I was in the fourth grade when my friend Kevin McConnell convinced me to give this Cub Scout thing a try.
He was having a great time with it and figured I would too. So I joined and thus began a lifetime of fun and adventure. Almost all of my buddies were in Scouts in Pack 161 at Niwot Elementary School. We did all kinds of fun, cool stuff like go hiking, race pinewood derby cars, make crafts, play games and so on. As we progressed from Cubs to Webelos and onto Boy Scouts, the things we did became progressively cooler and a lot more challenging and fun.
Joining Troop 161 was amazing. We were a camping machine. Every month we escaped into the Rocky Mountains, pitched tents, cooked over open campfires and engaged in whatever seasonal activities there were to do. We hiked, did wilderness survival, fished, climbed rocks, went skiing, built igloos, studied wildlife, and did all kinds of great stuff.
At our Scout meetings we drilled in first aid, learned to tie knots, shot model rockets and explored a world of discovery as we earned merit badges and advanced in rank. Kevin and I were in the Rebel Patrol. We were a tight-knit band of brothers. We even did things together outside of Scouts. It was within Scouts, however, that we learned to experience life and develop our character as young men. We became leaders and mischievous pranksters who pushed the rules and our boundaries.
Among the first merit badges I earned were beekeeping and rabbit raising. Our main fundraiser for Troop 161 had nothing to do with popcorn sales. We cut and sold firewood. Talk about turning boys into men. Give a kid a chainsaw and a forest full of beetle-killed pine trees and look out! It was hard work, but it sure built confidence and character in each of us.
Every summer we alternated between attending a weeklong camp at the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch in Red Feather Lakes, Colo., and doing a weeklong canoe trip down the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah.
Those summer camps, especially the canoe trips, are some of my fondest childhood memories. They made us seasoned outdoorsmen as teenagers. I loved it so much that when the opportunity arose to work on camp staff at Ben Delatour, Kevin and I jumped at it. Kevin lasted one season but I worked there four summers.
My first summer was in the kitchen. The last three I was in Centennial Village where I dressed in the buckskins of a mountain man and taught wilderness survival and Indian lore. I lived in a teepee, shot black powder rifles and played the drum for the Indian dances for our Order of the Arrow lodge. My partner my last summer was a blacksmith, so we had a forge and pounded a lot of iron.
Eventually Kevin and I became Eagle Scouts. It’s one of the biggest and most significant achievements of our lives. We were proud to be Scouts. We learned skills and had experiences that we never would have dreamed possible if it were not for the Boy Scouts.
After I turned 18 and left Scouts (you can leave Scouts but Scouts never really leaves you) I eagerly awaited the day I could return with sons of my own. As my friends and I grew up, married and started our lives, several of us began families and had daughters right out of the chute. But then we each had sons and the adventure began anew.
My friend Kieth Fiebig and I started Cub Scout Pack 157 at our church. I was the Cubmaster for five years as we brought our boys from Tigers through Webelos. At that point my family made the move from Colorado to Texas, so we joined the Boy Scouts in the Lone Star State.
The Boy Scouts had changed quite a bit in the 20 years from the time I left until my oldest son, Wesley, began. There were a lot more rules, regulations and restrictions.
I know Wesley enjoyed the things we did, but his experience was very different from mine. He had to deal with a lot more restraints and limits. Our first troop in Amarillo was essentially a merit badge factory. There was a strong emphasis on earning badges and advancing in rank.
Three years later we moved down here and joined Troop 1000 in Richmond. At the time there were over 100 boys in the troop and it was very active. Wesley worked his way through the ranks and completed his Eagle rank just four hours before his 18th birthday (which is the age limit to be a Boy Scout). He also followed in my footsteps by serving on camp staff at Bovay Scout Ranch near Navasota.
While I was helping Wesley through Boy Scouts, my wife, Sandy, was helping our youngest two, Luke and Colton, through Cub Scouts. She served as a Den Leader and did one year as a Cubmaster. We were a full-fledged Scouting family. Then, as Wesley moved on, Luke dropped out. Sandy went back to school and Scouting in our family dwindled to Colton and me. My job made it increasingly difficult to get home in time to make meetings on a regular basis. Similarly, we watched as our troop dwindled in numbers from more than 100 to fewer than 30.
Colton is now a Life Scout and is working on his Eagle. But his heart’s not in it anymore. We’re not sure if it’s a problem with the troop, changes in the national program or a combination of things, but we are burning out on Scouts. In recent years we’ve watched as Scouting’s values have declined. Reverent has become amorally irrelevant. Morally straight has become morally ambivalent. Recently, the Boy Scouts announced that beginning next year it will start admitting girls to the program.
Having talked it over with my wife, we have decided to help Colton achieve Eagle – something that will have huge benefits for him when he graduates high school and goes into the Air Force – and then we’re done with the Boy Scouts. It has drifted too far from its core values and purpose. It’s not the same program that helped shape me into the man I became.
By integrating women, it will defeat the purpose of teaching boys to become young men. It will become just another youth organization not unlike many others out there.
I will always be thankful to the Boy Scouts for what it has done for me and my family. I hope and pray the Boy Scouts will find a way to restore its values and become relevant again. I would love to be able to return some day and help my future grandchildren experience the adventure of Scouting.