Scouting News from the Internet

The Philmont Hymn: The enchanting tale behind Philmont’s official song

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Philmont is a land of starlit skies, aspen-covered hills and wind in whisp’ring pines.

That’s how John Westfall, who wrote “The Philmont Hymn,” described the Scouting paradise in New Mexico.

Westfall was a teenager in 1945 when he wrote the song. He had just finished a Philmont trip, and the beauty of this hiking high-adventure base inspired him.

Seven decades later, everyone who visits Philmont learns Westfall’s tune. It’s sung in those meditative moments as the campfire fades and Scouts reflect on the day that was.

Back in civilization, those who have conquered Philmont find themselves humming “The Philmont Hymn” for weeks and months later. It is the official song of Philmont Scout Ranch.

This is the story of how Westfall wrote “The Philmont Hymn.”

A Jamboree dream

John Benton Westfall was born on Sept. 7, 1927, in Kansas City, Mo.

In 1945, Westfall was a member of the Explorer post in Independence, Kan. — part of what was then the BSA’s SeKan Council and is now the Quivira Council.

Westfall and some of his fellow Explorers wanted to attend the World Scout Jamboree in 1947 in France. There was just one problem: He’d have to come up with the $200 registration fee in less than a year. (That’s more than $2,700 in 2017 dollars.)

In his job working the soda fountain at Utter’s Drug Store, Westfall made just 20 cents an hour ($2.72 an hour in 2017 dollars). Westfall’s parents didn’t have the means to pay, either.

With the Jamboree no longer an option, Westfall’s post shifted its focus from Europe to New Mexico.

This “Plan B” turned into the summer of a lifetime.

To Philmont by train

For Westfall, the summer of 1945 was packed with Scouting fun.

In the first part of the summer, he and some buddies worked at Camp Cauble in Benedict, Kan. Westfall, 17 at the time, was in charge of the nature area. He taught bird study, zoology and more.

When summer camp season ended, Westfall and his Explorer post hopped on the train for Philmont.

They took a train from Independence to Newton, Kan. There they boarded the Santa Fe Chief train, which took them to Raton, N.M.

(These days, the Amtrak Southwest Chief follows that same route, with Scouts still disembarking for Philmont at the station in Raton.)

In Raton, Westfall and his post were taken by bus to Philmont.

‘Purple mountains rise’

These young men from Kansas — where what qualifies for a mountain is just 4,039 feet high — were awestruck. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, part of the Rockies, loomed before them at more than 13,000 feet.

Someone pointed out the Tooth of Time, and the Explorers immediately said “let’s hike that.”

During his time at Philmont, Westfall camped, hiked and rode horses. He visited the same spots frequented by many of today’s Philmont participants — places like Abreu, Fish Camp, Cimarroncito and Rayado.

Through it all, Philmont’s natural beauty formed an indelible impression.

The guys were on a hike to Cypher’s Mine when Westfall dug out a scrap of paper and jotted down a poem.

That night, he read it to a friend. The friend liked it but thought it needed some music. Westfall put the piece of paper into his pocket and forgot about it …

Finding a rhythm

… until he was on the train headed home.

It was from his seat on the Santa Fe Chief that Westfall added a tune to his words.

“The rhythm in ‘The Philmont Hymn’ is not really the clip-clop of the heels of the horses, but rather it is the click-clack of the train wheels as they passed over the breaks in the rails,” Westfall later said.

Wesftall named his song “Silver on the Sage” — the tune’s first four words.

Silver on the sage,
Starlit skies above,
Aspen covered hills,
Country that I love.

Philmont here’s to thee,
Scouting paradise,
Out in God’s country, tonight

Wind in whispering pines,
Eagles soaring high,
Purple mountains rise,
Against an azure sky.

Philmont here’s to thee,
Scouting paradise,
Out in God’s country tonight.

A song in hibernation

Westfall didn’t think much about Philmont — or his song — over the next two years. He enrolled at what is now Pittsburg State University, where he would earn a degree in psychology.

In the spring of 1947, when he began thinking about a summer job, his thoughts returned to Philmont.

He applied for a summer position but was rejected in a devastatingly stark form letter.

“The job you applied for has been filled by a Scout who has more experience in the area of interest listed,” it read.

Westfall was confused. He wasn’t asked to list any experience on his application, so how could that be?

Undeterred, Westfall took a train to Tulsa, Okla., and marched straight to the office of the man who wrote the letter.

He presented himself, unannounced, to Jim Fitch, who worked for Phillips Properties and managed the Philmont staff.

‘You have a job’

Fitch liked Westfall’s persistence. How could he not?

“Young man, you are the first to question that letter,” Fitch told him. “If you want on the Philmont staff that badly, show up on June 9, and you have a job.”

Westfall arrived at Philmont at 7:30 p.m. June 5, 1947.

After a staff meeting, Westfall told Clarence Dunn, who directed the ranger staff, about “Silver on the Sage.”

Dunn asked him to sing it at the staff breakfast the next morning. It was a hit.

Westfall was the lone staffer working at the backcountry camp called Cimarron Bench (now called Visto Grande). He got a tent, some cooking supplies, tools and a burro named Henry.

Around the campfire

For the Philmont crews that stopped at Westfall’s camp, the evening campfire was the highlight of the day.

They sat in a circle as Westfall listened to stories of their treks. He told his own stories, too, like the time a mountain lion entered Cimarron Bench camp, ate some scraps of food and then screamed. Westfall, watching from his tent, was too scared to even move.

As the campfire faded each night, Westfall taught the hikers “Silver on the Sage.”

The Scouts and Explorers loved it, singing and humming it the rest of the trip. The song’s legendary status grew and grew as more Scouts learned it.

An ode to Philmont

Westfall’s song continued to spread and eventually was renamed “The Philmont Hymn,” the ranch’s official song.

The song’s success is about more than its simple elegance. It became popular because of its origin story. Because it was written by a young man who fell in love with Philmont.

After graduating college, Westfall spent 11 years as a Scouting professional in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.

He then worked for Phillips Petroleum until he retired in 1985. He continued to serve on his local Scout council’s board and was a member of the Philmont Staff Association.

Westfall died May 8, 2009, in Bartlesville, Okla. He was 81.

His song — and the touching story behind it — live on every time a young person ventures “out in God’s country.”

Philmont Hymn sheet music

Top photo by Skyler Ballard/PhilNews

My source for the above was the 1988 book High Adventure Among the Magic Mountains: Philmont, the First 50 Years, by Minor S. Huffman.

Thanks to Nettie Francis and Matt Rendahl for the story idea.

Why you should designate 1 responsible person to be a water watcher

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If everybody’s in charge of watching kids in the water, that usually means nobody is watching.

By selecting a single, responsible adult to be in charge of supervision, you could prevent drownings and save lives.

Designate a water watcher — at both Scouting and non-Scouting events — whenever you’re in, on or around water.

Why not use the team approach? Same reason that, in an emergency, you don’t say “someone call 911!” You point to a specific person and say, “you, call 911!”

Assigning one person to the task means it’ll get done.

The reminder comes from Water Safety USA, a roundtable of nonprofit and governmental organizations committed to preventing drownings. The BSA is one of 13 founding members of Water Safety USA. Others include the American Red Cross, the National Park Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the USA Swimming Foundation and the YMCA.

Each year, Water Safety USA selects one simple, vital message to be its focus. For 2017, it’s this: “Designate a water watcher — supervision could save a life.”

What does a water watcher do?

In addition to the obvious — constant, attentive supervision — a water watcher should:

  • Emphasize prevention first by encouraging safe activities and stopping any unsafe or risky behaviors.
  • Provide “touch supervision” — being close enough to reach the child at all times — for children who are non-swimmers or who lack water competency skills.
  • Pay constant attention — undistracted and not involved in any other activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone or mowing the lawn) while supervising children.
  • Ensure that multiple barriers of drowning prevention are in place, including:
    • Everyone learning how to swim.
    • Fencing to prevent unintended access to pools or bodies of water.
    • People on site who know how to rescue someone and initiate CPR.
    • Access to a phone to call 911.
Who makes a good water watcher?

Someone who:

  • is 16 years old or older (adults preferred).
  • is alert and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • has the skills, knowledge, and ability to recognize and rescue someone in distress OR can immediately alert a capable adult nearby.
  • knows CPR or can alert someone nearby who knows CPR.
  • has a working phone to dial 911.
  • has a floating and/or reaching object that can be used in a rescue.
What about lifeguards?

They’re literal lifesavers, but you still need a water watcher even if one or more lifeguards is present.

Drowning can happen — often quickly and quietly — even in the presence of lifeguards.

For more information

Visit Water Safety USA and the BSA Aquatics page.

4 ways the BSA is strengthening its relationships with schools

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In many cities and towns, the mission to grow Scouting begins at schools.

That’s where lots of young people first learn about the Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops of which their classmates are members.

The alignment is natural and robust. Scouting and schools emphasize civics, preparedness and service to the community.

Ready to strengthen the relationship between Scouting and schools in your area? The BSA has several resources to help.

Here’s a look at four of these tools — some new, some revised to meet modern needs.

1. Adopt-A-School

The BSA’s Adopt-A-School program often is the first step in connecting Scout units with schools.

Units make a minimum one-year commitment to partner with school administrations and offer the volunteer services that most effectively meet the school’s needs.

Here’s what this often looks like: In exchange for meeting space and other support from the school, Scout units complete at least four service projects to beautify the school inside and out.

The school and surrounding community benefit greatly, and units get service hours that count toward Journey to Excellence progress. It is the very definition of “win-win.”

Learn more: At the Adopt-A-School site.

2. Outstanding Educator Award

The Elbert K. Fretwell Outstanding Educator Award is a new BSA award with real potential to result in membership growth.

It’s named after the professor of education at Columbia University who became the BSA’s second Chief Scout Executive, succeeding James E. West.

The Outstanding Educator Award — also referred to as the Fretwell Award — is presented to teachers, educational support staff and school administrators who instill Scouting values in their students. It recognizes a person’s work for students in his or her professional role — not for what the person does directly for Scouting.

The award can be presented at the district, council, area, regional and national levels. There’s no minimum or maximum number of awards that can be presented per school year. That said, a good guideline is one award per year per school.

Learn more: In this implementation guidebook (PDF).

3. Report to the School District

Each year, the BSA sends a group of impressive young men and women to Washington, D.C., to present the Report to the Nation. The report, mandated in the BSA’s 1916 charter, is basically a Scouting good-news tour. The delegates meet with several key officials to tell them about the accomplishments of Scouts from the previous year.

Many BSA councils also organize a Report to the State trip. Same idea, different scale.

Report to the School District follows this pattern. Scouts meet with district leaders to tell them how Scouting supports the community. This is a great way to promote Scouting and renew relationships with schools.

It’s an opportunity to highlight and share the ways Scouting affects the local school district.

Learn more: In this Report to the School District Guide (PDF).

4. School Access Training Module

The phrase “school access” means something different in almost every school district.

It may be:

  • The ability to send home a message with prospective Cub Scouts.
  • The opportunity for a BSA representative to talk to a group of prospective Cub Scouts at school.
  • The use of a school facility.

A 50-minute training module tells volunteers what they should know about schools to optimize access, what the law says about school access, three examples of responding to school access challenges, and proven practices for building relationships with school personnel.

The module can be done as a stand-alone session or as a part of a “day of training” course.

Learn more: In this training module (PDF).

Traveling out of state? Know the laws about cellphone use behind the wheel

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Texting while driving is more than simply unsafe.

In 46 states and the District of Columbia, it’s against the law. That includes all four states that are home to BSA high-adventure bases: Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico and West Virginia.

Talking on a handheld cellphone while driving is banned in 14 states and the District of Columbia. West Virginia — home to the Summit Bechtel Reserve and the 2017 National Jamboree — is on that list, too.

This reminder comes as many Boy Scout troops, Venturing crews and Sea Scout ships prepare to hit the road for summer Scouting adventures.

Bottom line: Before you go, learn the laws.

Texting while driving laws

Click the map to be taken to a state-by-state table.

If your trip takes you into one of the 46 states with a texting ban, a violation could cost you between $20 and $300 for a first offense.

Driving to the 2017 Jamboree? The list includes West Virginia and all five states that surround it.

Plus, the BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting has, for some time, forbidden Scout leaders from texting while driving.

Drivers must refrain from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Text messaging while driving is prohibited. Hands-free units are acceptable but must be used sparingly while driving.

That means even if you drive through Montana, Arizona, Texas or Missouri — the four states without full bans on texting while driving — you still should keep that phone stowed.

Handheld cellphone use laws

Click the map to be taken to a state-by-state table.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have bans on handheld cellphone use while driving.

Once again, the BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting:

Drivers must refrain from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Text messaging while driving is prohibited. Hands-free units are acceptable but must be used sparingly while driving.

Let’s say you’re driving from Indiana or Michigan to the Jamboree. The moment you cross from Ohio into West Virginia, you’re susceptible to fines if caught using a handheld device while driving.

Free driver improvement training for Scouters

I previously told you about The Hartford Driver Improvement Program, a free online training for Scout leaders who drive.

Go here to take the course.

Everyone who drives Scouts should take this free online training course

Bryan On Scouting -

Accidents are quite rare in Scouting.

But when one does occur, it probably didn’t happen while camping. It likely didn’t involve backpacking, canoeing or climbing, either.

The majority of Scouting accidents happen on the way to or from Scouting activities. They happen on the road.

As a Scout leader responsible for driving Scouts or Venturers to Scouting activities, you should do all you can to be a safe driver. That means requiring seat belt use, never texting while driving and obeying local traffic laws.

The latest step in that preparation: The Hartford Driver Improvement Program, which can be found on the BSA Learn Center. The course is free, requires no advance registration and can be completed online in about 35 minutes.

Once you finish, you’ll get a completion certificate, and your official BSA training record will be updated.

Why should I take this training?

Because you care about the safety of Scouts. And if you’re like me, it’s been a few years since driver’s ed. A quick refresher is a good idea.

You’ll learn how to drive defensively, recognize hazards and prevent collisions.

I’ll spare you any further lecture but will mention these sobering stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: In 2015 in the U.S., there were 35,092 deaths and 2,443,000 injuries on the road.

How do I take this training?

To complete The Hartford Driver Improvement Program, do the following:

  1. Log in to
  2. Click the red BSA Learn Center box on the right.
  3. Scroll to the heading “Expanded Learning.”
  4. Click the box marked “Program Safety.”
  5. Look for “Program Safety” again and click “+Add Plan.”
  6. Click the “Program Safety” link, then click the “Drive Safely” link.
  7. Begin the training.
What other resources are available?

For essential, easy-to-use advice to help keep Scouts safe, go to the Scouting Safely site.

Here are 49 photos of Venturers making and trying to paddle cardboard boats

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Ever get that sinking feeling? Like you’re coming apart at the seams? Like the walls around you are caving in?

I’ve got just the thing.

Here are 49 photos sure to brighten your day. They come from a cardboard boat race I covered in 2014 at Winterfest, the massive annual event for Explorers and Venturers in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The weekend blends competition, camaraderie and fun.

One of the events — building and racing cardboard boats — is serious work. But it can get seriously silly, seriously fast.

Exhibit A: The Venturing crew that, instead of building a boat, turned one of their Venturers into the boat. Whoa.

The photos are the work of the BSA’s W. Garth Dowling and Michael Roytek.


Read the stories

For the Scouting magazine story about Winterfest, click here or read the November-December 2014 issue.

For the Boys’ Life story, check out the December 2014 issue.

You can read both stories in our apps — just search “Scouting magazine” or “Boys’ Life” in your device’s app store.

Scouting Alumni & Friends: Behind the Scouting Alumni Association’s new name, logo

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The Scouting Alumni Association has changed its name to Scouting Alumni & Friends, a reminder that the group is open to anyone who wants to help further Scouting’s mission — even those who were never in Scouting as young people.

The Scouting Alumni & Friends name and logo are being officially unveiled at the BSA’s annual meeting next week in Florida, but Bryan on Scouting readers get a sneak peek today.

Here’s the logo. Below it, I’ve explained how different parts of the logo represent the mission of Scouting Alumni & Friends.

  • The acorn: An established icon of the Scouting Alumni & Friends awards program (like the National Alumnus of the Year award), the acorn suggests a seed from which much can grow. It is a call to alumni and friends to spread the word about Scouting.
  • The letter A: This stands for alumni, and it’s meant to look like a varsity letter. As a Scouting alumni or friend, you’re part of a team, too.
  • True Blue: The color of the central image is rendered in “True Blue,” which signifies the loyalty of Scouting Alumni & Friends toward the Boy Scouts of America.
What does Scouting Alumni & Friends do?

Scouting Alumni & Friends is Scouting’s alumni network, and it helps individuals reconnect with Scouting and the specific Scouting organizations that are important to them.

The group provides a way for Scouting alumni to reconnect with their Boy Scout troop, Sea Scout ship, Explorer post, Venturing crew, summer camp staff, Wood Badge troop, Alpha Phi Omega chapter, Order of the Arrow lodge and more.

It also helps Scouting friends connect to the program in new and interesting ways.

Scouting Alumni & Friends provides best practices for alumni groups, powerful tools like its alumni database, and training courses at the council level and the Philmont Training Center.

Scouting Alumni & Friends also offers awards programs such as the Alumni Award and knot, special recognitions for years of service, and the Regional Alumnus of the Year and National Alumnus of the Year awards.

Who can become a member?

There’s only one requirement: You have to be a fan of Scouting.

Anyone who has been positively impacted by Scouting is welcome to join.

Why become a member?

In addition to supporting local Scouting, members get a number of alumni-only discounts, perks and services.

There are two membership levels:

  • Hiker (free): Includes a quarterly e-magazine, a bi-monthly newsletter and some BSA ringtones.
  • Pathfinder ($35 a year): Includes Hiker perks, plus a Scouting magazine subscription, an affiliation card, a lapel pin, a luggage tag, a window cling, discounts at major retailers and more.

Learn more and join today at the Scouting Alumni & Friends site.

Stay connected

You can follow Scouting Alumni & Friends on their social media channels to keep up with the latest news: FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Coming soon

In the coming weeks, Scouting Alumni & Friends will be asked to “post your colors” to share your enthusiasm for Scouting. Stay tuned.

Thanks to James Delorey, vice chairman of Scouting Alumni & Friends, for the info.

Multitasking camping gear: 5 items that can serve more than one purpose

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Why buy separate gear items when things already in your backpack or trunk can pull double (or triple) duty?

A Scout is thrifty, after all.

So here, courtesy of our friends at Thermacell, you’ll find a list of 5 camping items that can serve purposes beyond the obvious.

Keep reading for ways to get additional uses out of your hiking poles, sleeping bag, neckerchief and more.

1. Hiking poles

When you arrive at your campsite (or return from a day hike), don’t just prop your hiking stick against a tree.

Put it to work. Whether it’s a wooden staff or a high-tech trekking pole, it can be quite the workhorse in camp. If you hike with two? Even better.

  • Pair two hiking poles with a tarp to form a breezy makeshift tent.
  • Make a clothes-drying rack, dishwashing station, chair or any number of camp gadgets. (Find several examples here.)
  • Use it to fish in a pond or stream.
  • Use it to gauge the depth of a stream before crossing.
  • Use it in a water rescue (the first step in “reach, throw, row, go”).
  • With certain metallic hiking poles, screw off the top to reveal a camera attachment and use as a monopod.
  • See which Scout can go the lowest in an impromptu game of limbo.
2. Bandana or neckerchief

A bandana is a wearable multitool that’s way more than just a fashion accessory.

Everyone knows you can wear a bandana for protection from sun, wind and cold. It’s also a great way to tie back long hair.

But this wondercloth has other functions:

  • Dip it in a cold lake or river and place on your neck to cool yourself on a hot day.
  • Use it as a sling for a broken arm.
  • Wrap it around your hand to make a hot mitt for cooking.
  • Perform camp cleanup tasks, like wiping condensation off your tent. It’s far more sustainable than paper towels.
  • Clean glasses and sunglasses.
  • Hang a bear bag or clothesline by tying a rock inside the bandana and throwing it over a branch.
3. Sleeping bag

Poor sleeping bag. For its entire life, it’s either crammed into a stuff sack or zipped inside a tent.

Let that sleeping bag free by extending its life beyond its intended purpose.

  • Fully unzip it and use it as a blanket when stargazing, hanging out at camp or relaxing by the fire. (Please check the bag’s flammability warnings first.)
  • Hang it over some tree branches to create shade during the day. (Sorry, tarp. You’ve been replaced.)
  • Use it as padding when traveling to or from camp to prevent items from rolling around in your car’s trunk or SUV’s storage area.
  • Spread it out over grass or dirt as a picnic blanket. (Just get rid of all those crumbs before taking it back in the tent.)
4. Flying disc

It’s the ultimate (see what I did there?) piece of sporting equipment, but the flying disc has practical uses beyond tossing it around among friends.

Whether yours is a Frisbee-brand disc or any other brand, try these additional uses:

  • Use it as a small cutting board — the rounded edges keep the food from rolling away.
  • Make it your plate or shallow bowl — one less thing you have to pack in your backpack.
  • Bail water from your canoe or kayak.
  • Fan embers as you’re trying to start a fire.
  • Sit on it when the ground’s wet or snowy.
  • Add a big X in fluorescent or reflective duct tape to use it as a signaling device in an emergency.
5. Isobutane gas canister


You already know your isobutane gas canister powers your ultralight backpacking stove.

But now you can give that canister a new life’s purpose by pairing it with the Thermacell Backpacker Mosquito Repeller. One four-ounce canister gives you a 15-by-15-foot zone of protection for up to 90 hours and weighs just 114 grams — that’s 35 grams lighter than a regulation baseball.

The best part? Directions of use can be summarized in just five words: “Turn it on … mosquitoes gone.”

BONUS: Our friends at Thermacell are offering a Scouts-only discount on the Backpacker Mosquito Repeller, which normally retails for $39.99. Redeem yours today by going to and typing the code SCOUTSBP at checkout for 20 percent off now through June 8, 2017.

Scouts Then and Now, Chapter 13

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Welcome to Scouts Then and Now, a Bryan on Scouting blog series. The premise is simple. I share two photos of the same Scout or Venturer: once in his or her early Scouting years (Cub Scout, younger Boy Scout, younger Venturer) and again in his or her later Scouting years (Life Scout, Eagle Scout, older Venturer).

Find Chapter 13 below. And click here to learn how to submit your photos.

Ryan from Louisiana

Michael from Missouri

Jim and Sam from Alabama

Jacob from Georgia

Duncan from North Carolina

Dave, Alex, Blake, Phillip and Matthew from Virginia

Connor from Louisiana

Cody from Washington

Bryce, Kyle and AJ from Oregon

Bryce from Oregon

Send in your photos and see more

Click here to send in your photos. Click here to see more in this series.

What to expect at the 2017 National Jamboree stadium shows

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Jamboree shows are a big reason these quadrennial events are so epic.

Tens of thousands of Scouts and Scouters gather to laugh, get inspired and rock out to some great music. Shows are a visual reminder that, as Scouts, we’re part of something bigger than our own troops and councils.

The stadium shows at the 2017 National Jamboree will be some of the best yet, and the entertainment acts scheduled to perform are sure to thrill Scouts and Venturers.

While the Jamboree Shows Team won’t spoil the surprise about who will perform, they did give me some insight into how these acts were chosen. Scouts will like knowing they didn’t poll a bunch of Scoutmasters.

I also have some news on what you’re supposed to wear to Saturday night’s opening show. Hint: It’s time to show off your city or state pride.

Who’s performing at the 2017 Jamboree?

At past National Jamborees, big-name bands like The Beach Boys, Switchfoot and 3 Doors Down have rocked out.

To select 2017’s performers, the Jamboree Shows Team asked Jamboree participants whom they wanted to see as part of the AT&T Stadium Experience.

The team chose Jamboree performers based on the Scouts’ recommendations.

When are the shows?

There are three big shows at the AT&T Summit Stadium:

  • 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 22: Celebration of Scouting Show, which is open to visitors
  • 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday, July 24: Fellowship & Service Show
  • 7:30 to 9:45 p.m. Thursday, July 27: Farewell Show

Jamboree participants and staffers won’t want to miss a single one. But the Saturday night opening show could be the best show in Jamboree history.

What should we wear to the opening show?

The opening show will be a Scout’s first taste of how awesome the Jamboree will be.

This year, Scouts and Scout leaders are asked to showcase their local pride by wearing hats, shirts or other accessories specific to their council or area.

Please ask your youth leaders to brainstorm some ideas of “flair apparel” items that represent something unique in your council or city. Texans might wear cowboy hats, while Scouts from Green Bay could don cheeseheads.

Other than ensuring that your flair is Scout-appropriate and not prohibitively expensive for your Scouts, there are no rules. So be creative.

The most attention-grabbing accessories will be sure to inspire the show’s camera operators to get shots of your group on the big screens, live, in front of tens of thousands of Scouts and Scouters.

What other entertainment can we expect?

One of the most exciting and engaging new events for Scouts happening at the 2017 Jamboree will be the Base Camp Bashes.

Beginning around 8 p.m. on nonshow nights, these 90-minute pop-up experiences will be a combination of a concert, dance party and variety show, aimed at getting everyone fired up.

Base Camp Bashes bring the stage and talent right to you in your base camps. After dinner, Scouts won’t have to travel far to have one of their most memorable nights at the Summit Bechtel Reserve.

In all, the Stadium Experience Team is responsible for 28 different shows in 19 locations over 10 days.

Learn more about the Jamboree

For details about the Jamboree, including how to join the fun as a visitor, go to the official site.

There’s a new Patrol Leader Handbook and Senior Patrol Leader Handbook

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The leadership lessons learned in Scouting aren’t taught in schools, but you can find them in a book.

That is, provided that book is the Patrol Leader Handbook or Senior Patrol Leader Handbook.

These essential guides for Boy Scout leaders have been updated for 2017. They include ready-to-use tips to help Boy Scouts become effective leaders at troop meetings and on the trail.

Pick up a copy at your local Scout Shop or at

Judge these books by their covers, and you’ll see designs that’ve been freshened to match the 13th edition of the Boy Scout Handbookreleased in 2016.

But what’s inside really counts.

Top: The newest versions, released in 2017. Bottom: The previous versions, released in 2002.

What’s better about these books?

It’s more than just a fresh design.

In 2016, a task force of volunteers led by Bob Elliott gathered to review the Senior Patrol Leader Handbook and the Patrol Leader Handbook. 

Among their findings:

  • The handbooks needed more information to help new leaders learn how to lead.
  • Not every Scout can participate in the BSA’s youth leadership training programs, including the Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops (ILST) and National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT), so concepts from those courses should be included in the new handbooks.

The new editions help patrol leaders and senior patrol leaders lead more skillfully. That means better leadership and more fun.

What’s new in the latest editions:

  • Key concepts from ILST and NYLT are included.
  • Various styles of leadership are defined and contrasted. This includes controlling, doing it all yourself, intimidation, wanting everyone to like you and servant leadership. The handbooks give examples of when and how those styles may (or may not) work in the Scouting environment.
  • A focus on servant leadership as the preferred method of leadership in Scouting. Servant leadership, put simply, is a choice to give more than the leader receives.
  • A discussion of the stages of team development: forming, storming, norming and performing
  • A discussion on the Leading EDGE and how a youth leader’s approach must be adjusted as their troop or patrol progresses (or regresses) from one stage to the next.
  • An expanded section on commonly encountered scenarios that challenge the leadership of senior patrol leaders and patrol leaders.
  • The inclusion of the new Scout Planning Worksheet, a resource to teach all Scouts essential planning skills.
Where can I buy them?

The books are $11.99, and you can buy them at your Scout Shop or at

Where can I find high-res images of the covers?

Use these in promoting these new handbooks in your troop, district or council.

Against all odds, Eagle Scout attends friend’s wedding, troop’s 100th birthday on the same afternoon

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Never tell Bryan Zschiesche the odds.

Two once-in-a-lifetime events were scheduled for the same Saturday afternoon this month. The likelihood he could attend both? Exceedingly slim.

His Boy Scout troop was celebrating its 100th anniversary in Longview, Texas, with the party set to end around 2:30 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m. that same day, Bryan’s friend and coworker was getting married in Elgin, Texas. The 250-mile drive from Longview to Elgin would take four-and-a-half hours.

There wasn’t time to drive from the celebration to the wedding. Commercial flight schedules were incompatible. Chartering a plane? Way too expensive. And Bryan didn’t have any friends with a helicopter or teleportation device.

Many might have given up, but not Bryan. This Eagle Scout learned in Troop 201 to attempt what others might not.

Bryan’s story is an inspiring tale of determination, endurance and the soaring kindness of a stranger.

Four days to go: The invitation

Left: A special sign honors Troop 201’s 100th anniversary. Right: Troop 201 memorabilia hangs around the fireplace inside the Scout Hut.

News of the troop’s 100th anniversary event reached Bryan late.

On Tuesday, just four days before the celebration, Bryan got an email from fellow Troop 201 Eagle Scout Jake Jenkins, who sent him the invitation and program.

Bryan told him about the wedding scheduled for the same afternoon.

“I decided there was no way to be both places at once,” Bryan says. “I let it go at that point, but something kept tugging at me.”

Three days to go: Second thoughts

The next day, Bryan told some friends about his double-booked Saturday.

“Both of them encouraged me to figure out a way to be there,” Bryan says. “My only hope was to find a pilot who would be willing to volunteer his plane and his time to help me pull it off. No small favor!”

Two days to go: The Facebook request

Bryan and his father, Herb, outside of the Troop 201 Scout Hut in Longview, Texas.

On Thursday night, Bryan made up his mind. He was going to give it a shot.

Bryan remembered what his dad, Herb, had taught him in Cub Scouting: Ask for help when you need it.

“The worst thing anyone can tell you when you ask them for help is say ‘no,'” Bryan remembers his dad saying.

So Bryan did exactly what we all would do when looking for help from our network of friends. He posted something on Facebook.

“Are any of my friends a pilot willing to help me in my effort to attend my troop’s 100th anniversary?” he wrote. “Alternatively, do you have someone in your network who might be willing to help? This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate a truly special event in the history of our troop and Scouting as a whole. I would forever be in your debt.”

The post went up at 10:06 p.m. Thursday. The Troop 201 celebration was less than 38 hours away.

One day to go: A hero lands

Bryan and Chad Sims, the pilot who made it possible for him to attend the anniversary celebration.

The response was overwhelming. Bryan received several messages of suggestions and encouragement. Fellow Eagle Scouts wished him well.

But nobody had access to a plane. That is, until Bryan heard from Chad Sims of Marshall, Texas.

“I spoke with Chad and learned that he had a 1975 Beechcraft Bonanza which he had been flying since the mid-1990s,” Bryan says. “After checking that the weather was OK, he volunteered to help me out. I couldn’t believe it.”

The day of, Part 1: Troop 201’s celebration

Bryan poses for a group photo with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (blue shirt and sportcoat) and other Troop 201 alumni.

Chad picked up Bryan near Bryan’s home in Katy, Texas. They flew to the airport in Longview, where Bryan had arranged for his mom and dad to pick them up.

Herb had reshuffled his plans, too, so that he could attend the Troop 201 event with his son.

“This allowed my dad to join me for the celebration, which made the event all the more special,” Bryan says. “I had lunch with friends and Scoutmasters I hadn’t seen in 20 or more years.”

Among the special guests: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a member of Troop 201 as a boy.

“I am proud to be a Boy Scout,” Abbott told the crowd. “But, more importantly to the Boy Scouts here, I’m proud you are Boy Scouts. I’m counting on you to keep America the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.”

Troop 201 alumni opened a time capsule the troop had buried in 1967. They stepped inside their historic Scout Hut, which “still retained the same distinct aroma that it did all those years ago,” Bryan says.

By 2:30 p.m., three hours into the event, it was time for Bryan and Chad to head back to the airport.

The day of, Part 2: A friend’s wedding

Bryan and his wife, Cele, at the wedding in Elgin, Texas.

Bryan and Chad landed at Austin Executive Airport at 4:30 p.m., where Bryan’s wife, Cele, was waiting.

She was dressed for the wedding — “and looked stunning, I might add,” Bryan says — but Bryan needed to change. He slipped into the airport bathroom to put on a new shirt and brush his teeth.

They made it to the wedding minutes before 5:30 p.m.

Bryan’s reflection on that special day and the events that preceded it is quite touching:

“That day will go down as one of the best days of my life,” he says. “Against all odds, I was able to celebrate my troop’s historic 100th anniversary with the Scoutmasters and fellow Scouts who helped me become the man I am today.

“I got to share that with my dad, who was always involved in my Scouting experience and who taught me the lessons of persistent determination it required to get there.

“And I made a new friend in Chad Sims, one of the most genuinely good men I have ever met. Flying with him was not just a means to get where I needed to go. It gave me a chance to get to know a truly great man, and it added more than I can express to this experience.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever again have an adventure quite like it. It was one of my life’s greatest highlights.”

Bryan and his mode of transportation for the day. You can follow Bryan on Twitter here.

A big hand for these 8 recipients of the 2017 National Venturing Leadership Award

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Venturers, with their green uniform shirts, stand out in a world of tan-shirted Scouts.

And the eight Venturers who will receive the 2017 National Venturing Leadership Award stand out in the world of Venturing.

The 2017 National Venturing Leadership Award recognizes great work done in 2016. You can see a list of past recipients here.

Venturers, unofficially known as Greenshirts, gain skills and knowledge in the areas of high adventure, sports, arts, hobbies and more. They’re at least 14 years old — or 13 and finished with the eighth grade — but not yet 21.

Presented at the council, area, regional and national levels, the Venturing Leadership Award recognizes people who serve Venturing in ways that recruit and retain young men and young women.

What kind of Greenshirts receive this award? Individuals like these eight, who will receive the 2017 National Venturing Leadership Award at this month’s BSA annual meeting.

Christopher Mausshardt

Council: Greater St. Louis Area

Recent position: 2016-2017 Central Region Venturing President

Why he received the award: “Chris has served admirably as the Central Region Venturing President. Managing his school, family and life commitments, Chris has continued to lead the Central Region’s Venturing program and impacted thousands of Venturers within and beyond his region. He always has a great attitude, a ‘can-do’ spirit, and very visibly lives and breathes the Scout Oath and Law.”

Michelle Merritt

Council: Spirit of Adventure (based in Woburn, Mass.)

Recent position: 2016-2017 National Venturing Vice President

Why she received the award: “Michelle has worked hard to support all four BSA regions. She visited the Southern Region, helping them with the Council Standards of Venturing Excellence forms, and helping then manage their national contact sheet. She provided great leadership abilities and service last summer at the Philmont Training Center, where she staffed one of the many great courses offered there. Michelle has also done wonderful things for communications nationally through social media and beyond.”

What’s next: Michelle is the 2017-2018 National Venturing President

Erik Saderholm

Council: Baltimore Area

Recent position: 2016-2017 Northeast Region Venturing President

Why he received the award: “Erik has provided exemplary leadership to the youth and adults of the Northeast Region throughout his tenure as the Northeast Region Venturing President, with notable accomplishments including the planning, production and success of NERV-Cast, a monthly podcast watched across the country by members of the Venturing community.”

Katie Schneider

Council: Great Southwest (based in Albuquerque, N.M.)

Recent position: 2016-2017 Western Region Venturing President

Why she received the award: “She was able to unite her region. She traveled around the region talking to youth and adults about the importance of Venturing. This allowed the Venturing door to be opened in councils for the first time.”

Cathie Seebauer

Council: Prairieland (based in Champaign, Ill.)

Recent position: 2016-2017 Central Region Vice President of Administration

Why she received the award: “Cathie has worked tirelessly on a number of projects for the National Venturing Committee, including the most notable: Cathie, along with National Venturing President Pratik Vaidya and others, worked to launch Venturing’s own custom website during this past term. Not only does this increase the program’s visibility, but also it expands Venturing’s ability to reach directly to its members.”

What’s next: Cathie is the 2017-2018 National Venturing Vice President

Nate Steele

Council: Muskingum Valley Council (based in Zanesville, Ohio)

Recent position: National Venturing Committee Member

Why he received the award: “Nate’s critical thinking has served Venturing well. He has developed and tested a Venturing value proposition, helping Venturing lay the groundwork for growth.”

Russ Hunsaker

Council: Great Salt Lake

Recent position: National Relationships Chairman

Why he received the award: “Russ has shown intense dedication to the youth of Venturing. He led the National 4.1.1 Task Force, which extensively studied each of the programs to suggest changes that should happen. His first thought has always been how the BSA can transform more lives through our programs. He has opened doors for Venturing to be directly represented at the table with outside partners. This will allowing Venturing to have a greater audience for membership growth.”

Andrew Miller

Council: Garden State (based in Westampton, N.J.)

Recent position: National Venturing Committee Strategic Planning and Pilots Chairman

Why he received the award: “Andrew is a huge proponent of youth involvement and has found ways to implement the ideas developed by Venturing youth. With his experience in Scouting, he serves as a great resource and guides young people through the thought process. That helps them grow as individuals.”

With documentary, Eagle Scout on a mission to save the mountain caribou

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Scouting inspired Marcus Reynerson to become an naturalist, conservationist and environmental educator.

And now Reynerson wants to use those talents to save a species. Reynerson and his colleagues are trying to prevent the extinction of the mountain caribou of the Pacific Northwest.

The 1997 Eagle Scout is the pride of Troop 115 from Louisville, Ky. These days, he lives in Seattle and is part of the team behind Last Stand: The Vanishing Caribou Rainforest. The 25-minute documentary premieres this summer.

“I was fortunate to have a troop that emphasized time outdoors as critical to healthy growth as a person,” Reynerson says. “My years working in the conservation department at Philmont were pivotal in helping me see that this was a passion of mine. My four years there crystalized this as my life’s work.”

About Last Stand

Through visually stunning imagery and dire prognostications, Last Stand takes you into the shrinking world of the mountain caribou. The word “mountain” refers to their migration to high alpine peaks each winter.

Washington state’s only remaining herd — which roams the Selkirk Mountains along the Washington-Canada border — has dwindled to just 14.

Finding and photographing them wasn’t easy, and that’s part of what attracted Reynerson to the project.

“When photographer and author David Moskowitz asked me to join him in his efforts to document one of the most elusive large mammals on the continent, I was excited,” Reynerson says.

Reynerson is an associate producer on the film. He worked behind the camera to gather images and footage. He also investigated the culture of the people who live in mountain caribou country.

The documentary will explore “the critical human choices that will ultimately decide the fate of this stunning ecosystem,” according to the film’s description.

Here’s a trailer:

Scouts Then and Now, Chapter 12

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Welcome to Scouts Then and Now, a Bryan on Scouting blog series. The premise is simple. I share two photos of the same Scout or Venturer: once in his or her early Scouting years (Cub Scout, younger Boy Scout, younger Venturer) and again in his or her later Scouting years (Life Scout, Eagle Scout, older Venturer).

Find Chapter 12 below. And click here to learn how to submit your photos.

Jake from Oregon

Matthew from California

Tyler from Florida

Sven from Virginia

David and Noah from New Jersey

Jeffrey, Hayden and Hunter from Michigan

Elijah from Minnesota

Jake from Illinois

Ryan and Sean from California

Jonathan (with Ben) from Colorado


Send in your photos and see more

Click here to send in your photos. Click here to see more in this series.

David Lynch talks Scouting, Kennedy’s inauguration and whether Agent Cooper is an Eagle Scout

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David Lynch’s bio — the one he uses on Twitter and sends to members of the press — is rather sparse.

“Born Missoula, Mont. Eagle Scout.”

But as you might expect with Lynch, the surrealist director of films like The Elephant Man and creator of the murder mystery TV series Twin Peaks, there are a lot more pieces to this puzzle.

I talked with Lynch by phone last week to hear his thoughts on Scouting. We discussed the time he got to stand with other Boy Scouts at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, why some of his characters aren’t exactly Scout-friendly, and whether he thinks Agent Dale Cooper, the fastidious and focused FBI agent on Twin Peaks, would be an Eagle Scout.

Man on the move

David Lynch was born Jan. 20, 1946, in Missoula, Mont.

His father, Donald, was a research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service. The job meant the Lynch family’s home address was constantly changing — Idaho, Washington state, North Carolina and Virginia.

Through it all, two things stayed constant: Scouting and camping.

Whenever the family traveled with Donald Lynch for his job, they avoided hotels and motels. They camped.

“I grew up like that,” Lynch says. “The Boy Scouts was pretty much a continuation of that.”

Lynch was a Cub Scout and then a Boy Scout. He attended summer camp at Camp Tapawingo near Payette Lake, Idaho. He was a member of the Order of the Arrow.

“I liked working on my merit badges,” he says. “You know, it was all great.”

An extra push

Lynch’s younger brother, John, became an Eagle Scout before David.

This was kind of the last straw. David Lynch, then a Life Scout, began to lose interest and considered dropping out.

“I didn’t really think Scouts was cool anymore,” he says. “I just reached that age where I was a total rebel, but my dear father really wanted me to become an Eagle Scout.”

At that time, the Lynch family lived in Alexandria, Va., and David Lynch was a member of Troop 113.

With his dad’s encouragement, Lynch “finished things up, and by golly, became an Eagle Scout,” he says.

Was he grateful for the extra push?

“For sure,” Lynch says. “And that’s why I say, ‘my bio is: David Lynch. Born Missoula, Mont. Eagle Scout.’ That’s in honor of my father.”

Lynch became an Eagle Scout on Nov. 13, 1962. More than a half-century later, Lynch still has positive feelings about the Scouting program.

“I think the Scouts is a great thing,” he says. “I had a great time living during those years, but I had a great time in the Scouts as well.”

Waiting for JFK

Jan. 20, 1961, was significant for two reasons. It was Lynch’s 15th birthday and it was the date of Kennedy’s inauguration.

As with inaugurations throughout history, Scouts were involved.

The plan: Lynch and his fellow Scouts would seat dignitaries in bleachers next to the White House.

The reality: Lynch, wearing his thin Scout uniform, was trying not to freeze to death.

It had snowed eight inches the night before. The temperature at noon was just 22 degrees, but the 19 mph wind made it feel like 7.

“We were escorting VIPs, but it was so cold there weren’t very many VIPs,” Lynch says.

With some time on their hands, Lynch and his fellow Scouts climbed the bleachers to get a better view of their surroundings. They were looking for the car carrying Kennedy.

At last, they saw something: a pair of gleaming black limousines driving toward them.

“We went running up, and the Secret Service said ‘No, no, no. Go back, go back.’ And they pushed us away,” Lynch says. “But I heard a voice say, ‘you.’ And I turned around, and a Secret Service man was beckoning me back to him.”

The agent placed Lynch squarely in the official line.

“So there’s 20 or 30 Secret Service guys on either side of the drive and me, standing right shoulder to shoulder with them,” Lynch says. “The gates opened, and out came the two limos. In the first limousine, when it passed by me, the glass was about 10 inches in front of my face. Inside there I saw President Eisenhower and soon-to-be President Kennedy. And they were talking. Then that car glided by, and the next one came. And in that car was Nixon and Johnson, and they weren’t talking. And they glided by.”

Years later, Lynch appreciates the historical significance of that moment.

“I realized I saw four consecutive presidents in that short amount of time — 10 inches from my face,” he says. “It was a great, great experience.”

Scouting’s values and Lynch’s work

Lynch has three Academy Award nominations for best director: for The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1987) and Mulholland Drive (2002).

The Elephant Man is rated PG-13, but the other two films earn their R ratings with troubled characters and disturbing images.

The TV show Twin Peaks aired on ABC in 1990 and 1991 — before TV ratings were used. The show has been retroactively classified as TV-PG. But when new episodes begin this month on Showtime, Twin Peaks will be rated TV-MA.

I asked Lynch how he feels about creating characters that don’t exactly follow Scouting values.

“Films reflect our world. Ideas come from our world,” he says. “Our world is filled with characters that don’t reflect Scouting values, for sure. And stories are not all just shiny little pleasant tales. They involve all kinds of different characters, all different kinds of thinking. That’s what makes a story.”

Furthermore, Lynch cautions against assuming that someone who creates unstable characters is an unstable person.

“I always say the artist doesn’t have to suffer to show suffering,” he says. “You want to be happy in your work, but you can tell stories that have darkness swimming along with light. Have the suffering on the screen or in the books — not in your life.”

Agent Dale Cooper, Eagle Scout?

FBI Agent Dale Cooper, the main character on Twin Peaks, is known for being meticulous, prepared, courteous and focused.

Just as I’m about to ask Lynch the inevitable question, he cuts me off.

“He was probably an Eagle Scout,” Lynch says, “and maybe Sheriff Truman didn’t quite make it, but he became a Life Scout.”

Lynch’s Good Turn

The David Lynch Foundation is the director’s way of giving back to the community. Its mission: use Transcendental Meditation to help at-risk populations.

Lynch says Scouting long ago gave him a desire to help other people at all times.

“It does something for one’s character,” he says. “It feeds the future, for sure. In a good way.”

Lynch is a major proponent of Transcendental Meditation, which he considers the ticket to eliminating negativity, stress, anxiety and fear. When you perfect the technique, those bad feelings leave — “just like darkness goes when you turn on the light,” he says.

He even suggests Scouts begin practicing Transcendental Meditation, which he emphasizes is “not a religion and is not against any religion.”

If we had what Lynch calls “Yogi Scouts,” “Boy Scouts could change collective consciousness from a stressed black cloud to a beautiful, bright and shiny, peaceful collective consciousness.”

That’s not unlike, as I pointed out to him, the mission of Messengers of Peace, a global movement of which the BSA is a proud member.

Whether you and your Scouts become “Yogi Scouts” or Messengers of Peace, Lynch has a message all Scouts should consider.

“Remember, true happiness is not out there. True happiness lies within. It always has; it always will,” Lynch says. “And then they can just fall back on their motto: Be Prepared.”

At 2017 Visual Storytelling Workshop, the focus is on growing Scouting

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Consider for a moment how many images you come across in a single day. Add up each post on Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram and Pinterest and …

That’s the cluttered online landscape into which those of us who want to grow Scouting must venture.

How do we capture and share the story of Scouting in a way that busts through the noise and catches people’s attention? How do we use those social media platforms to recruit new Scouts and retain the ones we have?

The Visual Storytelling Workshop has the answers. You’ll learn from experienced professional photographers in a hands-on setting. The next workshop will be Aug. 6 to 12, 2017, at the Philmont Training Center in Cimarron, N.M.

You don’t need to be a pro with a $3,000 camera to attend. Anyone with at least some experience with still photography and/or video is welcome. If you have a passion for Scouting and love to take photographs and share them online, make plans to attend.

More about what to expect

Scouting magazine covered one of these Visual Storytelling Workshops in our January-February 2016 issue. Here’s an excerpt:

Developing your story

The first step is to understand what makes an effective story. “A good story has to be authentic (it has ‘real’ action), compelling (it should grab the viewer’s attention) and the right length (with widespread digital media, viewers’ attention spans are generally short),” says Randy Piland, senior lecturer at Elon University in North Carolina and one of the coaches at Philmont’s Visual Storytelling Workshop.

Once you’ve found a compelling story, capture a “decisive moment”; identify key elements; record sound, photos and video; edit the sound and images; and then share your story.

The best part? You don’t have to be a professional or have an expensive camera to create a visual story. “Amateurs can shoot pictures and video, edit them and immediately share their stories online,” says Jim Brown, Ph.D. The professor and executive dean emeritus at Indiana University School of Journalism says smartphones have matured to the point that they are serious reporting tools.

You can create Scouting stories through three specific methods: photographs, photo essays and video stories.

How to register

Register at this link. Scroll to Week 9 and look for “Visual Storytelling.”

Fees for all 2017 conferences at the Philmont Training Center are the same: $540. That includes lodging, meals and your conference fee.

Philmont is best enjoyed with others, so be sure to look into Philmont Training Center‘s programs for everyone in your family. There’s something for infants, spouses, grandparents and everyone in between.

Steven Holcomb, Eagle Scout and gold medal Olympic bobsledder, dies at 37

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Steven Holcomb, the Eagle Scout who piloted the U.S. four-man bobsled team to Olympic gold in 2010, has died. He was 37.

The U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation said Holcomb died in his sleep on Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Holcomb was a three-time Olympian, three-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion. But before that, there was a time when he dropped out of the sport completely.

In a summer 2010 interview with Eagle Scout Magazine (now called Eagles’ Call magazine), writer Mark Ray talked with Holcomb about being diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative eye condition that seriously affects a person’s vision.

He was slowly but surely going blind. Amazingly, as Holcomb’s vision got worse, his driving got better. Rather than rely on his eyes, he began to rely on his instincts, feeling a course’s curves instead of looking at them. Sports Illustrated called him “America’s sledi knight,” recalling the scene from Star Wars in which Luke Skywalker learns to use his lightsaber while wearing an opaque visor.

“Bobsledding’s not reaction,” Holcomb explained. “A lot of people think you’re reacting to what’s going on, but it’s actually more anticipation and correction. Once you see something, you’re past it and it’s over and you’re going to have some issues.”

By 2007, it was so bad that Holcomb left bobsledding entirely. His coach, however, wasn’t going to give up that easily.

He told Holcomb about a radical surgery that involved implanting polymer lenses behind the irises. Holcomb took the chance. The surgery immediately restored his 20/20 vision.

Sliding into victory

In Vancouver in 2010, Holcomb helped Team USA win its first Olympic medal in four-man bobsled in 62 years, driving the United States to gold.

That victory led to an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, where Holcomb and his teammates shared the “Top Ten things you don’t want to hear from a guy in your bobsled.”

Among the highlights: “We’re lost” and “Stop breathing down my neck.”

“We were able to put bobsledding back on the map,” Holcomb told Eagle Scout Magazine. “It’s really going to help us get back in the spotlight and get our sport rolling again.”

Despite his newfound fame, Holcomb still made time for Scouting. In March 2010, less than a month after winning gold, he gave some Atlanta-area Cub Scouts the thrill of meeting an Olympic champ.


In May 2010, Holcomb shared his Scouting and Olympic stories with volunteers and professionals at the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in Dallas (pictured at the top of this post).

In Sochi in 2014, Holcomb was back for another shot at the medal stand. The Eagle Scout earned bronze medals in both the two- and four-man bobsled.

Holcomb and Scouting

From the Eagle Scout Magazine piece:

Scouting didn’t introduce Steve Holcomb to winter sports, but it certainly gave him plenty of time in the outdoors.

“Growing up here [in Utah], we did a lot of outdoor stuff,” he recalled. “Every weekend, we were out with Scouts doing something.”

Beyond the outings, Holcomb credits Scouting with broadening his horizons.

“Earning all the merit badges really opens your eyes to more than just one thing in life. There’s so much to learn, so much you have to do,” he said.

The advancement program also whetted his appetite for achievement.

“You always have to do your best; you really do have to perform,” he said. “It’s not like you just show up and automatically get your merit badges. You actually have to learn and use your skills.”

Be Prepared: The origin story behind the Scout motto

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Upon hearing the Scout motto, someone asked Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell the inevitable follow-up question.

“Prepared for what?”

“Why, for any old thing,” he replied.

In 1907, Baden-Powell, an English soldier, devised the Scout motto: Be Prepared. He published it in Scouting for Boys in 1908. (Two years later, in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was founded.)

In Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell wrote that to Be Prepared means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”

More than a century later, preparedness is still a cornerstone of Scouting. Through its fun, values-based program, Scouting prepares young people for life.

B-P and B.P.

Notice how the initials for Be Prepared and Baden-Powell are the same? That’s no coincidence; it’s just the way Baden-Powell planned it.

In the late 1900s, Baden-Powell wanted young people equipped to react quickly to an emergency. The Great War loomed, and soon the Boy Scouts — not a military organization but a service-minded one — would be called upon to play their part.

“Their keen eyes were added to the watchers along the coasts,” Winston Churchill wrote in a piece published in Scouting magazine in 1955. “In the air raids we saw the spectacle of children of 12 and 14 performing with perfect coolness and composure the useful function assigned to them in the streets and public offices.”

But Baden-Powell wasn’t just thinking about first aid and wartime emergencies when he coined the motto. This is from the 13th/latest edition of the Boy Scout Handbook:

His idea was that Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and strong leaders and to bring joy to other people. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.

Siempre Listo

As Scouting has spread to include 164 National Scout Organizations around the world, the motto has been adapted and translated into dozens of languages.

French-speaking Scouts strive to be Toujours Prêt, “always ready.” That’s also the English translation of the motto used in many Spanish-speaking countries: Siempre Listo.

Be Prepared becomes Budi Pripravan in Croatian, Sii Preparato in Italian and Wees Geréed in Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa and Namibia.

In any language, Baden-Powell’s original intent survives. By spending time as Scouts, young people learn to handle anything life puts in front of them. They learn to Be Prepared.

Two powerful words

Need one more reminder of the importance of the Scout motto? Consider the Eagle Scout medal, which represents the highest honor in Scouting.

Notice that the medal includes just two words.

The Teaching EDGE: The best way to teach someone a new skill

Bryan On Scouting -

First, you Explain how it’s done.

“I’m going to roast this marshmallow over the fire until it’s golden brown. Then I’m going to sandwich it between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate.”

Then, you Demonstrate the steps you just explained.

Narrate your actions to reinforce the first step.

Next, you Guide the learners as they practice.

Give the Scouts their own materials and let them try. Offer help when needed, and let the learner repeat until they’ve got it down.

Finally, you Enable them to succeed.

This is when you step back, sit down and watch. (Eating the demonstration materials is highly recommended.)

When teaching someone a new skill — be it splinting a broken arm or something equally important like making s’mores — the Teaching EDGE method is the best method.

The Teaching EDGE in Boy Scouting

In Cub Scouting, adults use the Teaching EDGE to help Cub Scouts learn something new.

By Boy Scouting, you should find opportunities for the Scouts to become the teachers. In fact, it’s required.

To earn Tenderfoot, a Scout must “Describe the steps in Scouting’s Teaching EDGE method. Use the Teaching EDGE method to teach another person how to tie the square knot.”

To earn Life, a Star Scout must “Use the Teaching EDGE method to teach another Scout (preferably younger than you) the skills from ONE of the following choices, so that he is prepared to pass those requirements to his Scoutmaster’s satisfaction.”

The Teaching EDGE is so important that it even appears in the Boy Scout Handbook (page 38 of the 13th/newest edition):

The first step is explain. The teacher carefully explains the skill, showing all the steps and keeping in mind that the learner is probably seeing this for the first time. Go slowly, make your actions deliberate, and use descriptive language, but don’t stop to show the intricacies in detail yet.

After explaining the skill, you will demonstrate it. Break down each element, showing the step-by-step process and explaining the details of how each step is done and why. Here is where you allow the learner to ask questions, but not yet where he takes the reins for himself.

Now, guide the learner as he makes his first few attempts at the skill. Be sure to let him be completely hands-on, and don’t worry if he makes mistakes. Just tell him how to fix it, or start again from the beginning. Keep at it, and be careful not to lose patience. Remember how you were when you were learning!

Lastly, the teacher enables the learner by allowing him to see that he can do it himself — and has! The Teaching EDGE method can be applied to teaching and learning any skill.

Teaching EDGE in action

Matt Nichols understands that Scouters can use the Teaching EDGE method anywhere at any time.

For my story in the May-June 2017 edition of Scouting magazine, I wrote how Nichols even used the EDGE method before the trip officially began.

Nichols can turn anything into a teachable moment — even something simple like unloading canoes from a trailer.

Before placing a finger on the canoe’s scuffed aluminum sides, he tells the Scouts how he’ll lift, flip and carry the 70-pound boat to the water. Then he and Wheless take opposite sides and demonstrate.

With his boat in the water, Nichols doesn’t touch another canoe. His role has shifted to coach as he watches Scouts Michael Cully, 14; Jack Nichols, 13; and Ryan Wheless, 12, give it a try.

Hear more of the story

For more, listen to the May 2017 episode of ScoutCast, the monthly podcast for Scout leaders. Take ScoutCast everywhere you go by downloading the latest episodes in your favorite podcasting app. Just search “ScoutCast.” Please go listen.


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