Last August, just as fall recruiting was gearing up in the Susquehanna Council in Williamsport, Pa., another local event was getting a lot more attention: the Little League World Series. Nearly 25,000 people attended the championship game, one of 33 games televised on ABC or ESPN.
“We live in a Little League town,” says Dave Whitnack, Cubmaster of Pack 14 in Williamsport. “Baseball’s rabid here.”
But baseball is just one attraction. Chad Larson, Cubmaster of Pack 88 in nearby Montoursville, has Scouts who are also into football, soccer and wrestling. And things are much the same for the girls who joined that pack last spring, says the Rev. Beverly Cotner, whose church charters Pack 88.
“Girls are just as busy,” she says. “The activities may be different.”
Fortunately, these and other Scouters say Cub Scouting can both survive and thrive in a busy environment. You just have to remember the three C’s: calendaring, communication and commendation.
In high school, extracurricular activities can become all-consuming, but schedules are somewhat less demanding in elementary school. That means there’s space for den meetings — you just have to find it.
Whitnack says it helps to stake your claim on meeting days early. His pack planned its program year six months in advance, so families choosing sports teams already knew which dates would and wouldn’t work.
But sometimes you have to get a little more creative. When Beverly Cotner’s husband, Mike, was den leader for their older son, Derek, the pack they were in at the time held dual den meetings.
“One team didn’t have practice on Monday, and the other team didn’t have practice on Tuesday,” he says. “As a den, we didn’t all meet together; half would meet on one night and half would meet on another night.”
Larson, meanwhile, likes to hold monthly weekend events where Cub Scouts can get caught up.
“You try to plan in advance that you’re going to do something,” he says. “Then, at the last minute, you change up your plan based on what each Scout needs.”
If all else fails, you can even change meeting nights with the seasons.
“We would never set anything in stone,” Mike Cotner says. “They would change from fall to winter to spring.”
Good communication is important, especially with families that might miss the occasional meeting (or month of meetings). Whitnack’s pack relies heavily on Scoutbook. He says the BSA’s web app for tracking advancement and communicating with parents is a handy tool.
“I go to eight different places for sporting information, and I go to one place for Scouting information, which is Scoutbook,” he says.
Besides informing parents, you also have to sell them, Larson says.
“You can communicate until the cows come home, but until you actually have a program that’s exciting for the kids, that they want to come to, you’re not going to hear from them,” he says.
Outreach is also important, Mike Cotner says.
“If we didn’t see anybody for a month or so, we would call the parent and make sure the child was still interested,” he says. “We didn’t want them to lose interest.”
Finally, it’s important to commend, not criticize, Cub Scouts who are active in sports and other youth activities.
“We let them know it’s important to be at den meetings and pack meetings, but it’s also important to play sports and be part of music programs,” Whitnack says.
Last year, he had a boy show up at an awards ceremony out of uniform for the first time in a month. When an adult complained that the boy wasn’t in uniform, Whitnack quickly pointed out that the boy had just come from a school event.
“He was upset that he had to go to his choir concert,” he says. “He wanted to come to Scouts.”
(Whitnack knew how the boy felt; he attended his own Eagle Scout board of review in a tuxedo because he was headed to an orchestra event.)
Pack 14 also encourages dens to attend one another’s ballgames. If the kids in the dugout wonder about a player’s cheering section, it’s easy to say, “They’re his Cub Scout friends; you should come, too.”
In fact, that’s pretty much what happened when the Cotners’ younger son, Matthew, was in kindergarten.
“One night after practice in the spring, we brought applications and handed them to every boy that was on the team,” Mike Cotner says. “Ten out of the 12 signed up.”
More than half those boys eventually became Boy Scouts, including Matthew. He went on to play football well into high school and recently became an Eagle Scout like his soccer-playing brother.