This story originally appeared in the January-February 2011 issue of Scouting magazine.
The biggest Cub Scout event of the year doesn’t have to be the longest. After all, families shouldn’t have to bring a late-night snack to survive their pack’s annual blue and gold dinner.
Yet some blue and gold banquets last longer than Gone with the Wind, testing the endurance of Cub Scouts and parents alike. This happens because leaders try to cram everything into the event: advancement ceremonies, Webelos Scout crossovers, leader recognition, skits, slideshows, songs, outside entertainment, announcements and — oh, yeah — a three-course meal.
So how can you get everything accomplished and still get the kids in bed on time? Elaine Hebenthal, pack trainer for Pack 23 in Tallahassee, Fla., says, “You can’t do it all and not have it take a long, long time.”
But that doesn’t mean you should consider marathon blue and gold banquets inevitable.
Hebenthal and Kathy Gaidos, Cubmaster of Pack 382 in Nashville, Tenn., suggest three simple steps to avoid blue-and-gold overload.
To spend less time at your blue and gold banquet, spend more time planning it. Gaidos starts the process after Christmas. By the time she’s finished, every leader has an agenda of how long each segment will take.
“I break it out by den,” she says, “so I know that I’m going to allow this much time for this den and that much time for that den. They really appreciate it, because I’m not hurrying them.”
Preparing properly also means ensuring workers set up the room and place all recognition items long before the program begins. And to save time, she puts each Cub Scout’s awards in a labeled zip-top bag.
Prune the Program
Next, Hebenthal says, decide what needs to take place at the banquet and what could happen in another setting. For example, “Some packs will have the Webelos crossover separate from blue and gold, maybe at the March pack meeting or maybe even something entirely separate,” she says.
Also, don’t hand out every arrow point, bead and belt loop at the blue and gold banquet. When her Cub Scouts earn participation patches, Gaidos presents them at a regular meeting.
“I’ll have all the kids come up together and say something about what they’ve done or where they went,” she says.
If you take that approach, consider listing the awards in the banquet’s printed program.
“That makes it visible so that everybody can see who’s earned what,” Hebenthal says.
Pruning the program allows you to give activities the attention they deserve. If the Webelos Scout crossover is a standalone event, for example, you might invite the dance team from your Order of the Arrow lodge to participate. And by holding off on activities such as leader recognition, you avoid sending the message that the Cub Scout year is ending.
For step three, make sure you don’t waste time during the banquet. That process starts at the beginning: “If you say you’re going to start at 6:30, start at 6:30. That really does help us keep it on schedule,” Gaidos says.
Encourage families to arrive early. Her pack begins a slideshow of the year’s highlights about 15 minutes before the start time. Since everyone wants to see the photos, they’re usually in their seats when the banquet begins.
Efficiency continues when the meal is served. By having multiple serving lines and setting up separate drink and dessert stations, Hebenthal’s pack seats people more quickly. You can also use eating time strategically. One pack in her district, recognizing that kids scarf down their food and then get antsy, schedules den skits during dinner. Other packs use the last part of dinner for leader recognition.
Both Hebenthal and Gaidos recommend keeping announcements to a minimum, referring families to newsletters and websites instead.
“Announcements just take too long, and kids don’t care,” Gaidos says.
What they do care about is having a good time. By keeping your banquet simple, making it fun and watching the clock, you can ensure that your banquet is remembered for something besides its record-breaking length.