going to happen. Well, never accept the statement that it can’t be done! The date was set for the COH, the admiral that had just taken over the Task Group asked that he be invited to the COH on his flagship, and the guest list was confirmed.

It took about six weeks to obtain clearance for all the guests, including the governor, senator, representative, mayor, county executive, Scout executives, and about 150 Scouts, family, and friends. There were five Navy captains—one flew all the way from Texas to be there—many commanders, and more reporters that you could count. The event was covered by four local TV stations and made national news as the ceremony took place.

Now, I’m guessing you won’t try to book the Abraham Lincoln for your next ceremony, but I do have two questions: Where does your Eagle Scout want to hold his court of honor? What’s stopping you from making it happen?

Can Your Troop Hit Its Goal?

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For Christmas this past month, my 4-year-old grandson received a youth basketball goal. (Here in Kentucky, the three Rs are reading, writing, and rebounding!) Unlike standard basketball goals, this one can be adjusted to heights ranging from 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 feet, so it will last him a lot longer than the Little Tikes goal he was able to dunk on just a few months after he got it.

That new basketball goal started me thinking about Scout troops and how adjustable they are–or aren’t. The beauty of the patrol method is that it allows a troop to grow exponentially without becoming structurally unwieldy. However, it’s all too easy to make decisions now that will cause problems later.

Let me offer an example. A troop I worked with years ago had troop tents that everyone used, and that created an artificial ceiling on the number of people who could go camping. Of course, we could have (and occasionally did) buy more tents, but that meant an outlay of serious cash. Moreover–since we hadn’t mastered the youth leadership method yet–caring for the tents fell on the adult leaders, who would have been quite unhappy if we’d doubled in size and thus doubled their workload after outings. Had we encouraged Scouts to bring (and care for) their own tents, troop size wouldn’t have been a problem.

Here’s another example. If you have a troop of six Scouts, it’s easy for the senior patrol leader to call everyone to tell them you’ve canceled a meeting due to inclement weather or to remind them to bring their registration fees. But what happens if that troop of six Scouts quadrupled in size? How effective would that SPL be at making 36 phone calls?

As you develop a vision for your troop’s future, take a hard look at your present condition and identify what works now that wouldn’t work then. What’s standing in your way of becoming the troop you want to become? You may not be able to control things like the size of your meeting space, but you can control most other factors that make growth difficult. (I’d love to hear what you come up with; as always, the comments section is open.)

Oh, and one more thing. That basketball goal I mentioned earlier came in a box with these words: “Enjoy the Game at Your Level.” I think that applies just as well to the game of Scouting.