- Boy Scout Troop 398, which meets at a church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is bullish on the future despite setbacks in the national organization.
- The experiences available to boys as Scouts belie scouting’s nerdy reputation, scoutmasters say.
- The Boy Scouts program can mold a shy boy into a lifetime leader.
In a parking lot behind St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 12 or 13 boys recited the Boy Scout Oath. Some were dressed in the traditional brown Scout uniform; a couple wore jeans and T-Shirts.
“On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
Set in the relative cool of the evening after a hot summer’s day, the scene could have been taking place in the 1950s as easily as 2023. They recited the Pledge of Allegiance while saluting the flag or putting their hands over their hearts.
An observer might be tempted to see the ceremony as cheesy and out of date. Or maybe it’s timeless in the best sense of the word.
One thing it isn’t is trendy or hip, admitted Steve Dix, an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 398, which meets at St. Mark’s once a week. But that simply does not matter, he said.
“It’s the most important character development program that I’m aware of,” Dix said after the July 24 meeting adjourned.
Dix, an attorney, Eagle Scout and member of St. Mark’s, is one of several men who guide and mentor the members of Troop 398. The troop has survived COVID-19 and the national Boy Scouts organization filing for bankruptcy protection in 2020 because of debt stemming from settlements being paid to former Scouts who reported being sexually abused. There have not been any such cases in Troop 398.
The United Methodist Church negotiated a $30 million settlement, with the funds going to survivors of Scouting-related abuse and the assurance that local churches would be released from liability. The Boy Scouts’ insurance company has contributed $800 million to settle cases. Other organizations with Boy Scout ties have also settled.
“Most of the cases brought to light were from very, very long ago,” said Fred Daniel, also a member of St. Mark’s and an assistant scoutmaster at Troop 398, adding that “one is one too many.”
Instead of bailing on the Boy Scouts because of the trouble, The United Methodist Church — through United Methodist Men — has recommitted itself to the program.
“The trials that we experience help us to regain focus on those things that are most essential,” said Steve Scheid, director of the Center for Scouting Ministries at United Methodist Men.
“The Boy Scout bankruptcy has given us an opportunity to re-center on Christ and to bring this agency in holy alignment with the Gospels.”
Scheid, a member of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, said he has undertaken “hundreds of hours” of training on the issue.
“The Scouts continue to do a well-developed, well-researched and constantly updated program considering the safety of children,” he said. “It's not perfect. … But the rate of abuse has taken such a steep dive, it is absolutely amazing.
“I'm really proud that we have chosen to stay partners. We've chosen to stay partners for all the millions who are not abused, who have served and done well.”
The Boy Scout’s youth protection program is a national model, Daniel said.
“You are really protected in the organization, and parents should have confidence that that is happening,” he said.
Troop 398 has about 20 active scouts, said Scoutmaster Mike Warren. The Cub Scout program for younger boys, which feeds into the Boy Scouts troop, has about 80 members, which bodes well for the future.
“We’re building back up,” Warren said. “My mission is to make boys into good men that are good family members, men that take care of their families and take care of their church.”
Boys today have lots of options competing with Scouting, Daniel said.
“Everybody wants to play sports,” Daniel said. “That's great. I played sports too.”
But Scouting is flexible enough to allow for other activities. Most sports are seasonal, but Scouting is year-round.
“After football (and baseball) season, you can still be in Scouts,” Daniel said. “That’s the beautiful thing about Scouting.”
Jakob Gatley, 17, is a good example. He pitches for the Tennessee Heat, a high school baseball team for Christian home-schooled students. He hopes to play major league baseball, but manages to balance baseball with Scouting.
William Riley, 14, is the senior patrol leader of Troop 398. Not many of his friends from school are Boy Scouts.
“I think the world is not focused on being outside any more,” Riley said. “It's more focused on being inside. Personally, I'd rather be outside, but people can choose what they want to do.”
Kayaking, canoeing and water sports are the chief Scouting attractions for 14-year-old William Steenbergen.
“It's fun. You get to learn a lot of stuff, but it's not boring,” Steenbergen said. “It’s not just sitting down and reading everything, like at school, or just listening to someone talking for an hour.”
The Boy Scouts have addressed the indoor-outdoor dilemma with its STEM Nova Awards program. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Scouts can explore the principles of STEM working with an adult counselor or mentor. The STEM Nova Awards recognize Scouts who take on a challenge in these areas.
“That is an effort to reach a group of kids who are more related to academia, and not so much in the outdoors,” Daniel said. “But if you can get them to unplug long enough to go on a camping trip, they generally enjoy it.”
Gately, like Wiley, is working toward the ultimate accomplishment for a Boy Scout: being an Eagle Scout. He likes Scouting’s emphasis on the outdoors, but he’s also looking ahead to the long-term advantages that come with achieving Eagle Scout status.
“There’s a lot of benefits you get when you reach Eagle Scout — on job applications, college applications,” Gately said. “They can see you're an individual that models the Scout law, and that's what employers look for and recruiters look for.”
The “goody two-shoes” reputation that attaches to Boy Scouts can be annoying, Gately said.
“That's how it can appear,” Gately said. “But it also can be a good thing to show that there's well-rounded people in the Scouting organization … because there is a positive impact that Scouting has on people's lives and they can see it in people's lives with their actions.”
Boy Scouts who stick with it become leaders, Daniel said.
“Some of these boys that come in here, they won't even make eye contact with you,” he said. “With the Scouts … it's a safe environment for them to be put in a position of leadership.
“You're 12 years old. You got guys in here, they're 15. You're the patrol leader, so you lead the patrol.”
Many times, that 12-year-old shy child is built up with the confidence he needs to succeed in life, Daniel said.
“In my opinion, (Boy Scouts) is really Christianity in motion,” he said. “Because we try to teach and instill in the boys how to be good people, how to be respectful, not only to individuals, but in society.”
And Scouting can be pretty cool, too, Dix said.
For instance, a group from Troop 398 recently went sailing in a 40-foot boat at the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, a Boy Scouts facility in the Florida Keys.
“One of the youngest boys, I told him: ‘Do you realize how special you are?’” Dix said. “You've just done something that 95% of your classmates are never going to do in their life, sail a 40-foot sailboat in the Florida Keys for a week. So yeah, it probably has a nerdy reputation, but I don't care.”
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