Eagle Courts of Honor and the Saddest Laugh



An Eagle court of honor should be cause for joy, an inspiring mix of ceremony and celebration. While there should be moments of solemnity, there should also be plenty of room for laughter.

But not all laughs are created equal. Consider this note I received recently from a mom who had purchased The Eagle Court of Honor Book:

Your book and supporting materials have proven to be a terrific resource. Members of our troop have used the same basic script for as long as I can remember. (Sometimes the Eagle Scout has even forgotten to change the names, and the audience gets a chuckle at the expense of the honoree.) Our son had noticed that the Scouts in attendance had seen it so many times that they had begun to tune it out and talk during the ceremonies. He wanted something different and memorable, and he wanted it to hold the audience’s attention. Your book has given him countless options!

“A chuckle at the expense of the honoree”–what a terrible memory for a Scout to take away from his big moment. And all because his troop didn’t put much effort into planning his Eagle court of honor. (It’s ironic that we demand originality from Eagle projects but don’t expect it from Eagle courts of honor.)

One of the reasons I wrote The Eagle Court of Honor Book was to help troop leaders avoid cookie-cutter ceremonies. Whether you buy my book or not, I hope you’ll make sure your next court of honor is not a duplicate of your last one. After all, your next Eagle Scout won’t be a clone; he’ll be a young man worthy of celebration.

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

Eight Easy Ways to Solve Troop Meeting Emergencies



One of my favorite features of volume 2 of the new Troop Leader Guidebook (which should available by summer) is a series of “emergency” troop meetings I developed. These are not troop meetings related to emergency preparedness; instead, they are meetings you can throw together at a moment’s notice–when, for example, your game night gets rained out or the Scout who was supposed to teach pioneering forgets to come up with ropes and poles.

Emergencies will happen, and there’s nothing worse than having 20 or 30 Scouts show up at your meeting place with absolutely nothing to do. That’s where the Scout motto, “Be prepared,” applies to us Scout leaders. One of the best things you can do is come up with half a dozen meeting plans that you can institute on a moment’s notice.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Hold an impromptu campfire program (with or without a fire). Give each patrol some time to plan a couple of songs or skits, and then put on the program.
  • Have a neighborhood scavenger hunt. Plan in advance a list of things that Scouts should look for and that are likely to be around every week (e.g., the street address of the house on the corner with the green roof, an out-of-state license plate, an oak leaf)
  • Hold a meeting place observation test. Give each patrol a quiz on your meeting place (how many exterior doors, what does the sign out front say, what’s the street address, how tall is the church steeple, what’s the species of tree near the front door, etc.). Have them take the quiz and then go around and check their answers.
  • Have each Scout write down a plan for getting to his next rank, including what merit badges he needs, a target date for his board of review, etc.
  • Hold a games night (physical games if you can get outside, board games if you’re stuck inside).
  • Evaluate your last trip or have Scouts brainstorm solutions to a problem such as the need to reshuffle patrols or improve uniforming.
  • Show a video of an old Scout movie like “Follow Me, Boys” or “Mr. Scoutmaster.”
  • Wash—I mean, really wash—your cooking gear.

What have you done when a meeting plan falls through? Post your ideas in the comments section below.

A Priceless Gift of Thanks



It’s the rare young man who makes it to the rank of Eagle Scout without significant support from his parents, Scout leaders, fellow Scouts, and other individuals. A Scout I heard from named Will Davenport had lots of support along the Eagle trail, and he came up with a neat way to recognize those who’d helped him.

Just before his Eagle badge was to be presented, Will called up those individuals who had helped him the most, saying something about how each person had contributed. Then, he had them form a line in the front of the room and passed his Eagle medal from one person to the next until it finally reached his mother, who presented it to him.

Before sitting down, everyone received a small porcelain eagle, which Will had found at a dollar store. He spent less than $30 in all but offered a priceless gift of thanks to each individual.

Your honoree could, of course, do the same thing with Eagle mentor pins, which cost $3.99 each. He could also do what Will did and then single out one or two individuals to receive mentor pins. Whatever he does, saying thanks will put his accomplishment in perspective and give credit where credit is due.

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

The Kids Are on Fire



In his book The Children David Halberstam chronicled the critical role high-school and college students played in the American civil rights movement. By turns angry and idealistic, these “children” often prodded their adult counterparts into action, most notably through sit-ins at lunch counters across the South.

I thought about that story this week when I read an amazing statistic. According to a National 4-H Council survey of high-schoolers, fully 88 percent of youth say they could lead in solving issues like affordable education, job creation, and the war on terrorism.

Now, you and I know those problems are a little more complicated than Scout-age youths can understand. But the point is that many of them have a passion to change the world. When we engage them in truly meaningful service projects–not the busy work that’s easier to plan and manage–we help them act on their passion. We also demonstrate that Scouting is a place where they can find meaning and purpose.

I’ve blogged about creating transformational service projects before, but let me offer another idea for helping Scouts generate service ideas. At a church youth retreat I attended recently, the facilitators showed a YouTube video of a 12-year-old who created a homeless feeding program in Detroit. We then broke into small groups to brainstorm ways our kids could be in service. The ideas they came up with were amazing, mostly because they’d just watched the video. You could do something similar with your patrol leaders’ council by using that video or something like it.

With your guidance, today’s Scouts could change the world just as much as the children of the civil rights movement did.

The Court of Honor Six-Pack



Although I generally prefer Eagle courts of honor that feature just one, two, or maybe three honorees, I’ve twice had occasion to plan courts of honor that featured six Eagle Scouts. That’s a good problem to have–the world needs more Eagle Scouts–but it’s a problem nonetheless. I’ll never forget the two-Eagle ceremony I attended where a presenter read both sets of congratulatory letters–even though the words were identical. I can only imagine what that troop would have done with six honorees!

How in the world can you personalize a multi-Scout ceremony and give each new Eagle Scout the recognition he deserves without the event running for two hours? Remember: The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure.

The process is actually fairly easy. Remember that many elements of the ceremony aren’t specific to the honorees, including the opening, the closing, and elements like a Scout Law candle ceremony or guest speaker. The parts you need to be concerned about are typically the review of the honorees’ Scouting histories, their personal statements, and the presentation of their badges. And you can handle those efficiently without shortchanging the recipients.

Here’s a basic outline for those parts that I like to use:

  1. Someone introduces honoree 1 and tells his Scouting history. (This could be done with a narrative slide show, for example.)
  2. The honor guard escorts honoree 1 to the stage.
  3. Honoree 1 gives a personal statement and then sits down on the stage.
  4. You repeat the above steps with honoree 2 (and honoree 3, etc.).
  5. The honor guard escorts all the parents to the stage. (You may need an honor guard for each family.)
  6. You go through the standard presentation phase, presenting the badges, mother’s pins, etc., simultaneously. (The presenter will definitely need some help distribute all those recognition items.)

The first time I used this method, we developed a 250-word bio of each honoree. During step 1, a narrator would read the current honoree’s bio while 10 photos showing his growth from Tiger Cub to Eagle Scout appeared on a screen above the stage. (The self-imposed limits on words and pictures brought much-needed focus to a section of the ceremony that can often drag on forever.) If you feel 10 photos is not enough, you could always create a longer slide show that mixes photos from all your honorees–most of whom will probably ended up appearing in each other’s pictures.

And the congratulatory letters? I’m not sure I would even read them.

For more ideas, see my post on sending invitations for multi-Scout courts of honor. And for a slew of other ideas, check out my new ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download.


Zeroing in on Generation Z



This July, I’ll be facilitating a new conference, Smarter, Strategic, and Sustainable Scouting, at the Philmont Training Center. If you’re not doing anything the last week of July, I’d love to see you there!

An important part of this conference will be exploring how to work with today’s Scouts, who are busier and more tech-dependent than any previous generation. As I’ve started preparing for the conference, I’ve been learning more about Generation Z–also known as iGen, screenagers, centennials, and dot-com kids. These are young people born in roughly 2005 or later–in other words, young people who are joining Boy Scout troops right now. If you don’t know how to work with them, you’re going to struggle as a Scout leader in the years to come.

There’s a ton of good information out there about Generation Z, but here are a few nuggets I found interesting:

  • They can’t remember a time before smartphones. The iPhone came out in 2007, when the oldest of them were 2 years old. It’s no wonder Scouts rebel when adults tell them they can’t take their phones on outings.
  • They have eight-second filters. If something doesn’t catch their attention quickly, they’ll move on to something that does. It’s no wonder they tune out long-winded announcements at troop meetings. (Note that I said eight-second filters, not attention spans; that’s a crucial distinction.)
  • Diversity is their default. In a fascinating TED Talk, Jason Dorsey of the Center for Generational Kinetics says that diversity–racial, ethnic, sexual, socioeconomic, etc.–is a given for Gen Zers. The only time they think about diversity is when they end up in a non-diverse situation. It’s no wonder Scouting’s image as a program for suburban white kids makes us seem out of date to many Gen Zers.
  • They want to change the world. Just consider these statistics from an Upcounsel blog post: “According to Marketo’s research, 60 percent of Gen Zers want their jobs to impact the world, while 26 percent of 16 to 19-year-olds currently volunteer and 76 percent are concerned about humanity’s impact on the planet.” It’s no wonder many Scouts are pursuing service projects with real impact (and probably chafing at busy-work projects.)

To learn more about Generation Z, check out this quick video from an Australian ad agency.

So how is your troop preparing for Generation Z? Post your thoughts in the comments section.

Playing to a Packed House



Perhaps nothing can highlight the significance of the Eagle court of honor more than having a standing-room-only audience. But how can you ensure a full house without holding the court of honor in a closet? You have to invite people. And that means more than just making an announcement at a troop meeting or posting an announcement on the troop’s Facebook page.

One of my ongoing frustrations as a Scoutmaster was working with families of new Eagle Scouts who had a Field of Dreams mentality. They were thinking, “If you announce it, they will come,” while I was thinking, “Half the families in the troop don’t know your son because they were still in Cub Scouting when he was really active, so why would they show up?”

Here’s my solution to getting more butts in seats:

Early in the planning process (six weeks or so before the court of honor), sit down with the honoree and his family and encourage them to develop a comprehensive invitation list. They should include members of the troop, of course, but also the honoree’s relatives, friends, teachers, and others who would be interested in attending the court of honor. Send invitations out a month before the event; then follow up with meeting announcements, newsletter notices, and personal phone calls to key people.

Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Troop members and leaders
  • Representatives from the chartered organization
  • The honoree’s past troop leaders
  • The honoree’s past den leaders
  • The honoree’s past Cubmaster
  • The honoree’s merit-badge counselors
  • Those who helped with (or benefited from) the Eagle service project
  • Eagle board of review members
  • Camp staff buddies
  • Unit commissioner
  • District executive
  • District chairman
  • District commissioner
  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Godparents
  • Religious leaders
  • Favorite teachers
  • Members of the troop’s brother Cub Scout pack

And don’t leave off dream invitees like local celebrities that might take an interest. If you invite them, they just might come!

You can find more great information in my new ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download.

The Merit of Badges



“Every shortcut has a price usually greater than the reward.”

So wrote Bryant McGill in Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life. While he wasn’t talking about merit badges, he might as well have been.

In recent years, merit badge clinics, fairs, and universities have become all the rage. Some of these programs do a great job of connecting Scouts with experts who make their subjects come to life, but many–most?–substitute efficiency for experiential learning. Rather than discuss a topic with the counselor, Scouts watch as the counselor runs through a PowerPoint presentation. Rather than take notes and ask questions, they fill in worksheets. Rather than get their hands dirty, they get bored.

In recognition of this problem, the BSA has created the Merit Badge Group Instruction Guide, which is designed to “help Scouting volunteers and approved community organizations apply the characteristics of a high-quality merit badge program when planning any merit badge event where group instruction will take place.” This three-page document is worth a read if your troop is planning to host or participate in a merit badge event.

But I’d also draw your attention to something else: a story that demonstrates the power of doing merit badges right. First published in American Heritage magazine, “My Moon Shot” describes how a 17-year-old Scout tracked down Neil Armstrong in 1973 and convinced him to serve as his Space Exploration merit badge counselor. As you’ll discover, that Scout received a reward far greater than a simple cloth badge.

What rewards are your Scouts receiving from the merit badge program?

I’m Not a Doctor But …



“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on camping trips.”

No Scout leader has probably ever said that, but many of us have ended up acting in the role of a doctor or nurse in dispensing medications to our Scouts. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 6 percent of adolescents take psychotropic drugs, including drugs to treat depression and ADHD, while more than 8 percent of children have asthma. Add in over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol to treat headaches and muscle pain, and you may end up with more medications on a campout than you can manage.

That’s one reason the BSA puts the responsibility for taking medicine on the individual–not on the unit. In most cases, Scouts can manage their own prescriptions with guidance from adult leaders. The new “Medication Use in Scouting” document has much more information.

I encourage you to study this document carefully before your next outing. When you do, you’ll discover that putting the responsibility on the Scout does not mean being totally hands off. Instead, you, the Scout, and his parents should work together ahead of time to come up with a plan for his medication. You need to know what he’s taking–there should be no “secret” medications–and you may need to provide secure storage for his drugs. You and other adult leaders also must know how to administer emergency medications like epinephrine or insulin. And you’ll need prior permission (via the Annual Health and Medical Record) to dispense over-the-counter drugs.

Oh, and one more point. If a Scout with ADHD is getting a little squirrelly, the last thing you should do is shout, “Johnny, go take a pill.” Remember: You’re not a doctor, nor should you play one in Scouting.