Order in the Court (of Honor)


Pinning on the badge. Reading congratulatory letters. Doing that old-standby candle ceremony. Announcing the reception. Telling about the honoree’s Eagle project. You have lots of things to cover in the court of honor, but how should you decide—as Abbott and Costello might have said—who goes first and what goes second?

In The Eagle Court of Honor Book, I’ve developed a standard ceremony outline, a skeletal structure on which you can build any sort of Eagle court of honor. Like the standard outline for troop meetings, my outline helps ensure that everything that needs to happen, happens—and in the right order.

Here’s my seven-part outline, along with a list of things that should happen during each part of the ceremony:

  1. Before the Ceremony (Displays, programs distributed, final preparation)
  2. Opening Period (Call to order, welcoming remarks, introductions and announcements, invocation, opening ceremony, formal convening of the court)
  3. Scouting Segment (A ceremony or presentation about the purpose and meaning of Scouting; e.g., a Scout Law candle ceremony)
  4. Eagle Scout Segment (A ceremony or presentation about the significance and history of the Eagle Scout award; e.g., “Trail to Eagle”)
  5. Presentation of the Eagle Badge (Honoree’s Scouting history, Eagle charge, Eagle Scout Promise, presentation of the Eagle badge, presentation of other awards and gifts, including congratulatory letters)
  6. Closing Period (Closing ceremony, benediction, closing of the court of honor)
  7. After the Ceremony (Reception, clean-up)

If  you think that outline is confining, think again. It can serve as the scaffolding on which to construct a thousand unique courts of honor, just as the basic three-act format is the basis of thousands of plays and movies.

For more great ideas, check out my 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 from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Band-aids for the Brain


As a Scout leader, you are (I hope!) well versed in first-aid principles. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve undoubtedly treated your share of minor injuries and maybe even called an ambulance or two. (I well remember the hours back in the pre-cellphone days that I spent in a Mobile, Ala., emergency room waiting for a doctor to track down a Scout’s parents to get permission to treat him.)

But what do you do if a Scout or Scouter’s problem is mental, not physical? Do you know how to triage stress, depression, or suicidality? If not, it might be time to learn about mental health first aid (MHFA).

Created in Australia back in 2000, MHFA training has since spread to more than 20 countries and reached 1.7 million people. In Australia, more than 2 percent of all adults have completed the training.

We in America are behind the curve. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH), nearly 100,000 Americans have completed the training, which is offered by more than 2,500 instructors across the country.

Here’s a description of the training from the NCBH website:

Mental Health First Aid is a groundbreaking public education program that introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common treatments. Mental Health First Aid is a live training course, which uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to assess a mental health crisis; select interventions and provide initial help; and connect persons to professional, peer and social supports as well as self-help resources.

Of particular interest to us as Scouters is Youth Mental Health First Aid, which is aimed at adults who work with youth ages 12-25. As the NCBH website explains, “The curriculum spans mental health challenges for youth, review of normal adolescent development, and intensive guidance through the ALGEE action plan for both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered in the manual include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.”

For more information on this important training, visit the NCBH website. On the right side of this page, the Find a Provider dropdown list lets you find a trainer in your state.

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 https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Easter Lessons That Can Improve Your Courts of Honor


This past Sunday was Easter Sunday, a day when my church (like most churches across America) saw triple the usual number of worshipers. For the past few years, our church has made a special effort to be welcoming to visitors and to look at the worship experience through their eyes. A big part of that is assuming nothing, including where to find the bathrooms and where to find the hymnals. We post greeters at every entrance to the building, and we create self-contained worship bulletins that don’t require looking anything up in a hymnal.

So what’s the connection with Eagle courts of honor? Many of the guests at a court of honor will be first-time visitors to your troop and your meeting location. They’ll need to know where the ceremony will be held, where the bathrooms are, and what’s expected of them during the ceremony. If former Scouts will be asked to join the recitation of the Scout Oath and Scout Law, print the words in the program. (Yes, they may have forgotten whether courteous comes before kind.) If Eagle Scouts in the audience will be asked to form an “Eagles’ nest” on stage, give them a heads up at the beginning of the ceremony–especially if they’ll be asked to introduce themselves and tell when and where they became Eagle Scouts. (Yes, they may need to do some mental math to come up with the year.)

In short, treat your guests as, well, guests, not just as the usual suspects. If you do, perhaps you’ll see them again before next Christmas!

For more great ideas, check out my 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 from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Gerald Ford Is Dead and Other Important Lessons About Scoutmaster’s Minutes


Growing up in the 1970s, I thought it was very cool that Gerald Ford was our first Eagle Scout president. And as I grew older, I became increasingly impressed with how he conducted himself in office, bringing Scouting values to a place where they’d been largely missing during the scandal-ridden Nixon administration.

But that’s not Gerald Ford’s picture that appears at the top of this post, because Gerald Ford is ancient history to today’s Scouts–and even to their parents. Consider the case of an 11-year-old Scout today who was born when his mom was 29. That puts Mom’s birth year at around 1977–the same year Ford left office.

Yet all too often, we hold up men like Gerald Ford as role models in front of our Scouts. It’s not that they aren’t worthy of attention; it’s just that all around us are former Scouts whose stories are a whole lot fresher and more relevant to today’s Scouts.

I’m writing this post on Patriots Day 2017, four years after the Marathon Bombings shook Boston to the core. Earlier this spring, Eagles’ Call ran my profile of an Eagle Scout and FBI special agent who played a key role in tracking down one of the terrorists. (That’s his picture at the top of this post, by the way.) I encourage you to read the story and share the highlights as part of an upcoming Scoutmaster’s Minute.

But I also encourage you to seek out other fresh, relevant stories to share with your Scouts. The Bryan on Scouting blog does a great job of providing examples. There’s Josh Hart, for example, who has been a key player on the Villanova basketball team. And Evan Roe, who appears on TV’s Madame Secretary. To find more stories, consider subscribing to Eagles’ Call, which you can now do even if you’re not an Eagle Scout.

As for Ford, may he rest in peace–something I trust he’s been doing since he died in 2006, about the time today’s youngest Scouts were being born.

A Plethora of Pins for Eagle Courts of Honor


Once upon a time, the Eagle Scout badge was accompanied in the Eagle Scout Award Kit by a pocket patch and two other items: the mother’s pin and the father’s tie tack, which has now been replaced by the father’s pin–since relatively few dads dress up for Eagle courts of honor, or else show up in uniform. (Note that the tie tack is still available for those who prefer that option.)

Then came the mentor pin, which the new Eagle Scout was encouraged to present to an adult who played an important role in his journey along the trail to Eagle. Of course, many Eagle Scouts can think of at least two men or women deserving of a mentor pin, so the BSA soon made additional mentor pins available.

More recently, BSA Supply has introduced the Eagle Scout Grandparent Pin, designed “to be worn with pride by the grandparents of an Eagle Scout.” Given that many grandparents these days play a key role in their grandsons’ development, that addition only makes sense.

But this plethora of pins begs a question: How and when should they be given out?

To me, that really depends on the Scout and his unique circumstances. What I like to do with mentor pins is have the Scout at the end of his personal statement call up the individuals he wants to recognize, tell why he chose them, and present them with their pins. With the grandparent pins, I would have him present those at the end of the presentation phase (after he’s received his badge and presented his parents’ their pins). The emcee could say something like this: “Johnny is fortunate to have two of his grandparents, Bob Smith and Jane Jones, here today to celebrate with them. At this time, would they could forward to receive grandparent pins.”

The main thing is to remember that the highlight of any Eagle court of honor should be the presentation of the Eagle badge. Calling up four grandparents and half a dozen mentors can detract from that moment and–because of sheer volume–cheapen the meaning of each of those pins.

What’s more, there’s no reason all those pins have to be presented during the court of honor. In fact, it might be more powerful if the Scout were to meet his mentor for coffee and present her with a mentor pin or mail a grandparent pin to his granddad across the country along with a personal note.

In short, the sincerity is more important than the setting.

For more great ideas, check out my 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 from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Requiem for a BSA Form


Cynics like to say that Scouting requires more paperwork than the U.S. government. If you’ve recently been completing your income tax return, you know that’s definitely not the case. Still, it is true that we Scouters have our share of forms to fill out. (When I was a district executive in the pre-digital age, I carried around a milk-crate file organizer full of youth and adult applications, advancement reports, tour permit applications, medical forms, and other paperwork and often handed out copies at roundtables.)

Fortunately, one BSA form has recently gone the way of the dinosaurs. Effective April 1, 2017, units no longer have to complete the BSA’s Tour and Activity Plan before heading to the woods (or anywhere else). That doesn’t mean Scouting’s safety rules have changed–the policies in the Guide to Safe Scouting still apply. You just don’t have to fill out a form anymore.

In announcing the policy change, the BSA put together a helpful FAQ, which I encourage you to read. Like all FAQs, this one may seem a little redundant, but it makes some important points.

And some of those points have less to do with tour plans than with persistent misunderstandings about the liability protection the BSA offers us as volunteers. In short, you are covered during official Scouting activities regardless of whether you fill out any paperwork, require your Scouts to wear their field uniforms on the road, or say “Mother, may I?” before you leave the parking lot. (Registered volunteers have primary coverage; non-registered volunteers have secondary coverage.) To learn more, visit the BSA’s insurance coverage page.

Now that you have one less BSA form to fill out, you can turn your full attention to your Form 1040 and all its attached schedules.

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 https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

End Your Court of Honor on a High Note


Several years ago, I attended a traveling production of a Broadway musical. The play ended on a high note with thrilling music and a standing ovation.

But then something happened. A single actor stepped forward to announce that the company was collecting donations for some cause or another and that cast members would be stationed at the exits to accept our gifts. In just a few sentences, he completely destroyed the elaborate fantasy world that he and his colleagues had built over the last two hours. The problem wasn’t the cause; it was the timing. And I’m guessing the cast would have raised just as much money if there’d been an announcement in the printed program and/or posters at the exits or if he’d spoken before the show began.

The same thing happens at many Eagle courts of honor. After the presentation of the Eagle badge, which should be the ceremony’s highlight, the master of ceremonies makes additional long-winded presentations or—worse yet—announcements that drag us back into the real world far too soon.

It’s far better to make announcements at the beginning of the ceremony, letting the evening end on a high note. After all, the most important thing people should take away from your event is not that popcorn order forms are due next Thursday.

For more great ideas, check out my 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 from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

Everything Old Is Still Old


Several months back, my local NPR affiliate started a new series where it investigates questions listeners pose. Some are serious (dealing with topics like how the city spends tax dollars), but most are less weighty. The first question set the tone for the series: “Why Do We Give Directions With Landmarks That No Longer Exist?”

That’s a question that applies to Scouting as well. Those of us who’ve been involved in the program for decades often remember how things were rather than how they are. And I’m not talking about pining for the good old days either (not that that’s very productive). I’m talking about mistakenly assuming that the rules and advancement requirements of five, 10, or 20 years ago are still in effect.

Case in point: Recently, as I was preparing the new second edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook–you have bought a copy, haven’t you?–I checked the Guide to Safe Scouting to see how it describes the dangers of convoying, only to find that that information is no longer there. (That’s not to say it’s a good idea to travel long distances in nose-to-tail fashion with only the lead driver knowing the route; it’s just that the guide no longer prohibits the practice.)

How can you avoid leading Scouts with rules that no longer exist? A few things will help. First, pay attention to blogs like mine and Bryan on Scouting that highlight changes in BSA policies and advancement requirements. Second, avoid the temptation to post copies of the Guide to Safe Scouting and other BSA publications on your troop, district, or council website; instead, create links to the publications at scouting.org. Finally, assume (like I did with convoying) that your memory is faulty and go back to the source document whenever possible.

Think of it this way: The BSA has plenty of current rules, regulations, and requirements to go around. There’s no need to layer on another set, one that only exists in your memory.

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 https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.