First Class in First Year?

IMGP6820Recently, a boy scout forum participant asked the following question; “Where do you stand on “first class first year”?”

Over the years that my boys were involved in scouting (2008-2013), I’ve been told that First Class First Year (FCFY) came about because a greater number of boys renewed membership when they attained First Class in their first year than boys who did not.

An assumption was formed that if more boys complete First Class in their first year, then more will renew and stick with the program (which MAY be true, but to what degree we may not be sure).  In my mind, that’s a classic case of “correlation does not imply causation”.

IMGP6796You see, it may be an entirely baseless assumption that “getting” to a certain rank causes boys to renew their annual membership.  Perhaps it was really the other way around — those boys who were really excited to be involved in the program got through their various requirement “sign offs” within the first year and were interested in renewing whether they attained FC or not.

Admittedly, FCFY is about “providing opportunities” to enable FCFY to happen IF the youth chooses to partake in all of those opportunities (the program is not holding them back from having the opportunity to attain FCFY).  Unfortunately, the FCFY mandate is often mistakenly interpreted and presented as the notion that boys “ought to” attain FCFY or else the troop is “doing it wrong“.

Isaac and Jacob POAObviously, boys who have a strong teaching program (troop guides, troop instructors, new scout patrols, etc.) will be highly engaged in learning about knives, axes, fires, cooking, orienteering, first aid, nature and swimming, etc. are more likely to want to stay engaged since they have a highly motivated team of mentors, a strong program, lots of outings and events (to fulfill various T-2-1 requirements), etc.

This ought to be the case without the need for FCFY promotion/discussion.

FCFY “implies” (perhaps mistakenly) that there’s a sense of urgency to getting through T-2-1 within 365 days, and my fear is that boys will contextualize that “urgency” or “pace” in first-class-badgetheir ongoing scouting commitment and feel the need to push through X number of MBs and ranks each year to “get” Eagle by a certain age (well short of their 18th birthday).

During my own tenure as youth and during my own son’s tenure in the program, I never felt pushed and I never pushed them or their peers to advance following any artificial schedule or timeline. When they mastered the requirement, they got signed off — a simple enough process for 103+ years of BSA advancement.

The folks who developed FCFY meant well.  I just think they tried to fix something that wasn’t broken, and for the wrong goal/reason (retention of youth).  Maybe the time and energy spent on FCFY could be funneled into better round table & PLC meetings on applying ALL scouting methods at the Patrol Level so that the needed (and appropriate) opportunities exist for advancement all year, every year.

Walk Worthy & Do A Good Turn Daily


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Eagle Scout Heritage Celebration

the four percent coverMichael S. Malone, author of “Four Percent: The Story of Uncommon Youth in a Century of American Life” recently spoke at the National Scout Museum during Eagle Scout Heritage Week.  His presentation was captured in a video available at the following site –

Some of his comments about eagle scouts were really amazing, and I’ve done my best to capture them accurately from the video:

I’ve been an Eagle Scout now for nearly fifty years and in that half century,  I’ve learned far more about what it means to be an Eagle than I ever knew on that day as a thirteen year old when my mother pinned the medal on my uniform pocket.  I don’t have to tell any of you here that earning your Eagle is merely a prelude to learning what it means to BE an Eagle, and that is an education that continues to this day [and will] no doubt continue for the rest of my life.

DSCF1305I’ve only got 35 years tenure as an Eagle, but I can certainly identify with his initial remarks. Being recognized as an Eagle is so much more than merely completing a checklist or getting through a series of merit badges.  It is a personal transformation – one that continues as we live life: gaining experience, making mistakes, learning and growing, meeting new people and accepting new challenges.

Mr. Malone continued by talking about the history of the award, the surprise of the BSA organization when the first Eagle candidate showed up asking for a Board of Review and struggling to finalize the requirements. Even the choice to create such an award was interesting:

Simply put the award was originally planned as the capstone rank of American Scouting – the symbol of the “Super Scout” who went well beyond the rank of First Class.  In particular, it was designed to sit at the confluence of two developmental traits:  one leading to the Star Rank which dealt with the scouting skills like camping and cooking; the other focusing on the duties of a citizen led to the Life Rank.  Those two paths were distinct and both awards were considered co-equal and the culmination of their respective approaches to scouting.  

SO, why even create a top award?  Ready for the hike bsa 1911 handbook

Well the obvious reason is that BSA’s National Scout Commissioner, Daniel Carter Beard, wanted to “Americanize” the British Scouting program and needed to find a counterpart to the King, now Queen, scout award.

The second reason was that it neatly integrated those two sides of scouting thus recognizing that some scouts might want to pursue both.  

But I think the most compelling reason was that it is a very american trait to compete to win.  Even today, when competition has become almost taboo in public schools, boy still compete for nearly everything they’re allowed to from video games to teams sports (and a lot of things they aren’t)

Mr. Malone characterized the drive of the young men as almost boundless — leading some to pursue sailing to the poles of the planet in wooden ships and others to fly to the moon. Was there anything a determined Eagle scout could not accomplish if he were to really put his mind to the task?  Unfortunately, our culture started to view scouting in two different lights, in part, because of the consistent achievement of Eagles.

It was at this point in history when the image of scouting began to bifurcate.  It is a schism that endures to this day.  

On the one hand, there is this stereotypical scout found in everything from comic books of the 1930’s to movies like “UP!” today…Young, ardent, intent on doing good deeds and often a little silly.  

On the other hand, the Eagle scout — older, confident, infinitely competent and the very embodiment of youthful achievement.  

Boy scouts were the kids helping the old lady across the street and scaring each other around the campfire.  Eagle scouts were the heroes of adventure books and movies…the young man who shows up to save the day.  Even today, to call someone a “boy scout” still carries with it the connotation of the do-gooder.  By comparison, calling someone an Eagle scouts remains tightly bound to the image of a man who accomplished an extraordinary feat while still a boy and who is destined to achieve great things as an adults.  That’s why it remains the only achievement of childhood that will still be found in the obituary of a ninety year old man.

In understanding how this came about, Mr. Malone discussed the influence of the Eagle Service Project (introduced in the 1960’s) on the young men who had a new requirement to complete before becoming recognized as Eagles.

eagle scout cstariAfter all, what is an Eagle project but basic training in entrepreneurship, and not for MBAs or veteran managers but for teenage boys still in high school!  I’ve mentored nearly fifty Eagles and with each one my admiration for this requirement grows.  I’ve been part of a number of successful entrepreneurial teams including e-bank and I have to say that nothing in this world is a more perfect preparation for staring a new company than being a sixteen year old Life Scout developing an idea for a service project; testing the response of the targeted customers; developing a strategic plan and calendar; assembling a team and executing that plan; managing subordinates and finally measuring the results.  

Thus hidden behind the uniforms, the merit badge sashes, the campfire and the 50-mile hikes, scouting has quietly been training millions of entrepreneurs that will be needed to lead this country in the world through the next century.

Trailblazing ScoutsI applaud Mr. Malone for conveying the wisdom generated by his many years of experience.  There are many parents of young boys who are eager for their sons to earn a “star” on their resume without fully soaking up the experience of transformation that must occur for one to really become an Eagle.  We understand that it’s not about the checklist, and it’s not about the number of badges earned, but the drive from within to excel and the passion to commit to do hard things cheerfully that ignites the life-long drive to live “set-apart”.  Eagle isn’t a title to be “grabbed” off a shelf, but a choice to serve others while embodying Scout Ideals (Oath, Law, Motto, Slogan)

Trail of Change sign

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Trip Report: Pocomoke River State Park

Originally posted on Trail Life Troop 113:

IMG_20140726_124121465Our family visited the Pocomoke River State Park in Maryland, Saturday, July 26th.  We were visiting the Eastern Shore of Maryland for a family wedding, and wanted to explore the local environment.  Since we’ve previously been to chincoteague island (also in the immediate area of Pocomoke, MD) we went inland.

The park is located within the 15,000 acres of the Pocomoke State Forest which contains two distinct environments — a stand of loblolly pine and cypress swamp.  It is this border between upland forest and swamp that encourages a great range of plant and animal life in a small area.  The river itself boasts over fifty species of fish.

Amenities at the park include:  campsites, boat launch, boat rentals, outdoor swimming pool, trading post, snack bar and nature center.

IMG_20140726_121757155We started our trip by visiting the nature center and talking with the local scientist about things to see and do within the…

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Adventure Hacking

Originally posted on Trail Life Troop 113:

2010 labor day weekend 777 trip 089According to wikipedia, Life Hacking “…refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life…in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in an inspired, ingenious manner.”

Scrooge McDuck also said “Work smarter, not harder”.

Camping, hiking and all sorts of outdoor activities are great fun.  They’re even more fun when we learn and apply practical tips to avoid frustration, increase safety, decrease prep time and spend less time on the “boring stuff” by becoming more efficient.

What if we had a bunch of “Life Hacks” or “Adventuring Hacks” to help make trips easier and more focused on fun?

I’ve learned a lot of practical tips from experience, and from listening to “old timers” (who I’m steadily becoming) who are willing to share their experiences, tips and proven practices.  I’m also learning new things from the internet since more people…

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When scouting is in the blood, under the skin and hardwired

Growth_of_a_Leader-1966_RockwellScouting has always been a prominent part of my life experience.  My father was a Life scout prior to shipping off to Germany at the close of World War II, and he served as ASM for our local troop.  My mother was a den leader, my brother an Eagle.  My wife has served as Advancement Chair, Treasurer and all-around utility player.  My sons attained Life and Eagle ranks as they made new friends and met various leadership, learning and service challenges. Having started as a cub, earning my AOL and Eagle awards, I’ve sat on countless BORs as a dad with one troop and served as SM after starting Troop 113. I’ve counseled literally hundreds of scouts on various merit badges at camps, with buddies and as part of MB Fairs.  I’ve spent 20+ weeks at various Scout Reservations from 1971 to 2013, and I’ve met many wonderful adult volunteers as I served my district as FFOS presenter.

I think this is one of the reasons why I am so interested to read articles about how scouting has influenced others: to see how their experiences and lifelong benefits may parallel my own.

patrolLeaderOne recent article is titled “Boy Scouts Made Me The Man I Am Today, Here’s How” (Click HERE to see full article).  In this article, the author highlights key life skills introduced or mastered during his involvement with the program.  Things like learning to shoot, save lives, build confidence to try new things, enjoy the outdoors, pick up leadership practice and more.

The paragraph that made me laugh as I read was the following:

2013 RFSR Jolly Roger Patch finalScouts Are The Best Secret Society: Forget the Illuminati or the Skull and Bones. You want to be part of a fraternal order that means something? At 33 years old, I still put “Eagle Scout” on my resume and keep my membership card in that organization behind my driver’s license. It’s gotten me into jobs, out of trouble and immediately marks me out to other members as a peer that can be relied upon. We actually kinda run the world.

The author also pointed out the practical side to the program – learning to value the challenges that life presents as opportunities for growth and development.  The value of working hard is summed up in the following manner:

Scouts Made Me A Worker: When I’m not cranking out 5 to 10,000 words a day, you’ll find me working out at the gym, taking my dog hiking or fixing up my house. I never stop. It’s not an illness, it’s an appreciation of the value of hard work and a mindset that values long term goals. You won’t find a colleague of mine that wouldn’t immediately describe me as the hardest working guy on the team and I more than pull my weight in any endeavor I embark upon, even if that’s just making sure I’ve got the heaviest pack on a backpacking trip. Guess where I learned that? You got it.

Wawayanda 2011 tentsScouting has a lot to offer.  So do many other fine youth programs that use teams (aka patrols), advancement, outdoor programs, and methods very similar to BSA.  The methods and practices are more influential than the color of the uniform or the style of the patches and other awards — it just takes a dedicated core of volunteers to enable the youth to own and lead the program themselves.  Its that “ownership” of results that helps develop the life skills that will still be talked about years after “graduating” from the program, and lead fathers to bring sons into the program.

If BSA isn’t the right fit for your family (too secular/too religious, too restrictive on membership/too liberal on membership, etc.) there are many other programs that range from purely secular and welcoming all comers to those that are distinctively faith focused and incorporate a greater emphasis on the spiritual development of youth.

For as much as I grew up with scouting in my blood, under my skin and hardwired into me, I am thoroughly convinced that while BSA offers a great program, it is hardly unique.

Young men and their parents can and will get an equally rich, fulfilling program at any one of many youth development programs – getting the right “fit” for your family is more important in the long run than simply subscribing to a program based on its “cult of personality” marketing efforts.  A scout helps other people at all times and is trustworthy in delivering advice – to suggest that BSA is the “only” program that develops men of character would be inaccurate and un-scout-like.


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Originally posted on Trail Life Troop 113:

IMGP5234 is the home page of a new public service ad campaign being run by the US Forest Service.

From their “about us” page it states: “This PSA campaign aims to inspire tweens (aged 8-12) and their parents to re-connect with nature, experiencing it first-hand. The campaign brings to life the joy and excitement kids have when they discover the wonders of nature, helping create interest in their environment and a lifelong relationship with it.”

At this main site, there are dedicated pages to help web visitors:

This is a site that could help troops with their nature-related curriculum exercises, and help…

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When Weakness = Strength

Originally posted on Trail Life Troop 113:

IMGP6935I read a great blog article today titled “Learning to Be a Weak Leader” (Click HERE to see article).  It was a strange title, but the article was “spot on” at reminding me of one of the greatest truths in Biblical Leadership….it’s not about me, it’s about Him.

Or, more succinctly, “Christian leaders lead best when they, in their weakness, rely on the power of God to guide others.

The blog article expands on this idea in three key points (along with compelling scripture references to help illustrate each point):

  1. God sometimes takes leaders into impossible situations to remind us that He alone is our warrior.
  2. God sometimes leaves us in spiritual battles to keep us weak. 
  3. God seeks giant-slaying shepherd boys more than census-taking mighty kings. (1 Samuel 17 versus 1 Chronicles 21)

Another example might be King Asa of Judah who got it…

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