Thursday, April 17, 2014

Frank Heiss and Scouting: The Golden Age – Part 2: Creating a Troop

So, Dad was now Scout Master of Troop 106. Now what?

He had never been Scout Master before. It is easy to know exactly how to do something, like being Scout Master, until you face the abyss of actually being in charge. The transition from theory to reality can be a challenge. But Dad did have one thing to his advantage – there was no legacy of scouting in the Fremont 3rd Ward.

This made things easier because expectations were low and there was no one’s shadow that dictated his course. Dad was free to experiment. His first troop became his laboratory. But, where to start?

The first thing he had to do was create order from chaos. The boys had no concept of what a scout troop should be and how it should act. They had no idea why needed a uniform. They did not understand the trail to Eagle. So that is where he started – the basics.

First, all boys had to get a uniform and wear it to all scout meetings. Of course, this impacted parents and family budgets, but parents were simply excited that someone was interested in their boys. Dad’s excitement encouraged the parents so the uniform did not become a burden. All the boys willingly complied.

Second, they had to have the troop organization. This consisted of:

·         Patrols – small groups of boys, maybe 6-10
·         Patrol Leaders – one boy appointed by his patrol to lead them
·         Senior Patrol Leader – one boy selected by the troop to have stewardship over all patrols
·         Quartermaster – one boy who was in charge of the equipment closet that include troop supplies like tents, flags, and other such items. He really became an Assistant Senior Patrol Leader.
·         Assistant Scout Master – an adult who had an equal passion for scouting as Dad did. This position was key to Dad’s success for it allowed him to devote attention to a group of boys or an individual knowing that a responsible adult could keep the boy’s focused in his absence.

With this organization the boys were more prone to feel a vested interest in their troop. They each had a role to play and the structure helped them gain confidence in the program and in themselves.

Once the uniforms were pervasive and the structure was set, Dad was able to guide the boys down the path to Eagle. That meant the boys needed to learn scouting skills. This is more than earning the merit badges needed to progress. These skills are what made scouting fun for the boys.

Dad would teach these skills through games and competitions. There was the compass game, for example, where you had a blank compass and 3x5 cards with the points of the compass. Each patrol would form a single-file line and each boy would run from the line, one at a time, to the compass. They were handed a 3x5 card and had to correctly place it on the compass. The boys loved this game and as a result they learned how to use a compass.

Dad used this type of competition to teach knot tying, first aid, and the ever popular semaphore. That was my favorite skill. Semaphore is a lost art. It is a type of silent communication that uses two red and white flags to spell out words. You had to learn to display the semaphore alphabet by the positions of the flags. You also had to decipher the alphabet to receive the message. We all excelled in this skill and could send and receive messages across the parking lot at the church.

Once the troops started learning skills, Dad took them to Stake and District Camporees. Here scouts troops from all over Fremont would go to a camp out and have competitions against each other centered on the scouting skills. Troop 106 quickly became competitive and started winning several contests. Each time they one, they got a ribbon that they would put on their troop flag. In a few years, the ribbons increased and when Troop 106 showed up Camporees, other troops were instantly intimidated by the ribbons proudly displayed on their flag.

In a short amount of time, Dad had a successful troop and the boys loved to come. This is right where Dad wanted them. He knew that if the boys had a great time, not only would they continue to come but they would invite their friends. This took Troop 106 to heights the Bishopric could have never anticipated. In essence, Dad had created a troop patterned after the troop he was in as a boy.

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