A CENTURY OF SCOUTING & FAMILY

BY NORMAN M. COVERT

Joke: What did the alien say to Boys' Life? "Take me to your reader!"

Boy Scouts of America (BSA) hasn’t strayed far from its founding in the United States 100 years ago. Marketing strategies and media technologies have improved, but BOYS’ LIFE still arrives in my mail box each month. I’m clinging to my youth, the “groaner” jokes on the back page and those values I hold dear.

Scouting remains a family-oriented organization. Social engineering has failed to dent the Scout Oath or modify the 12 points of the Scout Law. It is still duty to God and “my country;” helping others and keeping “myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

Scout Oath printed in my 1951 Boy Scout Handbook. Artwork by Remington Schuyler.

Too bad that this rankles far left liberals!

Still Scouts have been banned from using many local and state government owned properties for hiking and camping. Several courts have sided with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in its claim that BSA is “exclusionary.” Ultimately the Supreme Court will rule on the pending cases.

BSA charter and operating principles are set in stone. Courts have ruled BSA can be restricted to boys; however, it has included young women in its Explorer and Venturing programs for many years. Women also may be adult leaders and their number is growing.

Courts also affirm Girl Scouts in the U.S.A. (GSUSA) has the same proprietary privilege to exclude boys. The local GSUSA council supported my service 20 years ago as a Cadette and Senior Girl Scout Troop Leader, plus serving on its Gold Award Advisory Committee.

BSA  excludes membership and adult leadership opportunities to avowed homosexuals and those with other open aberrant sexual behavior or lifestyles. Therefore, it continues to expand its Youth Protection training program, requiring completion by every adult leader, including merit badge counselors.

BSA is responsive to parents who continue to demand assurance  their children will be protected during meetings and outings. Of course, one way is to volunteer as a leader and take part in the programs, but many parents are restricted because of employment hours or other impediments.

A measure of Scouting’s stability may be in the latest number of board-approved Eagle Scout candidates in this Maryland county to date— more than 60 from the two BSA National Capitol Area Council (NCAC) districts. Generally fewer than three percent of all scouts achieve Eagle nationally. Merit Badges and rank awards are earned by individual effort and demonstration of Scouting’s values.

Family oriented also means that generations have kept the Scout message alive and growing. That brings me to a point of paternal pride with Grandson Michael Stevenson. He boarded a commercial aircraft out of Reagan National Airport last weekend headed for Denver, Colorado, and the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch, Cimarron, New Mexico.

Michael Stevenson at Eagle Presentation Ceremony, Nov. 2010.

Michael is part of the huge annual pilgrimage by local troops and individual Scouts, who join contingents headed for Philmont or one of the other high adventure sites from Florida to Minnesota. Philmont is mountains, prairies and deserts, a ranch of 137,500 acres donated to BSA by millionaire oil man Waite Phillips.

Bethany hugs son Michael after he received Cub Scout Bear advancement at the circa 2003 Court of Honor.

I wanted to go, too! I’ve been “here” before–that is waving goodbye at the airport. Michael’s mother, Bethany Covert Stevenson celebrated her 13th birthday at Philmont in 1983. I took part in its adult leader training seminars and was able to take the family. There were programs for each of them. Bethany was introduced to the trails, hiking and camping in a five-day adventure called “Mountain Woman.” The wanderlust, as it were, was planted.

She was invited the next year to join a Girl Scout contingent headed by veteran leaders Beth and John Ruppel of Sabillasville, Md., who have sparked several such expeditions to Philmont. We put Bethany on planes several times in the following years. She went as a BSA Explorer Scout on a regular trek, served as a regular staffer and ranger after being selected to take the “Rayado” challenge, a demanding 10-day excursion into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Rayado was brain child of the late Joseph J. (Joe) Davis. A pioneer in adult leader training and high adventure, he was director of camping at Philmont for many years. A member of the first Wood Badge Adult Training Course tested at Schiff Scout Reservation, Mendham, N. J. , he was a close associate of William (Green Bar Bill) Harcourt, who wrote the Boy Scout Handbook and other manuals. 

The late Joe Davis from the cover of "Carry On." He was responsible for many outdoor challenges for Scouts at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch, N.M.

Bethany, who earned her Girl Scout Gold Award in 1987, was instrumental in supporting Michael when he started his Eagle Trail as a Cub Scout 12 years ago. He earned his Eagle last fall.

Michael, who was graduated from high school a week ago, completed a regular trek at Philmont in 2009. This year he is part of the Order of the Arrow Trail Crew, repairing some of the myriad trails that carry Scouts on a variety of challenges.

The Order of the Arrow is the honor society of Scout Campers. It is based on Indian lore and traditions introduced to Scouting by Dan Beard and Ernest Thompson Seton. Both were as storied as Buffalo Bill, but instead of a Wild West Show, each began youth movements that merged into today’s BSA.

My dad, Harry M. Covert Sr., was a Lone Scout in Palmer, Illinois, having signed up through the program begun in 1915 by William D. Boyce, a Chicago newspaper owner. Mr. Boyce was credited as having brought the Scouting program to America. Legend has it that Mr. Boyce was helped by a young man in the London fog and thus learned of British General Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s nationwide movement called “Boy Scouts.”

Remington Schuyler's depiction of William D. Boyce meeting the British Boy Scout in the London fog in 1908. A newpaper publisher, Mr. Boyce promoted Boy Scouting through his Chicago newspaper and later formed Lone Scouts.

Lone Scouts were merged into the BSA in 1924 when James E. West brokered the seminal agreement among the disparate “Scout” movements in America.

I was recently reminded that my first Scout uniform included parts of my Uncle Carl Goodson’s outfit – jodhpurs and collarless shirt with campaign hat. It mirrored the British Scout uniform. My current uniform is outdated, but still “official,” one shirt still bears the privileged “Scoutmaster” insignia.

I have been able to maintain membership with Boy Scout Troop 799 and one of these days I’ll get back to Philmont. I’ll have Bethany put me on the plane.–©Norman M. Covert 2011

(AFTERWORD: You may read more about Philmont National Training Center and Joseph A. Davis in “Carry On!” ©2010 Philmont Staff Association and James E. Sundergill. Information on how to purchase a copy ($16.00) may be obtained by contacting Mr. Sundergill at jimsundergill@comcast.net  or writing Philmont Staff Association, Inc., 17 Deer Run Road, Cimarron, N. M. 87714, USA. )

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(The above commentary is expanded from the original  published June 8, 2011 in www.thetentacle.com . It is published courtesy of The Octopus, LLC and the author.)

You may contact Norman Covert at nmcovert@thecovertletter.com .