Scouts are still doing good, though the organization is forever stained

It would be easy to pass the small Baptist church in the inner city’s east side of town without noticing its rotting wooden playground. In fact, most people bypass this neighborhood altogether, moving away from its narrow streets and gated houses.

But a teenager who volunteered for a child evangelism mission at church last summer noticed it and decided to do something about it.

John Haden Smith, then 17, knew that neighborhood children wanted and deserved a sturdy and safe playground. He had a locker full of tools, building skills cut out for the mission and, best of all, a group of friends, young and old, dedicated to serving the community.

As a member of Selma, Alabama’s Boy Scout Troop 46, founded in 1955, John Haden knew he could count on his troop – from the youngest scout, James Caleb Duncan, 13, to the 77-year-old lawyer and chief Scoutmaster Fred McCormick – for living up to the Scouts oath, “to help others at all times”.

He knew his troop would step up and serve, just as they had over the years when they cleaned up the city’s baseball stadium, built outdoor seating at a museum, volunteered at the animal shelter, repaired a basketball court, cleared hiking trails in a state park. , refinishing YMCA floors, indexing library books, cleaning church grounds and planting gardens.

And he believed that planning and carrying out this project would help him win the coveted Eagle Scout award, Scouting’s highest rank, which he had promised his beloved grandfather Harry “Teddy” Holloway. , who died in 2018, that he would do.

“He never became an Eagle Scout and always regretted it,” John Haden said.

Loss of membership

In his apogee in the 1970s, there were more than 6.5 million Boy Scouts in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), a strong 112-year-old national organization focused on developing boys into strong, capable, caring young men. But scandals with scout leaders and self-sabotage the decisions by the National Council hit hard, bankrupting the organization and causing a precipitous loss of membership.

In 2021, the BSA reached an $850 million settlement with more than 60,000 men who sued the iconic institution for alleged sexual abuse by Scoutmasters over several decades. A news agency called him “A healthy American institution poisoned by predators. Today, the Cubs and Scouts report less than 1 million members nationwide.

Hardworking Volunteers Teach Important Values

But at the heart of Scouting are local troops like No. 46, like hundreds across the country, who still project the wholesome, fresh exuberance of Scouting, with hard-working Scout Masters who are leaders in their communities, giving of their time. teach citizenship, self-reliance, leadership and community service to Scouts who are always polite, hardworking, athletic and active in their churches and schools. It’s a story that Troop 46 says they don’t tell enough.

“The Boy Scouts made me the person I am today,” said Scout leader Dr Richard Johnson, chief of surgery at the local hospital. An Eagle Scout in 1988, Johnson is passionate about the importance of Scouting, devoting hours of his limited free time to the troop, including leading canoe adventures on Sea Base and Boundary Water.

“Any subject that interested me, I could learn more. I got all the merit badges except bookbinding and beekeeping,” he said. “Scouting is about providing the perfect environment for children to learn important life lessons; leadership, reliability, maturity, respect.

On a recent Monday evening, Troop 46 gathered in the communion hall of the downtown church where the troop has met weekly for 67 years. Two scouts were playing ping pong, several scouts spoke to their scout leaders about their planned community service projects, a requirement for Eagle Scout, while others worked on merit badges. It takes 21 badges to clear the way to Eagle status.

Johnson arrived in a smock with his scout son Jack, 15, and spoke to scout Will Lewis about his upcoming Eagle Scout Award interview. They also talked about their Sea Base adventure last May. Lewis was one of the leading sailors on the boating adventure near the Virgin Islands led by Johnson, where snorkeling, swimming, sailing and studying salt ponds and sea turtles were part of the adventure six days.

Enjoy the great outdoors

Lewis ended his summer with a 10-day mountain wilderness trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.

“That’s definitely the best part of Boy Scouts – being outside,” he said.

For Troop 46 Scouts, the most important Scouting meeting place is the outdoors, whether it’s high-altitude adventure camps in the United States or a weekend getaway on a local lake. The knot-tying and fire-building contests (without matches), fishing, canoeing, and sleeping in hammocks under starry skies are the best part of scouting.

“Scoutmaster McCormick’s homemade blueberry cobbler cooked over an open fire is a treat,” Lewis said. “Except this time, I confused salt with sugar,” added the scout leader.

Scout leaders Harold Wells and Robert Stapler, who served with McCormick for 40 years, lost count of the number of camping trips, service projects, merit badges, great adventures and meetings they attended during the over the years. But they know that since the troop’s inception, more than 117 Scouts have become Eagle Scouts, and eight to 10 are expected to earn it in 2022-23. The Eagle Scout rank is achieved by less than 6% of Scouts nationally.

Like John Haden’s playground project, most of Selma’s scout service projects went unnoticed. On a cold Saturday morning, John Haden led a team of his fellow scouts, leaders and others to dismantle the old and begin building the new setting. He had raised $3,000 to pay for new pieces, assembled like a life-size lego project. Scoutmaster McCormick, who had just undergone surgery, came forward to lend his support. “It’s a very good project,” he said.

It took several weeks — interspersed with a sports tournament and rainy weather — and many trips to the hardware store and the lumber yard, luckily a few blocks away, to complete the project.

The reward came on a sunny afternoon a few weeks later when he was ‘tested’ by some of the same kids who had wanted to play the previous summer. The magic of playground fun was heard in the laughter and squeals of the children as they climbed, slided, swung and ran around the set built by the scouts. Finally, a 4-year-old boy standing atop the six-foot platform gleefully shouted, “I’m king of the mountain,” and John Haden, now an Eagle Scout, knew exactly how he felt.

Christine Weerts, author of “Heroes of Faith: Rosa J. Young,” is a researcher at the Alabama Black Lutheran Heritage Association. She won a 2020 Concordia Historical Institute Commendation for her historical writing on race. A freelance writer, she holds degrees in music (BA) and religion (MA).

Aubrey L. Morgan