Young Scoutmaster gains respect but isn’t afraid to get silly

When Dan Gunther was in second grade, a couple of friends recruited him to join their Cub Scout pack. Just over a decade later in 2004, the three friends all became Eagle Scouts in Troop 1589.

That was not the end of Gunther’s Scouting trail, however. Far from it. The same year he earned the Eagle Scout Award, he turned 18 and became an assistant Scoutmaster. Eight years after that, Gunther’s Scoutmaster stepped down and Gunther stepped up, becoming that relative rarity: a 20-something Scoutmaster. Even today, at age 31, Gunther still surprises people when he introduces himself as a Scoutmaster at summer camp.

“They never expect that,” Gunther says. “I’m always the youngest.”

How did your overnight transition from youth to adult go?

I had a lot of growing up to do. It took a few years, and then it all started to click when I started working with the program on the adult side and got to understand that side of it.

Young leaders sometimes think they need to be extra serious to gain respect, but you’re not afraid to get silly.

Leaders at Wood Badge gave me all these ideas, and pies in the face for reaching popcorn goals kept coming up. So we did that. Any boy who hit his goal could throw a pie at me. At the time, I was this untouchable person. I wasn’t making a fool of myself or anything like that. I opened up and allowed it, and they ran with it.

Then you moved on to lip-syncing.

Yes, we added a bonus the next year. Pat Louzon, my right-hand man, and I did a lip-sync challenge at our family campout in December. We told them to beat the sales goal by 10 percent and we’d do this in front of everyone. They beat it by 33 percent, and we lip-synced the Power Rangers theme song.

How do you balance being goofy with keeping your Scouts’ respect?

If you talk to them like a normal human being, they’ll always respect you; that’s how we’ve been doing it. The only time I have trouble with respect is from adults that still know me as the 10-year-old.

How do you help Scouts keep Scouting and sports in balance?

I have a lot of kids who are now high-schoolers, so they’re picking up different sports. One year they’ll do baseball and soccer, and the next year I’ll find out someone’s wrestling. I used to fight sports all the time, but it’s such a big thing now that you just have to embrace it. There’s always time; there’s always a way to advance when you’re in sports. Both parties just have to really be understanding.

How do you make sure kids come back when their season ends?

I am very lucky I have a youth leadership team that is very friendly. I’ll send a text to a parent just to make sure a Scout’s still interested, but it’s more the kids getting the word out and asking questions.

Troops everywhere struggle with cellphone policies. What’s your approach?

The biggest rule I have is: Unless it’s planned, no cellphones at meetings. They’re in the pockets on silent. Campouts are a little different, because they’re three days. I think if some of them didn’t have their phones, they’d die. Meals and program time are definitely off limits, but we tend to have downtime between meals and program that we’ll let them get their fix on social media or whatever.

Do the same rules apply to adults?

Yes. If the adults are using cellphones at meetings, I ask them to go into the hall or outside so it’s the same throughout the whole troop. We’ve got a lot of adults who are on call in our troop. On campouts, it’s a bit difficult, but we try our best.

You’ve also embraced social media. How successful was your “Sharknado” promotional video from 2015?

It went from like 10 views in a day to 5,000 in a week. Boys’ Life even shared it on its Facebook page. That was the crowning moment that made me realize technology isn’t necessarily a bad thing in Scouting. If you know how to use it correctly, it will actually benefit your unit.

Fact Sheet: Dan Gunther

Years as a Scout Volunteer: 13

Current City: Macomb, Mich.

Current Position: Scoutmaster, Troop 1589

Day Job: Team lead, Duluth Trading Company

Most Satisfying Moments in Scouting: “There are two: getting Eagle myself and signing the paperwork for my first Scout, who earned his Eagle in 2012.”

Favorite Camp and Why: Silver Trails Scout Reservation, Jeddo, Mich. “It’s a smaller camp, and when we went all the time, it wasn’t being used much. The ranger there was just over-the-top friendly and accommodating, and did everything he could to make the boys feel at home.”

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