Is There a Christmas Court of Honor in Your (Near) Future?


Not long ago, I had a conversation with the mother of a new Eagle Scout. When I asked her about plans for her son’s court of honor, she said he wasn’t going to have one. He’d earned his rank not long before his 18th birthday, had left for college before a ceremony could be planned, and had now shifted more or less into grownup mode. Having the sort of ceremony he’d often seen as a Scout simply didn’t interest him.

Now, there’s no rule that a Scout has to have a court of honor, but there’s also no reason that a Scout in that situation shouldn’t be recognized for his achievement. Which brings us to the winter break every college student will soon be enjoying.

Yes, I know the weeks between now and the start of spring semester are crazy busy. But I also know those young men–and perhaps you–will have some downtime after the Christmas presents are unwrapped, the Hanukkah menorah is put away, Kwanzaa and Festivus have been celebrated and Cousin Eddie and his family have driven off into the sunset in their tenement on wheels.

The trick is to think a little differently–okay, a lot differently–than you may be used to. Instead of spending weeks planning an elaborate ceremony, sending out invitations, printing programs, etc., pare the ceremony down to its basics. Find a time that you, the Scout, his family and a few of his close Scouting friends are available. Gather at a convenient location–his home, your meeting place, or even a local restaurant. Share stories about his time in Scouting, then go through an informal version of the formal presentation outlined in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, which includes the honoree’s Scouting history, a personal statement from him the Eagle charge, and the presentation of his badge and other tokens.

The whole event might take half an hour, but it would definitely be time well spent. And it might be the first time he realizes that being an Eagle Scout and being in grownup mode are not incompatible.

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


Stay Safe in Your Camp Kitchen


When I’m not writing about Scouting, I often write about health. Recently, however, I’ve been writing about sickness–specifically the sickness caused by antimicrobial resistance, a huge (and hugely under-reported) problem around the world. According to one report, drug-resistant bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites kill 700,000 deaths each year around the world.

This week, as I was reading about all the many places bacteria like Acinetobacter baumannii can hide, I had a flashback to my time as a Scout and the plywood patrol box surface on which we cut up raw chicken and formed hamburger patties. Between doing that and having a sketchy mastery of hand-washing, I’m surprised we didn’t all get violently ill on every outing.

I trust that your troop is a little more conscious of sanitation and food safety than we were back in the day. If not, now’s a good time to get smart.

The BSA’s summer 2017 Health and Safety newsletter offers some helpful information. Among the key reminders you’ll find there:

  • Keep it cold (below 40 degrees), which could mean freezing meat at home or using it all at a campout’s first couple of meals.
  • Keep it clean, which means washing your hands thoroughly before, during, and after cooking and avoiding cross-contamination.
  • Cook it thoroughly, not until you think it’s done (or you’re too hungry to wait any longer). That really means using a digital food thermometer instead of relying on meat color. (You can find these online for $10 or so, although my favorite thermometer, the ThermoPro ChefAlarm, runs a little over $50.)

And while you’re shopping for a digital food thermometer, toss a cutting board in your shopping cart. After all, you don’t know what has been on that patrol box lid–and what might still be there!

For more food safety tips, visit and

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

Rules and Damned Rules


Once upon a time, some officious official told Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell that an idea he’d suggested was against the rules. “Damn the rules!” B-P said. “Call it an experiment!”

I love that story, partly because it hints at B-P’s character but mostly because it illustrates a fundamental truth of Scouting. Even a century removed from its founding, Scouting is still a work in progress. What works for one troop in one community won’t work at all for another troop in another community–or even for the same troop in the same community after a little time has passed.

That’s why I always worry when officious volunteers talk about “the rules.” Now, I’m not talking about the policies found in the Guide to Safe Scouting or the Guide to Advancement; those we must and should follow. I’m talking about the rules Scouters make up along the way, Like saying a Scout must serve as patrol leader before running for senior patrol leader. Or requiring that a Scout must show up in full uniform, complete with dress shoes, for a board of review. Those might be good guidelines, but they shouldn’t be codified as rules.

Part of the challenge is making it clear when you’re quoting a rule and when you’re offering a suggestion. In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, for example, I talk about the “Rule of Thirds,” which says a Scout should earn a third of his way to camp through fundraising, a third of his way through spending his own money, and a third of his way through cash infusions from the Bank of Mom and Dad. A similar rule related to advancement says a Scout should earn a third of his merit badges at summer camp or advancement events, a third from counselors within the troop, and a third from counselors outside the troop. I like both those guidelines and think most Scouts would benefit from following them. However, I would never seek to enforce them like I would enforce Youth Protection rules. They’re really rules of thumb, not rules of law.

What kinds of rules does your troop have? Do people get rules and rules of thumb confused? Do they prevent you from viewing Scouting as the experiment it continues to be? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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

One More Time–Building Connections at Eagle Courts of Honor


When I first became 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.

Now, I have to say this scheme didn’t always work perfectly; occasionally, for example, a family would quickly disengage from the troop after their son became an Eagle Scout at 17 years, 11 months, and 29 days. But it worked well enough that we kept it going for years.

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 in an Eagles’ nest. Whatever you decide to do, find a way to get your previous Eagles involved. After all, the Eagle Scout trail never ends.

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