Adventure at Every Turn
By Mark Ray
Scouts transform Louisville's legendary racetrack into a festival of Scouting.
Last May, Queen Elizabeth II traveled to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., to watch the Kentucky Derby. Had she arrived just five weeks earlier, she could have visited one of her most famous subjects, Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting.
Lord Baden-Powell -- who bore a striking resemblance to Indiana Scouter Ed Fortener -- was at Churchill Downs for the Lincoln Heritage Council’s 50th annual Scoutorama, which filled the famous racetrack’s infield. All day long, B-P roamed the site, posing for photos and telling visitors how Scouting began.
Cub Scouts were eager to talk with B-P, but older Scouts were a little more circumspect. “Boy Scouts come up by themselves,” Fortener said. “They don’t want to come up when all their buddies are around.”
Water balloons to monkey bridges
No matter. Scouts who were too cool to be seen with B-P found plenty of other activities to occupy their time.
They could shoot water balloons from a catapult, try their hands at archery and casting tracks, visit a Civil War reenactors’ encampment, participate in patrol competitions, crawl over vintage military vehicles, and traverse any of a half-dozen monkey bridges.
Other highlights included a parade, “pushmobile” and pinewood derby races, a chili cook-off, and even an evening movie on the JumboTron TV monitor.
If anything, the Scoutorama theme -- “Adventure at Every Turn” -- understated the array of available activities.
“It’s amazing the booth topics people come up with,” said council program director Sarah Merman Flowers.
“In my mind, this is as good as I’ve ever seen it,” said Scout Executive Marc H. Reynerson (who recently retired). “It gets parents and kids out and lets them see who we are and what we do. It’s just a fun-filled, good activity.”
A location like no other
More than 230 Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Venturing crews, and Explorer posts participated in the 2007 Scoutorama. Many camped out Friday night, waking to the sound of million-dollar thoroughbred horses exercising just a few yards away. Other Scoutorama participants arrived Saturday morning, getting their first view of the grandstand’s world-famous Twin Spires as they emerged from a long tunnel beneath the track.
“I don’t think any other council has quite the venue that we do,” said Mac Barr, the council’s volunteer program chairman. “It really makes it special.”
Churchill Downs has hosted a Scoutorama each spring since 1985 and gives the Scouts unparalleled access to the facility.
“I was basically told whatever I could do to make this thing successful, make it happen,” said Steve Cummins, the track’s senior director of human resources and Scoutorama liaison.
Cummins, who is an Eagle Scout, said the event represents a great partnership. “Churchill Downs is an icon in the community, and I think the Boy Scout program is an icon in society,” he said. “We’re just very pleased to be able to continue the partnership.”
Attractions for all ages
For Tiger Cub Sam Stiles of Pack 28 in Crestwood, Ky., the famous location wasn’t nearly as exciting as the prizes he could win at various pack and troop booths.
“I earned candy by winning games,” he said. “Lots of candy.”
Older Scouts enjoyed winning candy as well, but they also enjoyed hanging out or playing football with new friends.
“It’s just a time for everybody to have fun and meet and greet,” said 13-year-old Boy Scout Kurt Conrad of Troop 341 in Louisville. “Once you go around to all the booths and you start meeting people, that’s what’s the most fun.”
New at the 2007 Scoutorama was the Explorer Expo. Explorer posts chartered to five area fire departments gathered to show off their skills and compete against one another.
In one event, Explorers raced to roll and drag fire hoses and transport a dummy weighing “only” 225 pounds.
“They may not have the muscle tone that a 25- or 30-year-old man has,” explained Jason Hendrix, Post 81 Advisor and the expo’s coordinator.
“We try to make this a little better for them, a little bit easier. But we don’t want to make it too easy, because physical fitness is a big part of firefighting.”
One competitor, 17-year-old Brandon Griffy of Post 31, acknowledged that firefighting is hard work, especially when you’re wearing 40 pounds of gear.
“It gets a little toasty, but it’s nice weather out today,” he said. “Better than in the summer when it’s 90 degrees.”
While the firefighter Explorers were hauling hoses, members of Explorer Post 259, chartered to the Louisville Metro Police Department, spent the weekend on security detail.
“We’ve been patrolling, walking around, making sure everything stays all right,” said Explorer Jahrell Johnson, who was taking a break at the Explorers’ command post near the winner’s circle.
“It’s all right—but a little slow,” said the 16-year-old, who will probably be a lot busier once he achieves his goal of becoming a police detective.
Raising money and awareness
Next door to the Explorers’ command post was the ticket settlement room, one of the Scoutorama’s most important locations -- at least for unit leaders.
Like most Scout shows, Scoutorama is an important fund-raiser for both the participating units and the council. Units councilwide sold more than $86,000 worth of tickets and earned commissions of up to 30 percent.
Individual ticket salesmen earned prizes ranging from a commemorative Scoutorama patch to sleeping bags and tents. The council’s top salesman, Daniel James, 11, of Louisville Troop 376, received two annual passes to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom and a free week at summer camp.
While the Scoutorama raised significant money for the council and participating units, it also raised Scouting’s profile in the community. The (Louisville) Courier-Journal reported the event, as did several local television stations.
As part of the Scoutorama, the council hosted a luncheon to introduce African-American pastors to Scouting.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to broaden our outreach,” explained program chairman Barr.
Some veteran Scout leaders had a similar idea. “We’ve actually picked up leads on some boys wanting to come to the troop,” said Scoutmaster Scott Greenwell of Louisville’s Troop 341. “It’s a good opportunity for people to see you out in the open instead of inside a room.”
Other leaders, however, were more interested in simply getting through the weekend without major problems. Scoutorama was the first outing for Louisville Troop 747, which had held just four troop meetings prior to the event.
“We’re trying to get the boys to learn what it means to be a Scout,” said Scoutmaster Mike Basham, a former Cub Scout leader. “It’s nice to see people out there who realize that you’re a new troop and are willing to help.”
Passing the torch
Indeed, across Churchill Downs, veterans reached out to help newcomers, passing along the traditions of Scouting, and of Scoutorama, to a new generation. Scoutorama chairman Carl Thomas echoed that theme during the opening ceremony.
“I’m sure that some of you Scouts and Cub Scouts will be here when we celebrate our 100th anniversary. Mark your calendars: That’s in 2057.”
Who knows? It is quite possible that Baden-Powell will show up again at the 2057 Scoutorama, bearing a striking resemblance to one of those Cub Scouts Ed Fortener met last spring. It just might happen.
Frequent Scouting magazine contributor Mark Ray lives in Louisville, Ky..