How to tame the belt-loop day circus

The Ringling brothers have nothing on Sandy Martens. A few years back, the veteran Racine, Wis., Scouter turned a local park into a circus with considerably more than three rings for her district’s Belt Loop-a-Looza.

On an October Saturday, counselors for 14 different Cub Scout Academics and Sports Program belt loops set up shop at the park, and boys from across the Lighthouse District—176 of them—worked to earn five belt loops of their choice.

Although boys can always earn belt loops on their own or in their packs, Martens says that districtwide or multipack belt-loop days connect boys with qualified counselors and make earning belt loops for team sports easier. After all, it’s tough to play soccer solo.

The programs allow leaders to share the burden of planning. Martens’ first decision was to enlist non-Scouters to teach most of the belt loops. Why? She wanted to round up a bunch of experts and enthusiasts. So a police officer conducted the Bicycling belt-loop training, while a meteorologist handled Weather. Students from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, whom Martens found through campus clubs and intramural teams, took on several others, including Geography, Geology, Soccer, and Softball.

“We had people coming from all over teaching these things,” Martens says. “This gave them service time, and it gave them good experience at working with younger kids.”

That doesn’t mean Scouters weren’t involved. Martens’ husband, Vaughn, filled in for one absent counselor, and a group of local Boy Scouts taught Wilderness Conservation and prepared lunch for the participants.

Scheduling Tips

Martens intentionally scheduled her Belt Loop-a-Looza for mid-October—early enough to avoid cold weather and late enough to include new Cub Scouts. As she explains, “This is a great way to introduce them to Scouting. It’s not too expensive, they’re going to earn something right away, and it’s fun.”

She advises that you could also make a belt-loop day one of your pack’s summer activities. Doing so would help the boys earn the National Summertime Pack Award.

Five one-hour sessions, with a lunch break about midway through, constituted Martens’ event. Because some belt loops took less time than others, counselors planned extra activities to fill the time. For example, the Map and Compass station offered an expanded compass course the boys could complete. But though some of these extra activities related to pin requirements, they only got credit for belt loops.

Pulling It Together

Martens faced her biggest challenge getting boys into the right sessions. The registration form allowed each boy to give his top-five choices, along with two alternatives. Then, she built the schedule around these preferences. Although the process gave her some latitude, Martens still found it difficult to ensure that each session had enough—but not too many—participants. Next time, she says, she’ll create the schedule first.

After making session assignments, Martens notified the local council service center so they could stock up on belt loops. However, instead of presenting belt loops at the event, Martens gave each pack a list of the belt loops its boys had completed.

That helped reduce costs. “If something’s more than $5 or $6, parents aren’t going to have their kids do it because it’s too expensive,” she says.

Martens calls the Belt Loop-a-Looza a great success. So much so, in fact, that she hopes to stage a council-wide version of the event in the future that brings together several hundred Cub Scouts for a similar day of learning and earning.

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