By Kate McClare
In 1968, when Rick Kaiser was a Tenderfoot Scout, his troop participated in a camporee in a city park near downtown Fort Lauderdale. The event, then eight years old, was known as the Scoutmasters Camporee, an annual gathering of troops from throughout the Miami-based South Florida Council.
Conditions were far from ideal, especially for a first-time camper. "It rained," Kaiser recalled, "and my tent was a foot deep in water."
But Kaiser was with his troop when they returned the following year. And the next. He went on to become an Eagle Scout, an assistant Scoutmaster, and finally, chief of the same camporee that had nearly washed him away.
For last year's event, Kaiser led scores of adult Scouters and other volunteers in planning and executing the camporee, which is one of South Florida's oldest and most popular Scouting traditions.
What started in 1960 as a camp-out involving a few local troops has evolved into a major event which draws Scouts and Scouters from four Florida councils, plus visiting Webelos Scouts and Girl Scouts, for a total attendance of 2,000.
It's still run entirely by volunteers, with the South Florida Council providing only some logistical support.
The council's endorsement is given with enthusiasm. "This is a highlight of the program year, something each person looks forward to," said Scout Executive Jeff Herrmann.
The camporee is rich in traditions passed from one Scouting generation to the next. Rick Kaiser is one of two former camporee chiefs whose own father once ran the event; a third will repeat his father's role in 2000.
The camporee also embraces change when necessary. It moved to a larger county park, added activities for Webelos Scout visitors, and even invited Girl Scout units to participate.
"The basic philosophy is still the same," says 1983 camporee chief Ron Broman, "and the important things haven't changed - fun, leadership development, and skills."
The 1998 camporee theme was "Baden-Powell's Vision Turns 90." It also could have been called "Zeke Landis's Vision Turns 38."
Landis, Scoutmaster of Troop 131 in Fort Lauderdale, founded the camporee in 1960 with 10 other Scoutmasters. "We challenged each other to a little competitive camp-out," he recalled. First aid, compass work, and log-raising were among the contests for Scouts.
"Some of us went to the national Scout jamboree in 1964, and we were so enthralled with the format that we decided to plan the camporee like a jamboree in miniature," Landis said. As a result, attendance soared as word of the camporee spread.
Landis is pleased with the efforts of the 35 chiefs who have followed him. "I'm amazed they've been able to keep up with the times," he admits, citing the addition of technology and sports to appeal to today's Scouts.
The 1998 camporee drew 83 Scout units, totaling more than a thousand youth campers and 330 adult leaders.
Scouts from Troop 102, Bradenton, Fla., drove more than five hours to the camporee. The troop, in the Southwest Florida Council, was one of 14 units from other councils.
"We heard about this at summer camp," said senior patrol leader Ron Baker, 16. "It's pretty cool."
Troop 673, located near the camporee site in western Broward County, has been sold on the event for years. Senior patrol leader Josh Levenson, 15, said he enjoys the camporee because "it's one where you can all work together, join in, and have fun."
Camporee activities run the gamut from Scout skills to athletic contests to educational displays. Patrols spend the morning competing in events such as archery, orienteering, pioneering, and an obstacle course.
And they visit exhibit areas featuring the Order of the Arrow's dance team, merit badge displays, a Buckskin Village re-creating pioneer days, a historic flag challenge, military vehicles, and more.
The afternoon features troop contests in tug-of-war and volleyball, with canoe races, riflery, a swim meet, and tennis matches for older youth groups.
New events in 1998 included a bicycle rodeo, cooking and fire-building contests, and a 5-K run. For the first time, organizers offered merit badge classes that would be continued a month later at South Florida Council's Merit Badge College.
During the day, Webelos Scouts visited the camporee area and also participated in activities arranged especially for them - archery, softball throw, obstacle course, and a demonstration by a local fire rescue department.
"The idea is to get them out to see how Boy Scouts camp," said Mickey Muse, the camporee's Webelos Scout chief for the last eight years.
"I thought it was fun," said Geoffrey Foerst, 11, a Webelos Scout with Pack 190 in Fort Lauderdale who admits he is now looking forward to Boy Scouts more than ever. "You get to camp out a lot and there are fun activities and you can win more awards. And you're a little more independent."
Girl Scout troops were first invited to the camporee in 1997. "We came to camp," said Stephanie Shields, 12, a Cadet Girl Scout with Troop 459 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. She and her troop went through the camporee obstacle course and worked with some Boy Scouts to lash together a tower.
While the Scouts are involved in activities, camporee staff inspect campsites for orderliness and evidence of Scoutcraft. They judge campsite gateways for their use of the camporee theme.
After Saturday dinner, all campers gather for the Sunset Parade, which winds through the park and on to the arena show for awards and entertainment.The show's fireworks finale provides a fitting end to the weekend, but not before an important moment: recognition of the outgoing chief, who is given a unique, handmade neckerchief to commemorate his achievement. Rick Kaiser received his from his father, Dick Kaiser, who was camporee chief in 1975 and 1976.
For Kaiser, it was the end of a 30-year trail. For first-year Scout Sam Seadon, 12, of Troop 422 in Port St. Lucie, Fla., the camporee was a brand-new experience.
"They said it would be big and they'd have lots of activities and we'd have fun," he said. "And they were right."
Freelance writer and active Scouter Kate McClare lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Organization Is the Key
The Scoutmasters Camporee owes much of its success to the structure of its planning committee, which is inspired by the system used by the national Scout jamboree.
The camporee chief is assisted by four vice chiefs. Former chiefs select each new vice chief after reviewing the work of longtime camporee volunteers. "It's three to five years before you're even considered," said 1975-76 chief Dick Kaiser.
A new vice chief then spends four years learning every aspect of the camporee, in preparation to become camporee chief. His first task is organizing the camporee committee's annual Memorial Day canoe regatta, and then the Sunset Parade at his first camporee. In succeeding years he handles activities, registration, and physical arrangements.
The addition and progression of new members results in constant improvements. For example, when Jay Foster ran activities in 1998, he found that many longtime events had no written instructions or list of supplies. "The previous chiefs just had it all in their heads," he said. After having to assemble the obstacle course from scratch, Foster made sure to take pictures of it for the next activities director.
40 going on 41
The 40th Annual Scoutmasters Camporee was held Feb. 19 to 21 at Markham Park, which is located west of Fort Lauderdale in Sunrise, Fla.
The 41st edition of the popular event will be sometime in February 2000. For information, call the South Florida Council, (305) 364-0020 or (954) 584-4200.
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