Have Eagle, Will Travel


At the 2017 National Scout Jamboree, the star of the National Eagle Scout Association exhibit was an American bald eagle from the nearby Three Rivers Avian Center. There’s just something about America’s national bird—and the namesake of the Eagle Scout Award—that captures the attention of people of all ages.

Nature centers and wildlife-rehabilitation groups around the country care for bald eagles that have been injured and can’t live on their own. Many of them are happy to take their eagles on the road in return for modest donations. The visits help them pay the bills while fulfilling their educational missions.

Including a live bald eagle in an Eagle court of honor is a great way to make the court of honor a signature event. While you probably shouldn’t include the bird in the ceremony itself—eagles can be unpredictable and crowds can disturb them—you could make the bird available for visits and photos before the ceremony (to encourage people to arrive early) or during the reception (to give people something to do after they’ve scarfed down their cake).

What have you done to make a court of honor a signature event? Post your story in the comments section below.

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 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.

Scouting Awards: Too Much of a Good Thing?


In my church youth group, I work with a lot of high-achieving high-schoolers, young people who are taking multiple Advanced Placement classes, competing on traveling sports teams, participating in all sorts of other extracurricular activities, and otherwise padding their already impressive resumes. I’ve often thought some of them were going overboard in their relentless pursuit of perfection (to borrow a phrase from Lexus). Now, I may have found proof.

A college counselor friend recently shared the results of a study that compared academic achievement in high school with success in college. Here’s the part that caught my attention:

The study found a strong correlation between students taking up to five college-level courses in high school and their first-year grade point average. More college-level courses–up to five–yielded higher academic performance in college. For students taking six or more college-level courses, gains in first-year GPA were marginal or even negative.

In other words, more is better–but only to a certain point. Students whose lives revolve around AP courses often don’t do as well as those who live more balanced lives during high school. Perhaps it’s because they’re burned out on learning; perhaps it’s because they missed out on more important life lessons in high school than those taught in AP Chemistry.

So what does that all have to do with Scouting? Too often, young people bring their all-AP-all-the-time attitudes to our troops. They spend so much time earning dozens of merit badges and other awards that they miss out on more important life lessons than those taught in Chemistry merit badge. (No offense to the chemists in the audience!)

We can’t stop Scouts from pursuing lots of awards–nor should we slow-walk their requests for merit badge counselors. But we can counsel overachievers at Scoutmaster conferences. And we can ensure our patrol leaders’ councils are planning some activities that lead to more than just badges. And we can praise Scouts for their community service and leadership as loudly as we praise them for earning a boatload of badges.

Studies have shown that Scouts who’ve earned at least 21 merit badges and become Eagle Scouts succeed in life better than non-Scouts. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true of those who’ve earned 71 or 101–especially if that’s all they’ve focused on in Scouting.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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.

Why YOU Shouldn’t Decide When to Cancel Troop Meetings


Here in Kentucky, a winter storm warning is in place and local schools are closed. That means countless other organizations have automatically closed their doors or cancelled their meetings.

Mirroring the schools’ decision is an easy call, but it’s not always the right one. We’ve all seen instances when schools close out of an overabundance of caution or when roads that were snow covered at 6:30 a.m. are clear and dry by 6:30 p.m. What’s more, the factors that lead to school closings–especially bus safety–don’t always apply in other situations.

In my opinion, Scout troops should make their go/no go decisions independently of local schools. That’s not just because of changing weather conditions during the day, however. It’s because making this decision is good practice for your patrol leaders’ council.

And that’s really important. If our mission is to help young people make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law (and it is), we need to take every opportunity we can to let them make important decisions. Now, obviously we aren’t going to let them make those decisions without guidance, but we still need to let them make the call.

Case in point: My Eagle Scout project was to plan a winter blood drive. Because I lived in a small town, that meant bringing in a blood-services crew from three hours away. It started snowing as they were setting up that morning, so I asked the leader of the crew whether she was going to cancel. Her reply was the highlight of my project. “You’re in charge,” she said. “You decide.” (I ended up canceling and rescheduling, by the way.)

As Scout leaders, we need to say those words to our Scouts every chance we get–including when snow threatens a troop meeting.

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.

Double and Triple Billing at Eagle Courts of Honor


I recently participated in a court of honor for two Eagle Scouts, one from my troop and one from another troop. While it’s unusual to have a two-troop court of honor, this one worked really well, with planning and leadership more or less evenly divided between the two units.

But it also got me thinking about something I discuss in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, which is what makes multi-Scout courts of honor work and what can make them fail. The key, I think, is compatibility. The more two or three Scouts have in common, the more likely a joint court of honor will effective.

There are plenty of ways the Scouts could be compatible, but these three are probably the most important:

  • Age: Are the Scouts about the same age? A ceremony featuring a 13-year-old eighth-grader and an 18-year-old who’s home from college for spring break would seem strange.
  • Scouting involvement and commitment: Are the honorees all hard-core Scouts, or did they barely cross the finish line? Either option works better than having a court of honor where two honorees have done the bare minimum and the third has earned 50 merit badges, gone to three high adventure bases, and served as the senior patrol leader for your council’s NYLT course.
  •  Guest lists: At a joint court of honor, would you basically have two or three audiences of widely varying sizes? Or would both sides of the auditorium be equally full.(Of course, assuming all the honorees are from the same troop, you’ll have plenty of overlap among the guest lists, which is a good thing.)

So what’s been your experience with multi-Scout courts of honor? Feel free to post your comments below.

For more great court of honor 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.


How When Affects Who at Eagle Courts of Honor


Many people (including me) like to compare planning an Eagle court of honor with planning a wedding. But there are plenty of differences including–let’s hope!–cost.

One big difference is when the events occur. You don’t have to go to very many weddings to realize that Saturday is the most popular day of the week for people to get hitched. One study found that seven out of 10 weddings occur on Saturdays, and I’d bet most of the rest occur on Friday evenings or Sunday afternoons.

Courts of honor, on the other hand, can occur just about any time during the week. Some troops hold them in lieu of their regular troop meetings, which probably means a weeknight. Other troops follow the wedding model and focus on weekends.

There’s no right answer here, but it’s important to think about how when affects who. If the honoree’s family is hoping for a lot of out-of-town guests, a Saturday is probably the best option since it allows for travel time. If they want to fill the chairs with current troop members, it probably makes sense to hold the ceremony at the same time (and place) as your troop meetings.

So when you start planning your next court of honor, start with the guest list. Thinking about who will help you make a better decision about when.

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.


A Six-Pack of Great Eagle Scout Opportunities


With much of North America stuck in the deep freeze, this is a good time to remember Paul Siple, the Eagle Scout who co-developed the concept of wind-chill factor. Siple’s other claim to fame is that he accompanied Admiral Richard Byrd on an Antarctic expedition in 1928 as an official Scouting representative.

Six years ago, the National Eagle Scout Association revived the concept of sending Eagle Scouts along on scientific expeditions with what’s called the NESA World Explorers Program. This year, Eagle Scouts who are 18 or older can apply for trips to six different locations:

  • The Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador (biology)
  • The Galapagos Islands (biology)
  • Mammoth Cave National Park (speleology)
  • Yellowstone National Park (astrobiology)
  • Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota (ornithology)
  • The Judith River Dinosaur Institute in Montana (paleontology)

These trips are underwritten by NESA, although participants bear some costs. And they are real research trips, not just glorified vacations.

To apply, interested Eagle Scouts must complete an online application form and submit a 250-word essay by January 22. They must also be majoring or working in a related scientific field.

If you have Scouts with a scientific bent, this is a great opportunity for them to explore their passion–and to discover how being an Eagle Scout opens doors throughout adulthood. For more information, visit the World Explorers Program webpage.

Oh, and about Paul Siple. Don’t blame him when you feel cold. He didn’t invent wind chill; he just gave it a name!

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.