A Pathway to Remember
By Catharine Fishel
A districtwide crossover ceremony welcomes new Boy Scouts and shows Cub Scouts the fun that awaits them in Boy Scouting.
As a sharp wind raced through Spirit Valley, 400 Scouts, Scouters, and families waited for the night's guests of honor to arrive. Forty fifth-grade Webelos Scouts from the W.D. Boyce Council's Wotamalo District would soon celebrate their entrance into Boy Scouting with an elaborate crossover ceremony.
All was silent except for the beats of an American Indian drum that echoed through the forest; the clear notes of a cedar flute; and the strong voice of storyteller "Red Blanket" (also known as John Gartland), who recounted tales of the promise of Scouting.
At last, the footsteps of soon-to-be new Boy Scouts could be heard on the path, guided by older Boy Scouts in American Indian regalia, many of whom had traveled this same trail as Webelos Scouts.
Incentive and reward
The 2004 Pathways to Scouting, the annual district weekend that helps prepare Webelos Scouts for Boy Scouting and welcomes them to their new troops, had grown in size and reputation since its inception in 1999.
Held each March at the Peoria, Ill., Park District's Camp Wokanda, Pathways to Scouting is hosted by Troop 178 (chartered to the Morton, Ill., United Methodist Church Men's Club), with assistance from other district troops.
The weekend serves as a reward for older Webelos Scouts and encourages younger boys to continue in Cub Scouting and move up to Boy Scouting.
"We brought in the younger Cub Scouts a few years back so that they could see firsthand what the 'big boys' do," explained Denny Lane, former Scoutmaster of Troop 178 and one of the event's guiding forces.
"If they see the fun when they are a Tiger Cub or Wolf or Bear Cub Scout, and especially if they can see the crossover ceremony, they can't wait to do it themselves."
In 2000, an American Indian drum made by Red Blanket became the centerpiece of the troop's ceremony team, known as the Golden Eagles.
"The older guys can remember back when they were Webelos Scouts and how they looked up to the older Scouts," said Don Sheppard, Troop 178 Scoutmaster and ceremony drummer. "Now it's their turn to be one of those guys."
Learning and teaching
On Friday night, troops rolled into camp to set up their activity stations for the next day. Last-minute instructions were given at a senior patrol leaders' meeting later in the evening.
Saturday morning broke crisp and bright as Cub Scout packs from the Wotamalo District arrived for the 9 a.m. flag ceremony.
Then the fun began. Fourth- and fifth-grade Webelos Scouts were organized into groups to visit the stations run by Boy Scouts.
Webelos Scouts could earn a special Wokanda Warrior patch by completing the 20-plus items listed on a skill sheet. Activities like knife and ax safety and fire-starting were selected to give the Webelos Scouts a taste of Boy Scouting.
The Pathways event inspires leadership confidence in Scouts, said Roberto Avina, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 42 of Creve Coeur, Ill. It also helps parents recognize the value of Scouting.
"When parents see how capable the boys are, they can understand how the boy-led troop works," added Mark Smith, Scoutmaster of Troop 20.
"It's fun to be the teacher, for a change," observed Joey Murphy, a Second Class Scout with Troop 71 of Roanoke, Ill., who helped Webelos Scouts learn different ways of fire-starting. "The experience makes me feel more confident, like I could help myself or others if there was trouble."
"It's great to see how excited the kids are," said Star Scout Andy Higgins of Troop 188, Minier, Ill., who was teaching some challenging lashings. "There's no moaning about how difficult it is to do."
Dusk fell and anticipation grew as the hour for the ceremony approached. As darkness overtook the camp, the assembled graduating Webelos Scouts watched their leaders and families depart for Spirit Valley, a natural amphitheater with great acoustics nestled in the middle of the park. The Webelos Scouts were left in the capable hands of the Golden Eagles Ceremony Team.
"Why do you bring these young Webelos Scouts here tonight?" challenged Golden Eagles team member Danny Ziemniak as the new Scouts arrived where he stood with his torchbearing guards.
"So that these Scouts may cross over the bridge and begin their journey down the trail to Scouting's high ideals," answered fellow team member Tim Smith.
The graduating Webelos Scouts followed a pair of eagle dancers down the trail to the ceremony site. At Spirit Valley three chiefs emerged from the darkness and turned to the west, away from their audience, and raised their arms.
David Lane, a longtime team member and Order of the Arrow lodge chief, called out loudly to the sky, beseeching "Chief Wokanda" to send down fire "to light the fires of Scouting in the hearts of all who are present."
As if by magic, Chief Wokanda (Troop 178 committee member Larry Orr) appeared at the top of the valley, holding two torches aloft and flanked by the eagle dancers. He sang out to the awestruck crowd below and sent two fireballs racing 200 feet on hidden cables to the valley floor, where they struck a twin set of six-foot-high tepee fire lays. Brilliant flames burst forth.
Everyone drew in a breath. The crossover had begun.
After each new Scout had been called forward and crossed the bridge, the Golden Eagles' chief turned to the east, the direction of new beginnings. He again called for Chief Wokanda, who this time appeared on the opposite side of the valley crest.
The chief admonished the Scouts to stay true to the Scouting trail. He then vanished, and all was silent, as 40 new Boy Scouts departed the valley, followed by parents, leaders, and other Scouts. When almost everyone was gone and the fires had calmed, a mother of a Webelos Scout approached Denny Lane and asked if her son, who was ready to move up to Boy Scouting and wanted to have the same experience as the Wotamalo Scouts, could also cross the bridge.
Lane was happy to say yes.
The chiefs were called back to witness the boy's first steps toward Boy Scouting. As the new Scout made his way across the bridge, he smiled broadly and checked to see if his mother was watching.
"That's what makes everything worth it," Denny Lane admitted. "Being able to make such an impression on just one kid."
Catharine Fishel of Morton, Ill., is vice president of membership for the W.D. Boyce Council, committee chair of Venturing Crew 318, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 178, and a den leader for Pack 85.
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