During his nine years with Pack 1187 in Houston, Webelos den leader Kevin McLaughlin has watched graduating Webelos Scouts cross all sorts of bridges. Among them: a rope monkey bridge, a permanent bridge over a duck pond, and even two picnic tables shoved together, their benches serving as a walkway.
McLaughlin says each bridge had different effects on the crossover ceremony. The picnic tables boosted the boys up into the air, which made for good photos. The duck-pond bridge offered a powerful visual representation of the Scouts’ passage from Cub Scouting to Boy Scouting. And the monkey bridge? “It was great in theory but really bad in practice,” he says. “You invariably have the one kid who’s not coordinated enough to get across it, slips, and ends up straddling the rope, which tends to put a damper on the ceremony.”
The common thread, though, in all of the pack’s crossover ceremonies was that they were held outside, typically at Houston’s Bear Creek Pioneers Park. “We’ve always done it outdoors because we try to keep the Scouts outside. Scouting is outing,” McLaughlin says.
Chuck Fetterman agrees. For more than a decade, the Mount Diablo Silverado Council unit commissioner has led elaborate crossover ceremonies at the five-acre farm he and his wife, Penny (another longtime Scouter), own in Knightsen, Calif. Several times each year, packs come to “Camp Fetterman” to participate. And like the ceremonies in McLaughlin’s pack, his also involve a bridge.
Not just any bridge. It’s a special creation that Fetterman designed himself.
The bridge begins as two stanchions placed on a stage about 10 feet apart. One features the Cub Scout logo, the other the Boy Scout logo. After Fetterman points out the gap between the stanchions, three Boy Scouts begin to fill the space. The older boys connect the stanchions with beams emblazoned with three points of the Scout Oath: duty to God and country, duty to others, and duty to self. They then add planks representing the 12 points of the Scout Law, creating a smooth walkway for the graduating Webelos Scouts to cross.
“They remember it,” Fetterman says. “I see some of them 12 years later, and they always remember Camp Fetterman and the bridging-over they did here.”
Of course, Fetterman’s bridge could be set up inside, but he wouldn’t dream of it. In the past he resorted to fake fires and dimmed lights in church fellowship halls, so he knows what a difference it makes to be outside. “I’d never think of going back inside a building. We haven’t done anything in a building in 12 years,” he says.
You don’t have to go somewhere like Camp Fetterman to have a great outdoor crossover ceremony, though. Just about any natural area will do—maybe even the grounds around your regular meeting place. You could also try an outdoor classroom or amphitheater because there’s usually seating and some sort of a stage area.
Because of outdoor distractions, and perhaps impending darkness, you’ll want to consider keeping your ceremony brief. Still, it should last long enough to justify the trip for families, especially if they traveled far to attend.
And you might spend time around a campfire afterward. Fetterman follows his crossovers with a flag-retirement ceremony, while McLaughlin’s pack roasts marshmallows and makes s’mores.
Staging your ceremony outdoors also means having a backup plan in case of rain. That could involve choosing a site with a pavilion or planning an alternate location or date.
McLaughlin advises that you expect the unexpected. “You will have the sibling who will become frightened because an owl hoots,” he says.
Remember that a successful ceremony should involve the parent or parents crossing over, as well.
That reinforces the message that families will be involved with their son’s new troop just as they were with his pack.
Holding crossover ceremonies outdoors requires more of the adults involved, says McLaughlin—both the leaders who have to haul props and the parents who have to haul boys. But he thinks it’s worth it.
“It’s not for the people involved; it’s for the Scouts,” McLaughlin says. “That’s the attitude we take. To a degree, it’s for Mom and Dad. But really, it’s for the guys.”