Don’t Fence Your Scouts In


I recently spent a week serving as conference chair at the Philmont Training Center, which is the home of the BSA’s best training programs and best family vacations. (By the way, you can now enjoy the vacation part of PTC without the training part, thanks to the new Family Adventure Camp offering.)

When I was visiting one of the week’s conferences, I got to hear a presentation from a Philmont wildlife biologist about bears, mountain lions, and other animals that live at the ranch. One bit of trivia: pronghorns, the antelope-like mammals found all over Philmont, are very fast runners but very bad jumpers. Unlike the ranch’s mule deer, they can’t jump fences, so they either duck under a fence’s bottom strand of barbed wire or get stuck where they are. That’s why the U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommends putting the bottom row of wire 16 inches above the ground.

Later in the week, my wife and I drove through a couple of neighboring ranches and saw several small herds of pronghorns trying to get from one side of the road to another. Often, they would have to run half a mile along a fenceline to find a gap they could go through.

I think there’s an important lesson here for us Scout leaders. All too often, we erect fences between where our Scouts are and where they’re trying to get to. Maybe we don’t clearly communicate campout details and deadlines. Maybe we make them jump through hoops to schedule Scoutmaster conferences. Maybe we add requirements that aren’t BSA sanctioned (like full uniforms at boards of review). When we do that, they either run out of their way to find a path forward or they simply run in the other direction toward an activity they perceive is more welcoming.

What fences have you erected in your troop? How could you create more gates and less barricades.

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

Fun Facts at Eagle Courts of Honor


A friend of mine is a church music director, and so he attends a lot of weddings. Whenever someone asks what he thought of a particular wedding, he says, “It was beautiful. I cried.” A stock response is often appropriate since weddings can take on a sameness that hides the personality of the happy couple. Unless you know the bride and groom well, you can go home knowing little more about them than you did when you arrived.

The same thing is true of Eagle courts of honor. That’s why I’ve always advocated making each ceremony as personal and unique as possible.

At a recent wedding rehearsal dinner I attended, I saw a new way to do that. On every table were two sheets of paper: one labeled, “What You Didn’t Know About Him,” the other labeled, “What You Didn’t Know About Her.” What followed were seven fun facts about each person: favorite movie, favorite day of the week (and why), what TV show he or she makes the other person watch, etc. It was a great way to add some personality to the festivities.

You could do the same thing at your next court of honor. Interview your honoree to gather some facts about him that won’t find their way into the ceremony: favorite merit badge, coldest campout, hardest merit badge, favorite sport, post-high-school plans, etc. Print them up on cards and spread them around the tables at your reception.

Your guests will enjoy learning a little more about your honoree. And who knows? They may even go home saying, “It was beautiful. I cried. And I learned something.”

What? You don’t have a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book yet? Click the title to order one now in either print or Kindle format. When you do, I think you’ll agree with the reader who said, “The information is insightful and a welcome addition for our parents preparing for their sons’ ceremony. It is well organized and easy to follow. It flows like a river.”