Running a district camporee is hard work for adults. It takes organization, creativity, and months and months of advanced planning.
Now imagine putting Scouts in control.
That’s the camporee hosted last fall by Troop 98 from Whitpain Township, Pa.
“It’s an incredibly empowering task for a troop,” Troop 98 Scoutmaster Bob Trejo says. “If you do it, it’s a very galvanizing esprit de corps event.”
The process is similar to the planning of any boy-led adventure.
More than a year before the potential date of the event, the district asked the troop if it would host the camporee. The troop’s adults then approached the patrol leaders’ council with the idea. They let the Scouts know what they’d be getting into, what kind of commitment it would take and what the expected outcome would be.
Then they stepped back to see how it all played out.
The decision was a resounding “yes.”
“Our job as assistant Scoutmasters and Scoutmasters is to inspire these boys,” Assistant Scoutmaster Pete Stobie says, “to give them some inspiration so they can take it to the next level.
“I had a list of a few things. ‘Hey, maybe you can do this, and maybe you can do this.’ Then I walked out of the room.”
Then the work began.
Scouts Provide Ideas …
Some of the older Scouts had been around long enough to remember the last time the troop hosted a camporee three years earlier. They knew a few things about the time commitment and overall dedication it takes to plan such an event.
For the younger guys, it would be their first time taking on such a daunting task.
“We were working on older boys, hoping they would step up with leadership and come up with ideas,” Stobie says.
The first step for the Scouts was to come up with a theme. They knew they wanted to host a series of Scout skills competitions, but they also wanted to dress it up in a way that would be more likely to attract other units.
Among their ideas: James Bond, the magic of movies, the United States Secret Service and Shrek.
Ultimately, they settled on a theme that appeals to adults and kids alike: Star Wars.
“I think the Star Wars theme helped greatly,” 15-year-old Seth Miller says. “Yes, you can practice Scouting skills, but how cool is it to do it with a super-cool theme?”
Next, the Scouts came up with a list of Scout skills that could work in a camporee setting and tried to figure out creative ways to tie them in with their theme.
How can you make pioneering about Star Wars? How about challenging participants to lift an X-wing with ropes and spars?
How can you give physical fitness a Star Wars twist? How about making it a Jedi training course?
“It was fun, because you got to talk to your friends about all of your different ideas,” says Andrew George, 12. “It was
difficult, because sometimes they might not agree with you.”
… Adults Provide Structure
The Troop 98 adults gave the Scouts certain criteria they had to follow.
First, each event had to involve a legitimate Scout skill. Just because Star Wars is fiction doesn’t mean the skills the Scouts would teach at this event could be fiction, too.
The next criterion was that the skill challenge could be completed in a reasonable amount of time. They did not want the participants to have to wait in long lines for their station to be ready.
Of course, that meant extra work for Troop 98. For example, it wasn’t enough to have one Han Solo figure frozen in carbonite-looking water for the Scouts to melt. That would cause a backlog as the next competitor waited for his turn.
Instead, they had to have five different figures for five different fire lays and a few spare figures just in case.
The final criterion was that each challenge had to be achievable. The event was open to Arrow of Light Scouts all the way up to 17-year-olds, which caused an additional planning challenge.
“And we kept reinforcing the criteria along the way,” says Trejo.
The ensuing discussion and planning became the troop’s program for months.
They made multiple trips to the site of the camporee, mapping things out and working on logistics. Then they’d go back to their meeting room to come up with more ideas and more solutions.
As the date of the event drew closer, the patrols began to take more and more ownership of their specific stations.
“These guys were showing up at meetings and building R2 units,” Trejo says. “And they had to build a lot of them, because they needed five — and they needed spares.
“Then when other Scouts saw this stuff going on, they were like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ There was a positive upward spin of enthusiasm and engagement.”
Then the ideas really started flowing.
One Scout noted that his mother was a good seamstress. Next thing you know, the entire patrol shows up in Jawa costumes.
Another Scout took home an Ewok doll to figure out if it could be used as a first-aid mannequin. He cut open part of its leg and inserted a broken straw. Voila: compound fracture, Star Wars-style.
“We’d plant ideas; they’d run with it,” Trejo says. “The creativity was outstanding.”
Ideas were tweaked and problems were solved up until the last minute. Just before the actual camporee was set to begin, a cable holding up the X-wing broke.
“You’re running up to the campsite trying to find some way you can fix this,” says Adam Pieroni, a 16-year-old senior patrol leader at the time of the camporee. “You’re always running around doing stuff like that.”
Turns out, the Force was strong with them: The camporee went over without any major hitches. A few scrapes on the BMX course, maybe. But overall, a Death Star-smashing success.
The Scouts of Troop 98 pulled off a camporee that taught practical Scout skills without being stale or boring.
“They learned different skills,” 12-year-old Brendan Dow says, “but the main thing they learned was teamwork. Participants used all of the skills they learned in Scouting and showed how teamwork can be applied in everything they come across.”
When the event was over and the Scouts had left no trace at the event site, they had the chance to reflect on the experience of hosting such an event.
“You put so much time into it,” Adam says. “You’re kind of worried the day before: Is it going to go well? Are people going to like it?
“Then you realize you did a great job.”
Troop 98’s Tips on Hosting a Camporee
1. Come up with an engaging theme.
2. No matter the theme, include real, practical Scout skills.
3. Keep it moving. Don’t let participants wait in line before each station.
4. Have clear and objective scoring. Keep the “Scout spirit” event separate so a patrol doesn’t excel at an event only to be told later that they didn’t cheer enough.