Under the Wings of Eagles


The purpose of Eagle Scout courts of honor is obviously to honor new Eagle Scouts, but the best courts of honor do more than that. They also recognize those who have helped the honoree along the trail to Eagle–and give a nod to those who will follow in his footsteps.

That last part happened in a very cool ceremony one of my readers told me about.

At a court of honor he attended, two Webelos Scouts participated in the ceremony. These boys served as Eagle rank bearers, similar to ring bearers in a wedding, bringing the Eagle badge forward at the appropriate moment.

That was impressive, but what really impressed my correspondent was what the new Eagle Scout said during the ceremony. He explained that when he had been a Cub Scout, his den chief had been an Eagle Scout and had encouraged, guided, and coached him throughout his Scouting career. In the same spirit, he was taking these Webelos Scouts under his wing and including them in his court of honor. He challenged the Eagle Scouts following him to do the same thing.

I’m sure the audience was impressed that this Scout would think of other people during his moment in the spotlight. I’m also sure that those two Webelos Scouts got a huge boost from participating in the ceremony.

How can you make sure your next court of honor celebrates more than the honoree?

For more 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.


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

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



A Scout by Any Other Name …


A decade or so ago, I taught at the Philmont Training Center with my friend Barry Bingham of the Greater St. Louis Area Council. One of the points Barry made to our participants that week was that we should stop using the word “boy.” His reasoning was simple: For African American males, being called a boy has long-rooted, negative connotations. Moreover, few 16- and 17-year-old males of any race like to be called boys; young men is preferable. (I took that lesson to heart when I wrote The Troop Leader Guidebook, choosing the term “youth leader” over “boy leader” whenever possible.)

Well, Barry got his wish this week, although in a way neither of us could have imagined that summer at PTC. With the pending addition of girls (effective Feb. 1, 2019), the iconic Boy Scout program will become Scouts BSA. The name change was announced on May 2, along with the unveiling of the new Scout Me In marketing campaign. (Note that the Boy Scouts of America will remain the Boy Scouts of America.)

I think the name change makes sense, although I agree with William Shakespeare, who once said, “A Scout by any other name would smell as bad after a weekend in the woods.” Or something like that.

Two other points come to mind. First, it’s a good problem to have when an organization outlives its name. I’m sure AT&T is glad that it survived the telegraph era (the second T in its name), something many of its competitors didn’t. And I’m sure AARP has been more successful since it stopped being known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

Second, labels are ultimately irrelevant if organizations are ineffective–and vice versa. If you run a great program, it really doesn’t matter what that program is called. Case in point: A couple of jamborees ago, I saw a group of girls in bright pink T-shirts that read, “Yes, I Am a Boy Scout.” (They were actually Venturers, but you get the point.)

So revel in the new name–or revolt against it. But then roll up your sleeves and make your troop the best show in town.

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.


The Legend of the Rose


Reader Jodi Brady shared one of her troop’s traditions with me recently, and I’d like to pass it on to you.

Near the end of each Eagle court of honor, the Scoutmaster reads the Legend of the Rose while the new Eagle Scout presents his mother with seven red roses in a vase. So what’s this legend of which I speak? Here’s the text Brady’s troop uses:

Throughout Scouting’s history, the rose has been associated with the presentation of the Eagle.

The path of a boy from Scout to Eagle is long and often times hard. He does not travel the “Trail To Eagle” alone. Many people have been involved with him in his process.

There is one person in particular that is honored in addition to the Eagle Scout. That person is his mother.

From that first overnight campout to the pinning on of his Eagle, she has shared the adventures of Scouting with her son in a special way.

With her guidance and encouragement, she has helped her son achieve a goal many fail to reach.

She has watched her son mature from a young boy to a young man with a purpose to his life.

She has been there to share his excitement of camping and hiking with his brother Scouts. She has washed load after load of dirty clothes brought home from camping trips. Most important of all, she has been there for her son when the going got rough and spirits low, as only a mother can. Her love has been an important ingredient in her son’s achievement.

We honor her today with the presentation of seven red roses, each rose a symbol of rank in the seven ranks of Scouting.

I love that tradition, and I love how Brady’s troop has modified it to fit particular situations. For example, Brady herself was a single mom for many years, so her husband (the Scoutmaster) gave her 12 roses to represent the years she and her son had done Scouting together.

That tweak brings up an important point about traditions: You should modify them–or break them altogether–if they aren’t effective. I can envision all sorts of situations where the Legend of the Rose might feel more like a fairytale. But if the words fit, use them. And don’t forget to stop by the flower shop on the way to the court of honor!

For more 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.

What Happens When We Assume


Several years ago, I helped restart the Cub Scout pack at my church. That work put me and other experienced Scouters face to face with kids and parents who know little if anything about Scouting.

One thing that fascinated me was seeing how much we experienced Scouters assumed that people knew. The most obvious example was the way we tossed about jargon without giving any explanation. And I’m not just talking about acronyms (although those are a problem); I’m talking about words like “district” and “council” that have specific definitions in Scouting.

But the problem goes deeper than that. After one of our organizational meetings, I realized that we’d never talked with new pack families about the purposes, methods, and values of Cub Scouting. We’d just assumed people know.

So what’s the takeaway for your troop? When new families come through the door—whether off the street or from a Webelos den—we need to explain Boy Scouting again like it’s the very first time. Tell them about the aims and methods. Show them a troop organizational chart. Refer them to resources where they can learn more about Scouting.

Whatever you do, don’t assume. As the old saying goes, when you assume, you just make an ass out of you and me.

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.


Anecdotes at Eagle Courts of Honor, Part 2


Recently I posted ideas for developing anecdotes to share at Eagle courts of honor. As I said in that post, effective anecdotes can help you create a compelling, 3-D portrait of your honoree, showing that he’s more than a sum of badges earned and service projects completed.

The ideas in that post are useful if you’re the one telling the anecdote. But what if you’re the ceremony planner or master of ceremonies? Besides sharing that post with people you invite (or grudgingly allow!) to speak, what else can you do?

The first thing to do is lay down clear ground rules. Don’t just have an open-mic session where anyone can come up and say anything they want. Instead, encourage–or require–each speaker to write at least an outline of the story they want to tell. And keep the emphasis on the story; someone who can’t settle on a single story will likely tell one pretty good story and two that are pretty pointless.

If you worry about longwindeness, give people a time limit. In terms of word count, speakers generally talk at a speed of 125 or 150 words per minute, a rule of thumb that can help people plan their remarks.

If you are selecting speakers ahead of time, consider asking each of them to cover one particular aspect of the Scout’s life, such as his days as a new Scout, his experience at Philmont, his service as senior patrol leader, and his Eagle project. By assigning topics, you ensure that the stories won’t overlap.

If you offer an open-mic opportunity, consider limiting the total number of speakers. It’s a good idea to announce at the start of the ceremony that people will have the opportunity to tell stories so they can think ahead. And it’s definitely a good idea for the emcee to hover nearby as people speak, making it easier to subtly cut them off if they get long-winded.

Finally, consider creating a memory box or album where guests who don’t want to speak during the ceremony can write their stories. Some people are more comfortable sharing their memories this way–and the stories they tell may well stay with the honoree longer.

For more ideas, check out my new 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.