This second of twelve installments is a story that follows a new Scoutmaster, Chuck Grant, attempting to use the patrol method in a troop that has forgotten how.
I’ve based this work of fiction on the stories shared by readers and listeners, questions they have asked, and the advice I commonly share in reply. Scoutmasters can expect to encounter challenges and setbacks along the way.
I’ve tried to avoid being unreasonable optimistic, or overly pessimistic about the progress we can make when we stick to the basics.
The Scouts elected Jake Hendricks as their senior patrol leader; I think they made a great choice. At 13, Jake isn’t the oldest Scout, but he has a lot of potential.
I asked Jake and the four older Scouts I spoke with last week to meet with me thirty minutes before the next troop meeting.
“I had another question for you,” I began, “where are we going camping next month?”
“You were going to tell us tonight, right?” Jake replied.
“Did anyone ever ask where you wanted to go or what you wanted to do?” I asked.
They thought about that one for a moment.
“We talk about stuff,” Jake said, “but usually the Scoutmasters tell us.”
“Jake,” I asked, “If you could take the troop anywhere, or do anything you wanted to do, what would that be?”
He didn’t have to think about it, “Mountain climbing! Mr. Callas (the Scoutmaster before me) always said it was too dangerous.”
“Okay,” I said, “let’s go mountain climbing!”
“Really, that would be awesome!” Hunter said, “Are we really allowed to do that?”
“Where do you think we could find the answer to your question Hunter?” I asked.
“The rule book?” Hunter answered.
“Let’s look in the Scout Handbook this time,” I said, “anybody have one?”
Bob held up his copy.
“Great, thanks Bob,” I said, “read the introduction in the very beginning for us.”
Bob read the first few paragraphs aloud.
“Sounds like Scouts go camping and do adventurous things,” I said, “I think mountain climbing fits that description.”
“Can we get a badge for it?” Zach asked.
“There is a climbing merit badge, I’d imagine you could get started on that,” I replied, “what you’ll find is that when we do what Scouts do advancement, (that’s badges and requirements), is kind of built in. When we plan what we’ll be doing we want to choose what Scouts do, because then you’ll have the opportunity to advance.”
“Makes sense,” Bob said.
“So the choice for this month is mountain climbing,” I said, “anybody object?”
They all shook their heads.
“That’s settled,” I said, “I have a couple of other questions.”
The Scouts looked at me expectantly.
“We usually set up new patrols this time of year,” I began, “how would you guys like to do that?”
“What’s the rule book say?” Zach asked.
“I thought you’d never ask!” I said hauling the Scoutmaster handbook out of my backpack, finding my bookmark, opening it, and handing it to Zach.
“Wow,” Zach said, “that’s a whole page, do I have to read all that?”
“I have a couple of other things to do for the next few minutes,” I said walking away, “Look things over and see if you Scouts can figure out what to do next.”
I wanted to see, while I did a lap around the building, how much they could figure out on their own.
“So?” I asked when I returned, “What’s the plan Jake?”
“We know a little bit more about what the ‘rule book’ says about patrols,” he answered, “but there are no directions.”
“Sort of like basketball,” I remarked, “the rules tell you about the game, but you have to actually play the game yourself to understand it.”
This time the stares I received in response were a little less confused.
“Let’s attack this question a step at a time,” I began, “Who will decide who goes in what patrol?”
“I guess I could,” said Jake.
“Okay, sounds good,” I replied, “What do you need to know to make good decisions? Bob what do you think?”
“How old everyone is?” he offered.
“That would help, what else?” I replied.
“Maybe ranks?” Zach added.
“Good, anything else?” I prodded.
Hunter cleared his throat, and quietly added, “I don’t know about you guys but I know what patrol I’d like to be in, I’d like to be with my friends and stuff.”
“I think all the Scouts feel that way, Hunter,” I said, “how would you guys go about making that happen?”
Over the next few minutes, we discussed sorting out patrols. I suggested that they have each Scout write down the name of three other Scouts they’d like to have in their patrol. Jake would take those lists and work out the best lineup for each patrol.
“Last question, guys, I promise,” I said, “how are you going to figure out who the patrol leaders will be?”
“Rule book please!” Zach said and held out his hand.
I smiled, “Right here at this marker,” I said handing him the Scoutmaster’s handbook.
We were done a few minutes before troop meeting time. I left the picnic table and joined my assistant Scoutmasters in the back of the room.
“You and your secret meetings,” said George, “what’s all this skullduggery leading to?”
“Yeah,” added Wayne, “I am feeling like you are keeping us in the dark.”
“It’s all his master plan for world domination,” George said rubbing his hands together.
“C’mon guys, I told you last week,” I said, “blabber-mouths like you two can’t be trusted with sensitive information.”
Dave laughed at the three of us, “Alright, Mister Scoutmaster, spill the beans.”
“Okay, you got me,” I said, “I can see I am trying your patience a little.”
“A little?” said George.
“First, I appreciate you were willing to let me meet with these guys on my own.” I started, “they are starting to think things through on their own, besides…”
“We can’t keep our mouths shut!” said George.
“Well, to put it bluntly, yes.” I said, “You know what would happen if all four of us were sitting at the table, right?”
“Yeah,” Wayne sighed, and turned to George “the new guy is right, but I still hate him.”
“Well, you’ll get over it.” I laughed, “at least I hope you will.”
“So it went well?” Wayne asked seriously.
“Let’s listen in and see,” I replied.
Jake was doing his best to get everyone’s attention, and eventually the Scouts quieted down enough to hear him.
The older Scouts handed out index cards and pencils and Jake asked each Scout to list three others they’d like to have in their patrol.
A few minutes later Jake collected the cards. I asked Dave to come help Jake and I while Wayne and George led the Scouts in a game.
“Bob wants to be in the same patrol as Ian,” Jake said looking at one list.
“Does Ian’s list have Bob on it?” I asked.
Jake looked through the cards, “Yes, he has Bob, Brian and Drew.”
“So that’s a good match,” Dave replied, “who do Brain and Drew want?”
We laid the cards out on the picnic table, matching Scouts into three patrols so each had at least one of their choices.
“Anybody left?” I asked.
“Nobody had Jason on their list.” Jake replied.
“Can you put him with a least one of his choices?” Dave asked.
“If I do,” Jake replied, “the numbers will be uneven.”
“Is it important to have even numbers?” I asked.
“I thought they had to be even,” said Jake.
“I guess it’s all nice and neat of they are, but what’s more important to you,” I asked, “even patrols or the Scout’s choices?”
Jake did a little rearranging and incorporated Jason into a patrol with one of the Scouts he listed.
“Before you go tell everyone who is in what Patrol.” I said looking at Jake, “I want to point out that you’ll end up knowing a few things as senior patrol leader that you’ll want to keep confidential.”
“Like what?” Jake asked.
“Well, nobody chose Jason for their patrol,” I replied, “How do you think he’d feel if he knew that?”
“I suppose not so great,” Jake replied.
“Yeah,” Dave said, “let’s keep that between the three of us.”
“Knowing this,” I said to Jake, “means that you can look out for Jason, and see what you can do to help him find some friends too.”
As Jake went in to announce the new patrol lineup, I huddled with my Assistant Scoutmasters.
“More secrets?” George said.
“Not for long,” I replied.
“It made sense for you and Dave to do that since your son’s have moved on,” Wayne said, “I hope Hunter is happy with the new setup. Who did you pick for patrol leaders?”
“Each patrol will elect one before we leave tonight.” I said.
“You and your ‘democracy’,” George said, “you’d think we were teaching Scouts about citizenship or something!”
“Well,” I laughed, “glad you are catching on!”
Read the rest of the story in my new book: