What’s Behind Door Number 12?


My troop meets at a big church. It’s not a megachurch by any means, but people have been known to lose their way down some its many hallways.

To help people navigate better, the church recently installed large numbers next to each of the building’s 12 entrances. Those numbers are designed primarily for first-responders, but they’ll undoubtedly prove helpful to people delivering pizza to the youth group, to friends trying to connect before a Christmas concert, and to anyone else who’s unfamiliar with the building–including people attending Eagle courts of honor held there.

Although most people who attend Eagle courts of honor are the usual suspects (troop members and their families), your invitation list should be much broader. As I discuss in The Eagle Court of Honor Book, you or the family should invite the honoree’s school friends, members of his extended family, representatives of the organization that benefited from his project and anyone else you can think of who would want to help celebrate his accomplishment. Many, if not most, of those people won’t know whether the court of honor is behind door number 1, 2, or 12, which means your invitations need to be as specific as possible.

This is not just an issue when the building you’re using is as large as ours. Even in a small building, you’ll want to direct people to the best entrance, taking into consideration which doors will be unlocked on the day of the ceremony and where stairs might cause a problem for those with mobility issues. Even if you love hiking as much as I do, you shouldn’t make your guests take a hike before settling in to enjoy your court of honor!

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.”


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

The Question of Court of Honor Gifts


I recently came home from a beach vacation with my family. We had a great time, in part because of the service provided by those who hauled our luggage, served us in restaurants, and cleaned the house we were renting. Of course, we did our best to provide appropriate tips, even though we weren’t always sure when tips were appropriate.

You’ve probably been in similar situations. You know you should tip your restaurant server. But what about the cashier at a quick-service restaurant? (There’s a tip jar by the cash register, after all.) What about tour guides? What about tram drivers? What about valet parking attendants (assuming they don’t dent your car!)? There are plenty of gray areas where most people struggle with knowing how to apply the rules of etiquette.

The same is true for gift-giving. Everybody (hopefully) knows to bring a gift to a wedding. But what about an anniversary party?

And what about an Eagle court of honor?

Gifts are nice but certainly not required. But do the people you’re inviting to your next court of honor know that? Will someone be embarrassed because she’s the only person to bring a gift or–perhaps worse–will someone skip the ceremony because he isn’t sure what’s appropriate?

I think the best way to resolve this dilemma is to address it up front. Simply include language like this with the invitation:

  • No gifts, please. Your presence is a gift.


  • Bobby requests any gifts go to the Metropolitan Food Bank, the beneficiary of his Eagle Scout project.

People coming to courts of honor have plenty of questions to consider–what to wear, where to park, how long the ceremony will last. Don’t make them also wonder and worry about the question of gifts.

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.

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

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

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


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