The Indispensable Scouter


Here in Louisville this week, news outlets have been full of stories about John Schnatter, founder and namesake of Papa John’s Pizza. The impetus was a Forbes magazine story (which Schantter has since corroborated) that the pizza magnate used racially charged language on a conference call this spring. In the wake of that revelation, Schnatter resigned from the University of Louisville’s board and stepped down as chairman of the company he founded. At the same time all sorts of organizations that have received charitable donations from him are reassessing their relationship with him. Ditto for organizations that have marketing arrangements with Papa John’s Pizza. (Such are the pitfalls of naming a company after a living person; far better, perhaps, to use Washington or Lincoln!)

So what’s the Scouting connection? As far as I know, Schnatter doesn’t have a connection with Scouting, although his company has been very supportive of our local council over the years.

But I think there is a connection. When any organization is tied too closely to a single individual, the organization will suffer if that individual royally screws up. And moral failings aren’t the only risk. What happens, for example, when a business owner dies without having a succession plan in place? Or what happens to a Scout troop when its Scoutmaster, the linchpin of the whole organization, is suddenly transferred to the other end of the country?

These days, troops around the country are celebrating their 50th, 75th, and even 100th anniversaries. While I don’t know their individual stories, I’m sure one thing unites them: None of them has had an “indispensable” man or woman as Scoutmaster. Instead, they’ve been led by Scoutmasters who now how important it is to build a strong leadership team that can survive the loss of any one person.

If your troop has an “indispensable” person as Scoutmaster (or really in any position), now’s the time to start making plans for his or her eventual departure. Volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook will help you get started. And if you are your troop’s “indispensable” leader, I encourage you to read and reflect on the old poem “Indispensable Man.” You may discover that you aren’t that “indispensable” after all.

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


Help Your Troop and Philmont


I’m an unabashed fan of Philmont Scout Ranch and watched with much trepidation the progress of the Ute Park fire just before the 2018 season was scheduled to begin. Like many Philmont alumni, I felt powerless to do anything to help the situation, short of donate to the Philmont Staff Association’s Ute Park Fire Relief Fund, which I was happy to do.

But there’s another way to help Philmont that can benefit both the ranch and your troop.

Since Philmont had to cancel the first half of the backcountry season, it ended up with twice as many trail meals as it needs. And despite jokes about pemmican bars having the same half-life as uranium, these meals really do have expiration dates. So Philmont is selling the extra meals online through Tooth of Time Traders, its award-winning outdoor retailer. Breakfasts are $7.50, while lunches and dinners are $8.50. (Each meal feeds two people.) There are 10 options per meal, so you can mix and match to your heart’s desire. (Click here to see all the menus.)

I’ve often recommended these meals as a great option for Philmont shakedown hikes. (The ranch sells excess inventory at the end of each season.) But they’d work equally well for day hikes or weekend campouts when you want to leave the patrol boxes and Dutch ovens behind. In fact, I could go for a Blueberry Buzz Bar or some Strawberry Bolt Energy Chews right now!

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

Safety in Numbers


As we headed home from a recent church youth trip, one of the van drivers sent out an alert via GroupMe that he was the only adult in his van. His assigned copilot had ended up in the wrong van, leaving him technically in violation of the church’s Safe Sanctuaries policy (think Youth Protection for youth groups), which requires two unrelated adults in each vehicle. So we all stopped at the next interstate exit, got everybody in the right seats, and continued on our way.

Policies like that can seem like overkill–until something happens. In our case, we came home to learn that the married owners of a local youth dance school had just been arrested for sexual abuse of one of their students. Two girls on our trip were also students at that school and knew the victim.

You’ve probably heard the old saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I think it’s equally true that eternal vigilance is the price of safety for the young people we serve. Short of extreme emergencies, we shouldn’t cut corners or take shortcuts–even if that means recruiting a reluctant volunteer to spend a night at summer camp or making an unscheduled stop on the interstate.

It’s also essential that we keep up with changes to BSA policies, including an important one that’s taking effect this fall. Here’s the language from the BSA’s updated Family Scouting FAQ document:

Effective, October 1, 2018, two registered adult leaders 21 years of age or over are required at all Scouting activities, including meetings. There must be a registered female adult leader over 21 in every unit serving females. A registered female adult leader over 21 must be present for any activity involving female youth. Notwithstanding the minimum leader requirements, age- and program-appropriate supervision must always be provided.

Note the explicit inclusion of meetings here, as well as the fact that 18- to 20-year-olds will no longer count for two-deep leadership.

As Scouters, we have no higher purpose than to keep our Scouts safe. And that takes eternal vigilance.

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

Scramble, Be Flexible


On June 4, 2018, the leadership at Philmont Scout Ranch made the difficult but inevitable decision to cancel much of its 2018 season. You can read the details here and here, but basically they cancelled the first half of the season for backcountry treks and the first two weeks of conferences at the Philmont Training Center. (NAYLE is not affected because of its location on the ranch.) Staff members are making calls to crew advisors and PTC participants to let them know what their options are.

According to my back-of-the-envelope math, this decision affects more than 10,000 Scouts and leaders who are suddenly faced with deep disappointment and one or two open weeks on their calendars. I can’t imagine what they’re going through–and I don’t in any way want to trivialize what they face–but it seems to me that they have the chance to teach their Scouts some life lessons nearly as powerful as those they would have learned on the trails at Philmont.

The most notable of those is what happens when life hands you lemons. And that’s a lesson we can all teach in our troops. While your troops’ plans may never be disrupted by a devastating wildfire, they will at some point or another be disrupted by a canceled flight, bad weather, a key leader’s sudden unavailability for a trip, or excessive snow days that push the school calendar far into June. How you as a Scouter deal with those disruptions will help prepare your Scouts for the individual challenges they will face throughout life.

And it’s here that we can learn from the staff at Philmont. When 1,100 seasonal staff had to evacuate base camp due to the Ute Park FIre, they didn’t scatter to the four winds or take their backpacks and go home. Instead, they moved 25 miles down the road to Springer, N.M., where they pitched tents and kept going with their training. According to one report I read, they even found time to do a service project by picking up trash around town. You can learn more about their experience in this great blog post from a Philmont Ranger.

Speaking of Rangers, their watchword is “Scramble, Be Flexible,” something they and their colleagues will be doing big time this season. If you help your troop adopt that watchword when plans go awry, you will give your Scouts a priceless gift.

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


Gently Down the Scouting STREAM


One of my Eagle Scouts from years ago posted something on Facebook recently that got my attention. It dealt with the evolution of STEM education, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math and which has been a big area of emphasis in Scouting in recent years. Chris’s post talked about how some people in education circles have added arts and, in faith-based schools, religion to the mix, turning STEM into STEAM and now STREAM. The idea is to create graduates who are well rounded and whose worldviews have an ethical and moral basis.

When you think about it, this is pretty much what Scouting has been doing since day one. It’s the rare Scout who doesn’t earn merit badges related to both the sciences and the arts, and of course duty to God is embedded in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. (Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, once said, “There is no religious side to the movement; the whole of it is based on religion, that is on the realization and service of God.”)

Several years ago, the National Catholic Educational Association began putting a lot of emphasis on STREAM learning. It also created a set of 10 goals of STREAM. Although these goals are specific to parochial education, they align pretty well with what Scouting does, especially these four:

  • To promote a climate of innovation in all areas of instruction
  • To inspire the participation of student populations who are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences and the arts
  • To foster a climate that encourages problem solving, group collaboration, student-directed learning, and independent research
  • To understand that success is defined in multiple ways and can and does occur in many different types of schools and learning environments

So why does what’s going on in schools matter to us as Scout leaders? As I’ve said before on this blog, many families choose youth activities based on what they think their kids will learn from them, not just based on what might be fun for their kids. While you and I might assume people will understand why we do what we do in Scouting, that’s not always the case. Talking about concepts like STEM, STEAM, and STREAM could convince some people to choose, and stick with, Scouting.

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

Skills for Life


We’ve probably all met Little League dads and soccer moms who are totally convinced that their kids are on the fast track to full-ride scholarships, pro contracts, and lucrative shoe deals. But I’m convinced that most parents have a clearer-eyed view of sports. They understand, to paraphrase a NCAA tagline, that most kids are going to go pro in something other than sports. (In fact, just 0.08 percent of college athletes will sign pro contracts.) Smart parents see youth sports as a venue for kids to learn discipline, teamwork, perseverance, and other virtues while having fun and being physically active, not as a ticket to fame and fortune.

So how do parents see Scouting? We Scouters know that our mission is to prepare young people to make ethical choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law, but do people outside Scouting know this? I’m not sure they always do. I’m not sure they see how the specialized skills we teach–Dutch oven cooking, anyone?–translate to success in high school and beyond.

I started thinking about this question recently when a friend shared an amazing video from the Scout Association in the UK. Without words, this video clearly demonstrates how Scouting teaches skills for life, as the tagline promises.

I encourage you to watch the video and then to think about ways you can share its message with prospective and current parents in your troop. If you don’t help them see how Scouting teaches skills for life, they’re all too likely to view Scouting as just another option for their kids, perhaps one that’s inferior to those they know are associated with values like discipline, teamwork, and perseverance.

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

Where Does Scouting Go From Here?


This week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its decision to stop chartering Scouting units beginning on Jan. 1, 2020. The decision wasn’t unexpected–church leaders had signaled as much when they announced a year ago that they were dropping Venturing–but it is still sending shockwaves through much of the BSA. And it’s certainly a big deal for us to lose nearly 20 percent of our Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Coming on the heels of decisions to admit girls and gay youths and adults, the announcement has some people predicting that the end is near for the BSA.

I respectfully disagree. At the same time that many people are understandably concerned, others are understandably excited. The influx of girls is bringing new energy to Cub Scouting, and I’m sure the earlier decisions on gay members and leaders have improved Scouting’s image in the eyes of countless people who would otherwise have avoided the organization. (To cite just one statistic, 54 percent of Christians and 83 percent of religiously unaffiliated people say homosexuality should be accepted by society.)

As I’ve thought recently about where the BSA is and where it’s going, I’ve been reminded of the history of Philmont Scout Ranch, one of my favorite places on the planet. In 1939, deep in the Great Depression, the BSA opened what was then called the Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp on 35,857 acres donated by oilman Waite Phillips. Two years later, as America faced the prospect of entering World War II, Philmont expanded to 127,395 acres, thanks to an additional gift from Phillips (a gift that also included the VIlla Philmonte and an office tower in Tulsa, Oklahoma). And in 1963, in the midst of another turbulent decade in American history, Norton Clapp added 10,098 acres to the property, which brought much of Baldy Mountain within Philmont’s boundaries.

Phillips, Clapp, and Chief Scout Executive James E. West were visionary leaders, men who knew the dark clouds would soon part. I think we have visionary leaders today. But I also think the future lies in the hands of ordinary Scouters like you and me.

At the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in 2013, past BSA President Rex Tillerson talked about how the decision on admitting gay members marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Then he said this:

“Now, there’s another train about to leave. I know where this train’s going. This train’s going where there’s millions of kids that want to be served. This train’s going where we’re going to save lives. We’re going to reach in there and save children from their poor conditions. We’re going to serve kids and make the leaders of tomorrow, millions of them. That’s where this train’s going. I need — we need — every one of you to be on that train. The main thing to remember is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is to serve more youth.”

All aboard!

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