This is the third of twelve installments in 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.
“Mountain climbing!?” our membership chairman was surprised, “Is that safe?”
“Sounds expensive,” added the treasurer.
“Our Scouts call it ‘mountain climbing’, what we’ll be doing is called ‘bouldering’,” I replied, “There’s a great spot at Kitterich state park and I’ve asked one of the counselors who instructs climbing merit badge to help us out.”
“So the boys will earn climbing merit badge?” another committee member asked.
“They will all get a good idea of what it takes,” I replied, “and the Scouts who are interested in earning the badge can make arrangements with the counselor.”
“Shouldn’t we choose a badge for this month that they can complete?’ asked our treasurer.
“I think it’s important that this idea came from the Scouts,” I gave John, our committee chair, a knowing glance, “Besides, I don’t plan on having merit badge instruction or work at our meetings quite like we have in the past.”
“Well, what will the Scouts do instead?” the treasurer asked.
“Sounds like mountain climbing or boulders, or whatever, is a waste of time,” said our membership chair, “If they don’t earn a badge what’s the point?”
“The point is getting them doing what Scouts do,” I replied, “because when they do those things advancement and learning come naturally.”
I got the same response I had from my older Scouts, a slightly confused stare.
“Don’t Scouts “do” merit badges?” asked the advancement chair, “I don’t understand what you are saying.”
“Yes, merit badges are part of what Scouts do,” I replied, “but there are other aspects of Scouting we can develop.”
“Maybe you could explain that a little,” said John, “what other aspects?”
“For one I have been working closely with our patrol leader’s council,” I replied, “to provide them with the opportunity to make decisions and take on more responsibility for their troop.”
I told the committee how we elected our new senior patrol leader, set up patrols, and elected patrol leaders.
I fielded many questions about those changes over the next fifteen minutes.
“I know this is all a little different from what we are used to,” I smiled, “let me get through this month and next month we’ll see how things went.”
Our membership chair turned to John, “Isn’t the committee’s job making these sorts of decisions?” he asked, “these are serious changes, and I think we ought to vote on them before we go any further.”
John leaned back in his chair, “Chuck and I discussed this, I discussed his ideas with the committee, and the committee followed my recommendation that he become our Scoutmaster.”
“Yes, but, I don’t think we had any idea that things would change so drastically,” the membership chair said.
“Some of us, and I say ‘us’ because that includes me,” John replied, “Have grown used to one way of doing things. I’d hazard a guess it’s been quite some time since any of us have actually read some of the resources we received when we were trained several years ago.”
“C’mon, John,” the membership chair asked impatiently, “what are you getting at?”
“What I am saying is the changes Chuck is making are perfectly consistent with the Scouting program,” he said, “I’ve checked it out, and I ‘m telling you that we have drifted a bit over the years, Chuck is working to put us back on track.”
“But we haven’t voted on any of this!” the membership chair said.
“As soon as you can show me, in black and white,” John replied, “where a committee is empowered to pick what parts of the Scouting program we decide to follow and what parts we don’t I’ll be happy to do just that.”
The discussion went on for a while. At times, it was a little heated, heated enough that I was almost ready to get up and leave my Scoutmaster patch on the table.
With John’s guidance, most of the committee came around, but a few remained seriously skeptical.
When the meeting concluded, John caught up with me in the parking lot.
“I think that went well,” he said, “I admire your self-control.”
“Thanks John,” I replied, “I appreciate your support.”
“I meant what I said,” he replied, “and I’ll continue to be optimistically skeptical, we’ll just keep on keeping on.”
“So far so good?” I asked.
“So far so good!” he replied.
I called Jake to let him know our ‘mountain’ climbing trip was approved, “Spread the word, call your patrol leaders, and let’s see how many Scouts we can get to Monday’s meeting.”
“I’ll do my best,” Jake replied.
When Monday rolled around Jake and two patrol leaders were waiting when I pulled into the parking lot.
“Hey guys, ready for a little mountain climbing?”
Jake smiled, “You bet!”
“I’ve set it up for the camping trip we have planned three weeks from now,” I said, “ that means we have three troop meetings to get ready. It’s my turn to be the adult in charge of meetings and the camping trip this month, and you guys have a lot to do.”
The Scouts seemed puzzled; a familiar look.
Our third patrol leader showed up and we headed for the picnic table.
“I think it’ll be a good idea for you guys to get together like this every week,” I began, “this is our ‘patrol leader’s council’.”
“Let me guess,” Zach said, “that’s in the rule book, right?”
“Jake,” I asked, “have you got it?”
“I almost forgot,” Jake pulled the copy of the Senior Patrol Leader’s Handbook I gave him last week from his book bag.
“It’s right here,” Jake said as he handed the opened book to Zach.
“I have a few questions for the patrol leader’s council.” I began, “In three weeks we are going camping on our mountain climbing trip. What do you figure we should take along?”
Jake looked puzzled, “Uh, I guess what we usually take along.”
“So what is that exactly?” I asked.
“Tents and stuff?” Hunter answered.
“Right,” I replied, “I suppose you guys would like to eat while you are there too?”
“Yeah,” Hunter replied cautiously.
“So who is going to make sure we have everything we need when we get there?” I asked.
Jake thought for a moment, “Well the adults bring the food I guess, and the tents and stuff.”
“That’s how we have done things in the past,” I said, “Could we do things differently this time?”
The Scouts exchanged looks, “I guess so,” Jake replied.
“How about if each patrol gets their own food and cooks it by themselves?” I asked.
“Sounds like a lot of work,” Hunter replied, “we haven’t all done cooking merit badge yet.”
“If you kept it simple it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, right?” I asked.
“I suppose, maybe,” Zach replied uncertainly, “we could try it out.”
“Maybe we could talk about cooking at a meeting?” Jake asked.
“I think that’s a great idea,” I answered, “the patrol leader’s council is in charge of what goes on at meetings, If you like I’ll ask Mr. Hudson to help out with that tonight, okay?”
The Scouts nodded a little uncertainly.
“Here’s what I think happens next,” I continued, “when we open our meeting tonight Jake can announce that we are going mountain climbing and that each patrol will be cooking their own food. You patrol leaders get your patrols together and figure out a menu for the weekend, and we’ll go from there.”
Jake still looked a little puzzled, “Okay, you want me to say all that?”
“Well, you are the senior patrol leader,” I encouraged, “so I think you ought to get to do a little leading, what do you think?”
I walked Jake through making a few notes, and he did a good job of getting things going when the troop meeting opened a few minutes later.
More change, more momentum, I only hoped I could keep up.
Read the rest of the story in my new book: