You might have been shocked to see bikers taking jumps on the BMX tracks at last summer’s Summit Shakedown. But as Eagle Scout Bryan Wendell reports from the site, that’s just one of the bigger, better, and badder changes you can expect at the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.
JUST ONE GLANCE at the pedals told Gilbert Canady all he needed to know about a Scout’s chances of making the jump. “You’ve gotta watch their feet,” the Sacramento Scouter told a visitor at last summer’s Summit Shakedown. “If the pedals are level, they’ll get some air. If not, they’re going down.”
The Scout under tutelage followed Canady’s advice and kept his left and right feet even, then sailed his bike six inches off the dirt ramp. He’s moving on. But the next Scout dragged his right pedal across the hump and nearly toppled.
“Nope,” Canady told him. “Go back and try it again.”
Canady made a dozen of those snap judgments every minute at the BMX bike evaluation course at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. Scouts who passed the test moved on to the bigger, badder, air-grabbing BMX tracks nearby (like the jump shown in the photo above). Those who didn’t? Well, they just had to keep trying.
Air? Since when did the BSA start encouraging flight on BMX bikes? You might remember the 2010 jamboree’s motocross course. Signs at each hump were emphatic: “NO AIR.” Canady supervised that event, too, and recalled, “If you came to see me [in 2010], we said the Big Dog doesn’t allow air. And I was the Big Dog. But here we encourage them to get air, and we’re making sure they have the knowledge to do it.”
That knowledge will come from safety lessons—like the ones Canady taught at the Shakedown. Once the boys could prove they had it down, they got the OK to ride the tracks with sharper turns, higher jumps, and—oh, yeah—more opportunities to defy gravity. But he did more than give Scouts the thumbs up or thumbs down after their brief evaluation ride. He told them what they did wrong and gave them time to improve—even if it took two, three, or, in the case of one committed Scout, six more tries.
Canady said that the process tests Scouts on their own physical ability—neither too easy, like the 2010 course that played it safe, nor unsafe or intimidating. He called it “challenge by choice,” meaning Scouts of any skill level could find a high-adventure experience tailored just for them. That’s why Canady was manning the BMX course at the Shakedown, which served as a trial run for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.
“We want to provide them with the most exciting jamboree possible, but we don’t want to put them in harm’s way,” Canady explained, fixing his eyes on the next Scout biker’s pedals. “We want to mitigate the risk but escalate the excitement.”
That philosophy will not only apply to the BMX course in 2013, but to every activity at the jamboree. Volunteers attending the Shakedown, scheduled to supervise the skate park, zip line, climbing wall, challenge course, canopy tour, and mountain-bike trails next summer, all said the same thing: Scouts at the Summit will get to choose their own adventure. And though each Scout will take a different path, his destination will be the same: an exciting, enriching, engaging experience a boy or girl can find only in Scouting.
IF JULY’S TRIAL RUN gave Shakedown participants a preview of the action in store for the 40,000 Scouts and Scouters who will descend on the Summit next summer, it also gave them a useful list of what problems could arise at the jamboree and solutions to those problems that could improve their experience.
On arrival day, some 2,000 attendees became the first troops to have their boots on the ground at the site. But not before Mother Nature threw them a curveball. Prior to dawn, charter buses pulled into Crossroads Mall in Mount Hope, W.Va., where unrelenting overnight rain filled the mall parking lot with puddles. The rain’s real damage, though, took place five miles away. The Summit’s dirt-road entrance was now a mud pit, forcing the big charter buses to stay put.
Troops and crews transferred their belongings onto smaller, more-agile school buses while road crews at the Summit laid down fresh gravel for traction. Finally, three-and-a-half hours after the first buses were due on site, the Scouts rolled in. After the unexpected speed bump, none of the Scouts—and only a few of the adults—complained.
Great Lakes Council Scouter Mark Fobare wasn’t one of them. Fobare was all smiles 30 minutes into the Shakedown as his troop pitched blue-dome tents with orange rain flies. “Just coming through the front, it’s so much prettier than A.P. Hill,” he said, comparing the Summit to the Virginia military base that hosted every jamboree from 1981 to 2010. He nodded to the rolling mountains surrounding the campsite. “That was just so flat. Here we’ve got trees, you know?”
And the rain? “You know what?” Fobare said. “It’s Scouting.”
RAIN OR SHINE, Scouts crave adventure, which is why skateboarding will play a role in the 2013 jamboree experience. But if you have trouble picturing a teenage Scout as a teenage skateboarder, you won’t for long—if Tim Birt has his way.
“Scouts are action-oriented kids,” said the 51-year-old Scouter from the Columbus, Ga.-based Chattahoochee Council. “Embracing the things that kids do today keeps Scouting fresh. But also it teaches a lot of boys something they’ve never done before.”
Birt and several other adults have domain over the activity making its jamboree debut next year. Just like Canady’s BMX course, this event requires Scouts to pass a skills test to demonstrate that they’re comfortable starting, turning, and stopping on those four polyurethane wheels.
If they pass the test, they get access to the half-pipe, grind rails, and the kind of ramps you’d expect from a skate park designed by one of the minds behind the X-Games. But Scouts stepping onto a board for the first time won’t be rolled to the more-extreme park and left to fend for themselves. They’ll sharpen their skills first with laps on a flat oval track, just like you’d see at a roller rink.
“We’re not going to put a beginner on a course where he’s gonna end up upside-down,” Birt said. “That’s just not going to happen because we want to be safe. But the reality is, we want kids to have high adventure. It’s the Summit. It’s the top. It’s the ultimate experience.”
The ultimate, perhaps, but not the only game in town. Birt knows other activities beckon. If the BSA wants to compete, it must ensure that today’s Scouts go faster and higher than any Scout before. Teens will skateboard one way or another, Birt said, so why not let them do it with their troop or crew where they’ll get a dose of Scouting values along with the adrenaline? That’s something not found at a local skate park. That’s helping Scouts become “Prepared. For Life.”
“It’s amazing what skating can do for the development of character for kids,” Birt said. “There’re some kids that team sports work really well for. For other kids, that doesn’t work as well. Especially kids with disabilities.”
That point isn’t lost on Birt. If you watch him skate from afar, all you’ll see is a confident man showing Scouts a third his age how it’s done. Step closer, though, and you see just how remarkable the man is. He points to his artificial leg, the result of a birth defect that left him missing part of his tibia on the right side. After a series of surgeries, Birt was skating by age 8.
Four decades later, he’s no longer performing flip tricks or 360 spins, but he still glides around the skate park effortlessly. Scouts at the Shakedown took notice, and many stopped to gawk at his skills. Then, they lined up to try it themselves. “I think it’s really inspiring to see somebody that has a physical disability just out here killing it,” Birt said. “Like, ‘Oh gosh, that guy can do it. Maybe I can, too.’”
Birt’s insistence on disability awareness affects other aspects of the Summit as well. He and other volunteers examined every activity for next year’s jamboree to find ways to make it accessible to Scouts with physical and mental challenges. Scouts with Asperger’s, autism, dyslexia, or other learning differences will feel at home with staff trained to provide individual attention when they spot a Scout struggling. And staff also will accommodate Scouts who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices thanks to special zip-line harnesses, custom-built mountain bikes, and other need-based equipment.
“THE SUMMIT’S a very challenging place,” Birt explained. “There’re lots of mountains and hills and so forth, so there are some things we may not be able to get people to, but we’re going to do our best. It’s all about making opportunities available for everyone in Scouting. That’s what Scouting’s all about.” Everyone? As a matter of fact …
When 17-year-old Jenny Welles last checked, girls were allowed in the Boy Scouts of America’s Venturing program, but past jamboree planners might as well have put up a “No Girls Allowed” sign. Next summer, that will change.
For the first time, the BSA has invited girls in Venturing to its signature event. Welles, a Bay Lakes Council Venturer and past Area Venturing president, said it’s about time. “In 2010 my brother went [to the jamboree], and he had a lot of fun, and I was super-jealous that I couldn’t go. And now, next year, it seems like it’s gonna be even better with all the high-adventure stuff.”
Welles said she enjoyed her time in Girl Scouts, but she craved high adventure. Her mom told her about the Venturing program, which led her and some friends to start a crew as soon as they turned 14. These days, Welles’ crew frequently spends time whitewater kayaking in Wisconsin. But next summer’s jamboree will offer the girls a chance to kick it up a notch in West Virginia’s New River Gorge.
“I’m glad that they’re starting to integrate girls in here, because we really enjoy it,” Welles said. “I feel like they thought we’d all be really sissy and can’t do anything. But we’re really showing them that we can do it, too.”
Gerald Kiste, a Scouter from the Gerald R. Ford Field Service Council in Michigan, agrees. Kiste notes that a frequent excuse in the past for keeping girls out of the jamboree was the fear of teenage boys and girls camping in close proximity. But he doesn’t foresee any problems at next summer’s big event. In his experience, it’s simply not a concern.
“I find that the youth in Scouting know the morals and the ways of being Scouts,” Kiste said. “They’re all here just to do one thing, and that’s have fun.”
IN SPITE OF SOME unique challenges facing Scouters and Scouts at the new West Virginia site, Shakedown participants all seemed to agree on at least one thing: Young or old, boy or girl, wheelchair user or not, those who attend the 2013 National Scout Jamboree can create exactly the type of experience they want.
Troops and crews will, of course, have programmed activities, including a service project and hike to the Summit’s summit: Garden Ground. But just like at past jamborees, the 10-day event will offer plenty of free time for Scouts who want to try their favorite high-adventure activity. Science fans, fishing buffs, archery aficionados, and patch traders (read more about patch trading at the Summit) also will find experiences designed specifically for them. And, like so many Scouting outings, if the Scouts have fun, the adults will too.
Take Scouter Jerry Dold, for instance. As a child, Dold’s family couldn’t afford to send him to the 1977 jamboree. He made up for it, attending the 2010 jamboree and taking Scouts on Philmont treks and Northern Tier excursions. “It’s been my goal to get these kids to do high adventure,” Dold said. Now, 35 years after the jamboree he missed, the Scouter from the Bay Lakes Council is among the first characters in the next chapter of the BSA’s jamboree story. And this chapter, he said, is unlike the one before.
“If you’re used to Fort A.P. Hill,” Dold explained, “they’ve been saying to be in shape [for 2013], and that’s absolutely true. Just look around—we’re living in the mountains. From the campsite to the activities, you go down the mountain and [then] back up the mountain. It’s strenuous. But it’s the same concept of being in shape for Philmont, Northern Tier, and Sea Base. And [the Summit is] just as fabulous.”
If the trial runs at the Summit Shakedown proved any indication, adults like Dold should be both physically and mentally prepared. Michael Hardebeck, who helmed “rolling sports” (skateboarding, BMX, and mountain biking) said that rather than focus on getting Scouts on and off the course as quickly as possible, staff members like him and “Big Dog” Canady, were offering lessons Scouts can take away.
Hardebeck, a Scouter from the Far East Council in Japan, noted the volunteer staff’s “passion to deliver an experience. It’s not like, ‘Here, kid, take a ride.’ They’re teaching them,” he said. “It’s a whole different skill-set, and they’re all dedicated to teaching the kids how to be successful.”
That process also includes Scouts with absolutely no experience. “Some teenage boys out here had never ridden a bicycle, and these guys are running behind them like Dad with a 5-year-old holding onto the back of the bike in the rain,” he said. “And it’s all for the Scouts. Three of those kids came back and were riding the trails the same day,” Hardebeck said, smiling. “Those are the victories.”
BRYAN WENDELL is Scouting magazine’s Senior Editor.
Be There in 2013
Attend, staff, or visit the 2013 National Scout Jamboree, held July 15-24. Learn more at summit.scouting.org.