ONE LITTLE PATCH started a revolution.
Spencer Haberman (right) was a bright-eyed Cub Scout when a leader gave him a patch, a three-dollar shoulder strip from the Sam Houston Area Council in Texas. That Scouter couldn’t have known that 10 years later, Spencer’s passion for patches would turn into a peaceful protest designed to preserve roadside trading at the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. Never mind that the entire protest was based on a misunderstanding—more on that later.
Scouts welcome any excuse to swap patches. Which is why Spencer, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout, and his friends trudged from campsite to campsite advertising the protest and personally inviting everyone at the Summit Shakedown to bring their cots and set up their patches on the road leading to the headquarters tent.
These Scouts will trade patches whether they’re told to or not—all in clear view of the jamboree decision-makers. This was trading with a purpose. “A lot of people wanted to hear what it was for, and so I told them,” Spencer said. When it comes to standing up for what you believe in, “it doesn’t hurt to try.”
It didn’t take long for the news to spread, and the event grew from three to 300 Scouts in less than an hour. At the protest’s peak, with the sun sinking behind the mountains, at least two-dozen green cots lined the road—each blanketed with patches.
On one side, Scouts sat on paint buckets, camp stools, and yellow wagons in front of their collections. On the other side, Scouts with zip-top bags stuffed with patches made offers. “I’ll give you all of these for that,” one Scout said, handing over his bag and pointing at a Marvel Comics patch popular at the 2010 jamboree. No deal.
In some respects, Spencer’s demonstration worked. It got Scouts interested in swapping patches and in learning more about the policies for next year’s jamboree. But as Russell Smart points out, Spencer’s information was a little off. Smart, chairman of the jamboree program group, said roadside patch trading—the impromptu swaps that have been a part of jamborees since the beginning—isn’t forbidden. Nobody will come by, roll up a Scout’s blanket, and tell him to leave, Smart said.
Instead, jamboree planners have created a designated patch-trading area at the stadium (known as the “arena” at past jamborees). “It doesn’t mean we’re not going to allow trading anywhere else other than at the stadium,” Smart said. “It does mean that we’re going to suggest that there are appropriate times and places to trade, and that there are other places and times that are not appropriate.”
Smart cites several benefits to trading in the designated area: enhanced security to prevent theft, opportunities to learn from International Scouting Collectors Association representatives, and an easier time finding must-have patches. “Once the popular patches bubble up to the surface, kids spend an inordinate amount of time walking to try to find those patches,” Smart said.
He mentions the Yoda patch from California’s Marin Council as a recent example. The Star Wars-themed patch was like gold at the 1997 and 2001 jamborees, meaning some Scouts walked miles and miles to the Western Region campsites to trade for one instead of spending that time doing program activities. “The hope is that if we can congregate them in the stadium, every patch is going to be there,” Smart said. “If he really wants to find a Yoda patch, there’s one place where he can definitely find one.”
Jim Bancroft, a Scouter with the Connecticut Rivers Council, approves of the “everything in moderation” approach to patch trading. “I’ve been to a lot of jamborees and [National Order of the Arrow Conferences], and patch trading is just part of the Scouting culture,” Bancroft said. “The designs are just incredible, beautiful. I can see the attraction. But patch trading shouldn’t take up an entire Scout’s jamboree. You can’t stop it, but certain times of the day it’s appropriate.”
Spencer, who admits he spent the whole 2010 jamboree trading patches, is unconvinced. He’s hooked. “For me it’s fun. You get to meet people. I feel I almost talked to every person in the camp. I met people from all over the country,” he said. “I don’t know that I’d trade that for anything. And it’s all because of patches.”
Over the years, most of Spencer’s patches have come and gone, but there’s one he’ll never trade: the Sam Houston council patch, the first one in his collection. It has a permanent place at the front of his patch book—a reminder of what started it all.
Spencer said he hopes to inspire the next generation of patch traders the way he was motivated as a Cub Scout. That’s why he gives away more than half of his patch fortune to younger Scouts—sort of the Warren Buffett of the patch world.
“Earlier I saw little Scouts that came up to us upset,” Spencer recalled. “‘I don’t have any patches to trade. Can I buy one from you?’ I told them, ‘I can’t sell you a patch, but here’s a patch. Go start.’ You gotta help ’em out and give them a chance to start somewhere, and I hope it sparks the patch trading in them.”
Sometimes one patch is all it takes.
READ MORE ABOUT THE SUMMIT SHAKEDOWN IN THIS BEHIND-THE-SCENES STORY.
I am not a scout and neither a scout master. But I am a proud Master Mason and I do help kids whith our hospital programs when they need that and once a year get them to the circus that we have in Los Angeles at no charge.
I went to a Scout Jamboree 2 years ago when I was in washington DC area with my Grandson, he was a cub scout at the time and wanted to visit the Jambory in VA. We went and met several scouts and also Spencer. It was absolutly fantastic for the boys there. Spencer at that time took charge over my grandson and showed him what they did and also showed him the patches. He gave him some and said come on I’ll show you how you trade. I followed but did not say anything. It was a pleasure to see the respect that all the scout showed to each other and were extremely helpfull in showing and guiding the younger scouts as to what they should do and also how to collect series of the patches.
Needless to say that because of Spencer’s devotion and help, my Grandson became even more interested in continuing to be a boyscout. Yes I understand that Spencer is an Eagle Scout and I have no doubt that he earned all the patches and or medals and ribbons with honor. Spencer has my admoration and respect for realizing the help that the younger boy scouts need in order to carry on the respect and gratitude for each other.
Great story from a great event. I was able to talk to Spencer and witness this event as well; I have to congratulate Spencer on organizing such a successful event and capturing the attention he did. It’s great to see a Scout showing personal leadership skills like this!
The other point I’d like to make is that although he was organizing a protest, he was also exemplifying another Scout trait – that of being courteous. I didn’t hear a single word from Spencer against the leaders of the jamboree or Scouting; he simply wanted to show that patch trading was an important aspect of events to Scouts. Hi5, Spencer!
Glad his experience trading at Jambo 2010 were all positive. My son’s were not. I’m glad to here it’s being setup in an area with adult supervision. During the Jambo there were thefts, and broken arms as patches were forcibly removed by some scouters. I was appalled at first when my son texted me during the Jambo regarding trading (stealing is definitely not part of the Scout’s promise), so I told him to stay away from the area. Imagine having your kid return from Jambo with a broken wrist/arm. The rest of his time at Fort AP was great.
“meaning some Scouts walked miles and miles to the Western Region campsites to trade for one instead of spending that time doing program activities.”
Isn’t that really the Scout’s choice? Maybe he doesn’t care about the program activities.
I used to deal with this at summer camp, parents would be furious because their son chose to skip “class” and go fishing instead. How dare they have fun at summer camp? I had no issues if all a Scout wanted to do at camp was fish and canoe.
Spencer has got the attention of the Scout collecting community and I’m excited that he has agreed to be my guest on Scouting Hot Finds Radio to share his story of how he got the “patch bug” and to retell the tale of what happened at the Shakedown. The comments above that credited him with spreading the Scouting Spirit by sharing patches with younger Scouts to get them started and acting as a mentor is wonderful to see. I can’t wait to talk to Spencer this week and hear his story.