The Four Questions That Can Launch a Great Court of Honor


Budding journalists are taught to ask five W questions–who, what, when, where, and why–and one solitary H question–how–every time they report a story.

Those questions are also important when you’re planning an Eagle court of honor, but four of them are especially important at the outset. In fact, asking them is essential to starting the planning process and can make the different between a great event and a yawner.

As soon as possible after the Scout has passed board of review, the key players–the Scout, his parent(s), and the troop leader in charge of the event–should meet to discuss when, where, who, and what. Here’s a look at these questions and the sorts of answers you should be looking for.

  • When and where. Until you set a date and confirm a location, you really can’t do anything else, like recruit presenters or prepare invitations. Find a date and time that fits both the family and troop calendars and then pick a location that’s available on that date. This may well be the place you usually hold courts of honor, such as your chartered organization’s auditorium, but it doesn’t have to be. (See my post on the destination court of honor for more ideas.)
  • Who and what. Once you’ve confirmed the when and the where, talk about the who. In other words, who should be a part of the ceremony? The Scoutmaster and family will obviously play a role, but who else does the Scout want to include? Does he want to include the grandfather who was the family’s first Eagle Scout? What about the now-retired Scoutmaster who started the honoree on the trail to Eagle? Make a list of those presenters and solicit their involvement. (See my post on very important presenters for more on the who question.) Next, think about what  elements the ceremony should include. What has the Scout seen at previous courts of honor that he really liked? What ceremony parts in The Eagle Court of Honor Book speak to him? Again, make a list. With your who and what lists in hand, you can begin crafting a unique script, one designed to honor a unique Eagle Scout.

So what about why and how? Those questions are also important, of course. The introduction to The Eagle Court of Honor Book covers why, and the rest of the book will show you how.

By asking–and answering–the right questions, you can ensure a great court of honor for your next Eagle Scout.

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

Activities With a Twist


When I was Scoutmaster, our troop instituted a Golden Spoon competition that still remains a favorite annual activity. In the early years, this was basically a chili cook-off with a twist: presentation counted as much as taste.

One year, for example, the winning patrol went with an all-white theme: white chili, sparkling grape juice, and cheesecake (without fruit topping, sadly). White server’s outfits, chef’s hats, and tablecloths added to the fun. For all their trouble, that patrol gained possession of the Golden Spoon (a soup ladle that we’d spray-painted gold). Of course, they also learned something about teamwork and were encouraged in a gentle way to cook something more challenging than hot dogs for dinner.

I tell you all this not because I think you should hold a Golden Spoon competition (although that’s not a bad idea). My point is to demonstrate how adding a simple twist or two to an ordinary activity can make it a highlight of your Scouting year.

For example, just think about camp cookery. Here are just a few twists that you could add to menu planning:

  • Give each patrol a set of random ingredients and challenge them to turn them into a meal. (This, of course, is the idea behind reality cooking shows on TV.)
  • Do nothing but utensil-less cooking (e.g., foil packs) for a weekend.
  • Use nothing but homemade equipment (e.g., tin-can stoves) for a weekend.
  • Have an international weekend, featuring a different country at each meal—and venture beyond Mexico, Italy, and China!
  • Have a progressive dinner during an outing: appetizer at the Wolf Patrol, salad at the Bear Patrol, entrée at the Owl Patrol, and dessert at the Bobcat Patrol.
  • Flip your menu. Make dinner in the morning and breakfast at night.
  • Even though you’re doing “plop” camping at the local state park, using backpacking food all weekend.
  • Hike out to a scenic overlook and cook your dinner there as you watch the sun set.
  • Follow my Scouts’ example and color-code your meals. See which patrol can come up with the whitest, greenest, or reddest menu.

So those are my ideas. I’d love to hear how your troop adds a twist to cooking–or any other activity. The comments section is open.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Put Alumni to Work at Your Eagle Courts of Honor


Recently, the Scouting magazine blog ran a great story about a troop that brought back a troop alumnus to cater an Eagle court of honor. There were a lot of things to like about this story, including the fact that the chef in question, who cooks at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, wore an Eagle Scout neckerchief during the event.

But the best thing about the story, in my opinion, is that the troop found a way to put this alumnus to work. People planning courts of honor–especially proud parents–tend to think that everybody will want to come to the celebration. The reality, however, is that people need a reason to come if they don’t have a personal connection with the honoree. A troop alumnus who’s in college may not even remember the honoree, who might have been little more than a snotty-nosed Tenderfoot when he himself became an Eagle Scout. And an older alumnus, one who’s settled into a career and a family? Fuhggedaboutit!

I’m not saying that every alumnus you invite to a court of honor need prepare a gourmet meal (not that that wouldn’t be nice!). You can find ways to include alumni that are much simpler. For example, many troops form an “Eagles’ nest” of Eagle Scouts at the back of the stage during the presentation phase of their courts of honor. Typically, each person is asked to give his name, the year of his award, and his home troop and city. Sometimes, the new Eagle Scout’s medal is passed along the line as a symbol of the connection between all Eagle Scouts. This is a simple way to make alumni feel more engaged. Plus, it can make for some great photos.

How do you engage troop alumni at your courts of honor? Post your ideas in the comments section.

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

Why Verbs Matter in Boy Scout Advancement


As a writer, I spend my days rearranging the letters of the alphabet and peppering them with various punctuation marks. That means, among other things, that I pay close to language.

I know, as Mark Twain once said, that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. I also know that commas save lives–consider the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma” and “Let’s eat Grandma.”

And I know that verbs matter when it comes to Boy Scout advancement.

Recently in a Facebook group I read a Scout’s request for people to interview for requirement 8 of Scouting Heritage merit badge (“Interview at least three people (different from those you interviewed for requirement 5) over the age of 40 who were Scouts. Find out about their Scouting experiences. Ask about the impact that Scouting has had on their lives. Share what you learned with your counselor.”) Now, I couldn’t tell from this Scout’s post whether he was looking to set up phone or email interviews with random Eagle Scouts or whether he just wanted people to post their Scouting stories to Facebook. If the former was true, he was setting up potential Youth Protection problems. If the latter was true, he was looking to take a shortcut, one that would end up shortchanging him, because he could learn far more by conducting an actual interview than by having a brief asynchronous exchange on Facebook.

Years ago, I came across a great quote in an old Cub Scout handicraft book: “It isn’t what the boy does to the board that counts; it’s what the board does to the boy.”

The same is true of every Boy Scout requirement. That’s why paying attention to the verbs is so important.

Need more great troop leadership ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Solving a Congratulatory Letter Dilemma


We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world. Look around your next troop meeting, and you’ll see Scouts and leaders of all sizes and shapes. (As a portly friend likes to say, round is a shape!)

That’s usually a good thing, but when it comes to those congratulatory letters that are a highlight of many Eagle courts of honor, size can be a problem. You’ve probably noticed something about those letters, cards, and similar items: they’re all different sizes. While most tend to be letter size, a few are closer to postcard size, and there’s often one (like a proclamation from your mayor) that’s legal size.

The size variation makes presenting them at the court of honor difficult. You could put them in a scrapbook, of course, but that would mean leaving out or folding oversized items. An easier—and cheaper—solution is to put them in a legal-size expanding wallet. These cardstock wallets, which cost under $5 at office supply stores, look something like oversized file folders with flap closures. The ones I’ve used are bright red and feature elastic loops to hold the flaps down; others have Velcro fasteners. Add an Eagle Scout decal to the flap, and you have a presentation item that’s as nice as the letters it contains.

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


Illustrating Leadership in Scouting


Although the Scout Oath and Law don’t refer explicitly to leadership, one of the things we try to do as Scoutmasters is teach our Scouts to be leaders. We do that by (let’s hope) setting a good example, but we also do it by pointing out other good leaders to our Scouts.

Here’s one way to do that: Show a video clip illustrating leadership at a PLC meeting or Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops session. Then, ask the Scouts to identify leadership traits they spotted and tell how they might implement that trait in their own leadership roles.

Here’s a great video from YouTube to get you started:

The clip shows a teenager trying—and failing—to sing the National Anthem before an NBA game a decade or so ago. As she struggles with embarrassment and stage fright, Philadelphia 76ers coach Mo Cheeks quietly walks over, puts his arm on her shoulder to encourage her, and then sings along with her. By the end of the song, the entire arena has joined in. To me, Cheeks’ action is a great example of leadership and an embodiment of what William Arthur Ward once said: “Blessed is the person who sees the need, recognizes the responsibility, and actively becomes the answer.”

It’s also an example of what we as Scout leaders should do in working with our youth leaders. Too often, we think the youth leadership method means letting our patrol leaders and senior patrol leaders sink or swim without our help. But it’s really incumbent on us to help our youth leaders be successful, even if that means bailing them out from time to time as Cheeks did in that video.

The Great Frame-up


I’ve spent an impressive amount of money on picture-framing over the years. That’s partly because I have a lot of photos and other art in my house and partly because my daughter convinced me years ago that how you frame a picture is guaranteed to either enhance or detract from its appearance. Just as the punishment should fit the crime, the frame should fit its contents. That’s why art museums typically display great works of art in frames that look like works of art themselves.

Frames play an important role in Eagle courts of honor as well. One of the items typically presented to a new Eagle Scout is his official certificate–which will fortunately look a whole lot nicer than the one above that I received back in 1982! Hand the Scout his certificate without a frame, and it looks like little more than a floppy piece of paper. Stick it in a frame, however, and it begins to look worthy of the occasion.

You could spend a lot of money on a frame, but you really don’t have to. Discount stores typically offer basic styles for just a few dollars–there just a dollar at Dollar Tree–and the Scout could easily upgrade to something nicer later on. For example, offers a very attractive shadow box frame with space for both the certificate and medal for about $60.

By the way, you could also purchase an 11×14 frame with a pre-cut 8×10 mat. That’s a quick and easy way to make the certificate more impressive. Whatever you do, just remember that the clothes make the man and the frame makes the certificate.

Speaking of certificates, check out my Eagle Mountain and Eagle Mentor certificates. These inexpensive gifts are a great way to honor your new Eagle Scout and the men and women who helped him reach the summit. And they’re now available in both full-color and classic parchment versions.

Putting Politics Ahead of Program


It’s no secret that we live in a highly polarized and politicized age. Even simple decisions like where we shop seem to carry more weight than usual. Based on our political leanings, we’re supposed to either boycott or patronize (buycott?) Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s, Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, Starbucks, and a host of other companies. There’s even an app that lets you scan a product’s UPC code to determine whether or not you should buy it, based on how you feel about animal welfare, the environment, human rights, immigration, LGBTQ rights, social responsibility, or half a dozen other issues.

Not surprisingly, the Boy Scouts of America has gotten caught up in these political crosscurrents in recent years, mostly due to the decisions to accept gay leaders and gay and transgendered youth members. Of course, many longtime Scouters have strong feelings about these issues and have been either elated or disappointed (or something in between) as they’ve watched BSA policy change. That’s understandable. But at the same time, all sorts of groups that have probably never sponsored a unit or written a Friends of Scouting check have jumped into the fray as well.

One such group, the North Carolina Values Coalition, prompted Mark Turner, Scout executive of the Mecklenburg County Council, to write a remarkable response in the Charlotte Observer. In it, he shared a long list of local Scouting accomplishments–267 new Eagle Scouts, 7,000 active members reciting the Scout Oath and Scout Law each week, improvements in school performance among inner-city Scouts–and then he said this: “Don’t tear down the things you don’t understand and the institutions that make our country strong. Take a leap of faith and have a view of life that the glass is half full or you will surely find yourself alone and thirsty.”

When Rex Tillerson was the BSA’s national president, he often talked about keeping the Main Thing the main thing. And the Main Thing was serving more youth.

If people in your community or chartered organization are confused about what the Main Thing is–or if they think the Main Thing is co-opting Scouting to advance their own causes–perhaps you could share Mark Turner’s op-ed with them or offer your own list of the things that really matter.

Ann Landers liked to say, “Nobody can take advantage of you without your permission.” I think it’s time we as Scouters take her advice.

To celebrate the release of the second edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I’m offering a 20% discount on all book orders through St. Patrick’s Day. Just enter the code SMOH2017 when you check out at

Seeing Old Ceremonies Through New Eyes



Since my own Eagle court of honor 35 years ago this summer, I’ve been to more Eagle ceremonies than I can count. Many I’ve planned, some I’ve participated in, and a few I’ve just observed.

That background has given me plenty of experience in making Scouting’s greatest moment just a little bit greater. But it also has robbed me of the ability to come at courts of honor with a fresh perspective. It’s impossible for a veteran to look through the eyes of someone attending their first Eagle court of honor.

That’s why I’m glad the Heart of Virginia Council recently posted on Facebook a blog post by a first-time court-of-honor attendee. The writer, a Scout mom named Hannah Fancher, described a couple of highlights of the ceremony: 1) when the Scout (who she barely knew) handed out mentor pins and 2) when he asked the audience to help him live out the promise he’d made as a new Eagle Scout. In the end, she wrote, “I came away from this ceremony with so many good things. It fed my soul. It’s probably a little silly, but I was uplifted as a person and inspired as a mom.”

What do people who attend your troop’s courts of honor come away with–especially parents of young Scouts who may not even know the honoree? If you’re not sure, I encourage you to interview a few guests from a recent ceremony. Ask them what they expected, what they took away, what worked for them, and what didn’t. Your conversation may not lead to a blog post like Hannah Fancher’s, but it should lead to more meaningful courts of honor in the future.

Now available from a revised and expanded version of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook. Check it out today–and save 20% by entering the code SMOH2017 when you check out at

Is the Force Strong With Your Troop?



A couple of years ago, Walt Disney Pictures rolled out its first film in the Star Wars series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The movie would undoubtedly done well at the box office, but Disney didn’t take any chances. Instead, it spent an estimated $175 million on an elaborate marketing plan that lasted three years.

That plan included all the standard tools in the marketing toolbox—and many more:

  • It focused on meeting current fans where they were (by having a presence at events like Comic-Con).
  • It capitalized on nostalgia (with trailer appearances by Han Solo, R2D2, and Chewbacca) and on reaching new fans (through tie-ins with makers of toys and breakfast cereals).
  • It prompted its marketing partners to advertise the movie. (For example, Target stores turned their entrances into spaceship doors, and All Nippon Airways wrapped three of its jets in Star Wars graphics.)
  • It made extensive use of social media (including Facebook selfie-sabers and Google’s “Choose Your Side” feature).
  • It built anticipation with teasers (especially by making fans wonder whether Luke Skywalker would appear in the movie).
  • It launched a huge range of branded merchandise (including Star Was Band-Aids, lightsaber barbecue tongs, Pandora bracelet charms, and Death Star waffle irons).

As a result of all this marketing, the movie, which cost $306 million to produce, more than broke even on opening weekend. It has now earned over $2 billion.

So what does all this have to do with Scouting? Simply this: The folks at Walt Disney Pictures knew they had a great film on their hands, but they also knew that was enough. They knew it didn’t matter how good the film was if people weren’t motivated to see it.

It’s the same way in Scouting. You may know that next month’s campout is going to be the best ever or that next summer’s Philmont expedition will be the experience of a lifetime, but do your Scouts know? Are you using every tool at your disposal to advertise troop activities and motivate Scouts to participate (including posters, videos, testimonials, Facebook groups, etc.)? And are you using the same tools to market your troop to potential new members?

If not, don’t be surprised if your troop becomes a critical hit and a box-office bomb.

To celebrate the release of the second edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I’m offering a 20% discount on all book orders through St. Patrick’s Day. Just enter the code SMOH2017 when you check out at