Just a few minutes into the Longhorn Council’s Cub-O orienteering event, it’s time to admit the obvious: “I think we’re lost.”
It occurs to me that leading a group of boys ages 7 to 10 through the woods is kind of like leading a group of boys ages 7 to 10 anywhere else.
Sometimes you get lost.
First step: Make sure you have a good map.
Next step: Try to figure out where you want to go.
At this event, there are about a dozen Cub Scouts looking to us adults for hints on the location of the next checkpoint. It’s too many kids to have in one group.
(Note to self: Next time, split the big group into a handful of smaller groups.)
But right now, these boys need direction. In more ways than one.
“I think we need to go … that way?”
It’s supposed to sound like qualified, trained leadership, but it comes out more like a question.
Before we have time to double-check our calculations, the boys go charging off across the grounds of Sid Richardson Scout Ranch in Bridgeport, Texas. The parents chase after them.
That’s the thing about Cub Scouts. They’re almost always eager, always optimistic. It never seems to occur to them that we could be steering them all in the wrong direction.
The fact that we might be lost doesn’t matter. They’re just happy to be outdoors playing with their friends.
That’s the thing about being a Cub Scout leader. You’ve got an opportunity to mold the clay long before it becomes hardened, skeptical or downright stubborn.
Any Cub Scout leader will tell you the experience can absolutely change your life.
I was an employee of the BSA’s National Council for nine years before I volunteered to be the Cubmaster of Pack 282 in Frisco, Texas, part of the Circle Ten Council.
You would think my full-time job would have prepared me for the part-time volunteerism of Pack 282.
You take the online training courses, you buy the leader books, you attend BALOO.
And still, sometimes you get lost.
On the grounds of Sid Richardson, I’m constantly afraid of leaving one of the boys behind. Sure enough, after the 400th headcount, we’re short by one.
I check my phone. There’s a text from Nate’s parents. His feet are hurting. They’re going to the first-aid area to get him checked out.
Thankfully, we’ve got a tremendous amount of support from parents at this event. Every boy has a parent watching his back.
But this is a no-no. The rules say we’re all supposed to stick together no matter what. If one person goes to get first aid, we all go.
It’s not Nate’s fault, and it’s not Nate’s parents’ fault.
It’s the leader’s fault for not doing a good enough job of communicating the rules.
(Note to self: Next time, do a better job of communicating the rules.)
At least young Nate isn’t lost.
Wish I could say the same for myself.
Doing Your Best
Cub-O is an orienteering competition in which teams of Cub Scouts, armed with a map and compass, hike to as many checkpoints as they can during a limited amount of time.
While walking along a road looking for our next target, we meet up with Nate and his parents. He’s smiling, laughing, happy to be reunited with his friends.
And here I was afraid he wasn’t having a good time.
After several hours of traipsing through the woods, the event is over. We turn in our map and celebrate the fact that we did our best.
Some of the packs here are really good at this.
Ours is not one of them.
There are 55 teams in our division. Let’s just say we didn’t finish in the top 50.
As a leader, it’s a little discouraging. I’ve failed to give them proper direction. Literally.
Amazingly, none of the kids care. They’ve just spent an entire day together outdoors, working as a team, helping each other out and having a blast.
As far as they’re concerned, we were never lost. We just took our time getting to the place where we wanted to be.
In the car on the way home, my son is telling me how much fun he had. I’m so enthralled by his enthusiasm that I take a wrong turn and end up at a dead end.
But it’s no big deal. I’m not lost. I’m just taking my time getting to where I want to be.
Cub Scouts and Orienteering
The Wolf Elective Adventure: Finding Your Way requires that Cub Scouts “go on a scavenger hunt using a compass, and locate an object with a compass.” At the same time, according to the BSA’s Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities, the outdoor skill of orienteering is restricted to Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts and Venturers.
What’s the difference?
When it comes to the BSA, at least, it’s about the level of difficulty and the nature of the course.
A timed event on unfamiliar terrain with limited adult help doesn’t lend itself to a positive learning experience for a Cub Scout. A simpler course with an adult mentor — undertaken at the Scouts’ own pace — is a great way to teach map-and-compass skills to Cub Scouts.
AARON DERR IS THE SENIOR WRITER FOR SCOUTING, BOYS’ LIFE AND EAGLES’ CALL MAGAZINES. HE’S ALSO THE CUBMASTER OF PACK 282 IN FRISCO, TEXAS.