"You Are Boy Scouting!"
By Suzanne Wilson
A trained den chief plays a key role in conducting quality den meetings and encouraging Cub Scouts to make the transition from pack to troop.
He knows a lot about Boy Scouts probably everything," says Webelos Scout John Gorzik, 11. He's talking about Justin Bay, 14, a den chief for Webelos Den 4 of Pack 429, chartered to the Route 66 Fraternal Order of Eagles 4307 in Bourbon, Mo.
At this den meeting, Justin (a Scout in Troop 429, chartered to the Bourbon, Mo., Boosters Club) coaches the Webelos Scouts in designing secret codes for their Communicator activity badge. The boys are a bit puzzled until Justin explains, "The object of this little game is to make your own alphabet."
"Ohhhh ...." Now they get it.
"Justin told me he was interested in becoming a den chief," says den leader Karen Smith, "and I knew I could use the help, so I said, 'Great!' The boys like playing with him and listening to him."
Several miles away in Union, Mo., new Webelos Scout leader Jennifer Metcalf goes over meeting plans with her den chief, Joel Brune. "I was glad to hear I was getting a den chief," she says. "I know so little about Scouting, and I don't know anything about camping."
Metcalf was "extra pleased" when Joel, whom she already knew at church, became a den chief. "He's a really good example," she says. "Everything he does, he does well." Joel, 15, is a mem- ber of Troop 442, chartered to the Union Rotary Club.
In Den 16's meeting, Joel is ready with answers to his den leader's questions like, "What's the correct way to carry the flag?" Later, working on the Traveler activity badge, the boys dis- Column Wrap cuss what to pack for an overnight visit to Boy Scout camp. "Is it O.K. to take a pocketknife?" someone asks.
"You have to earn the right to bring a knife," Joel replies. He then explains how Boy Scouts can qualify for a Totin' Chip, the BSA recognition for Scouts who follow the Outdoor Code and who show proper care, handling, and use of a knife and other woods tools.
A valuable presence
A den chief is a Boy Scout who assists a Cub Scout den leader or Webelos Scout den leader at den meetings, pack meetings, and other events. He's a ready source of games, songs, skits, and skills, and he encourages the boys in their advancement.
His presence adds another important asset. He can tell them about Boy Scouting, with its outdoor activities, trips, summer camp, and opportunities for advancement. When it's time for them to move up to a Webelos Scout den or a Boy Scout troop, his example and encouragement can help them decide to make that transition.
"The den chief is one of the keys to the transition to Boy Scouting," says Ernest R. (Tommy) Thomas, associate director of the BSA Cub Scout Division. "He provides the model that the kids look up to ... If you've got a good den chief, he will generally take the kids right on into the troop with him."
The job also benefits the Scouts. By utilizing skills necessary for working with boys, den leaders, and pack leaders, den chiefs can fulfill their leadership requirements for Star, Life, and Eagle ranks.
Training: a good start
Twice a year, the Greater St. Louis Area Council offers a daylong den chief training session. Last December, Justin and Joel joined 131 other Scouts and 52 troop leaders, den leaders, and parents for a Saturday training conference at Hazelwood West High School.
The day was a mixture of advice and fun. Its purpose, said conference chairman Scott Waller, was "to familiarize the new den chiefs with the nature of the jobin case they get a den leader who doesn't know what a den chief should do."
Like the opening of a good Cub Scout meeting, the day began with a gathering activity, a "Yummy Puzzler" for which the Scouts matched descriptive clues to candy bar brand names (for example, "Greasy digit" stood for Butterfinger.) The staff followed the official BSA conference manual, starting with "Your Job as Den Chief" and moving on to leading songs, wearing den chief insignia, helping at Cub Scout day camp, and teaching skills, skits, and games.
Don Neeley, Gravois Trail District vice chairman, tackled "Your Job as Den Chief," stressing the importance of setting a good example for Cub Scouts.
"To them, you are Boy Scouting," he told the den chiefs. "By your example, these kids are going to learn how to be good Scouts." He also noted that the key to getting along with Cub Scouts is having "a good sense of humor, patience, and the ability to have a lot of fun."
The Scouts, most of whom were 12 to 14 years old, took notes, practiced the Cub Scout sign, laughed at presenters' jokes, and learned to anticipate Scott Waller's regular appearance between sessions. During breaks, Waller asked questions like "How many words in the Scout Oath?" and rewarded correct answers with prizes like a safety strobe to attach to a backpack.
Prize winners were confronted with Waller's intriguing question: "Now, would you like to keep your prize or trade it for what's inside this bag?"
"We have a big crowd," explained Waller. "We have to keep them happy."
Handling a 'can of worms'
The "Can of Worms" session presented possible den situations that required action. Three or four Scouts huddled together to come up with an action play, then read their ideas to the conference.
How to encourage boys in advancement? Justin's team suggested the den chief bring in his old Cub Scout shirt and show the awards the boys can earn.
How to change a disruptive boy's behavior? The Justin group wrote down "duct tape" as a joke, but then read their more practical idea: Take him aside and ask why he's behaving this way. Joel's group said to make him feel important and responsible, give him opportunities, and get him involved.
Terry Madden, troop committee chairman, brought humor and liveliness to his presentation on teaching skills. He explained there would be no pop quiz (not really a part of the course) if Scouts would shout "ding ding" every time he said "hubba hubba." This happened frequently.
Madden asked a Scout to demonstrate taking a camp stove apart. The clueless Scout looked at him in amazement. The point: "First you have to know the material and the skill."
If a Cub Scout talks while you're explaining a skill, Madden said, you look at him and say "right?" or put your Column Wrap hand on his shoulder. Find out how much the boys already know, demonstrate the skill, go slowly. Let them demonstrate their proficiency and praise them.
'Someone to look up to'
Webelos Scout den leader Cindy Luecke of St. Louis attended the conference with her son Chris, 14, who is also her den chief. "This made Chris look at himself as more of a leader," she said, "and it's good to see kids here of the same age and rank. He feels part of that kind of group."
Another mother and son duo were Cub Scout den leader Gail Nobe of Arnold, Mo., and her son James, 12. She said the conference reinforced what she had told him, that being den chief gives the Cub Scouts someone to look up to. "And it's cool because other kids are here; James is the only den chief in our pack."
At the end of the conference, Joel Brune and Justin Bay rated the experience as fun and worthwhile. "It's going to be easier to conduct a meeting," Joel said. "I've been through Cub Scouting. But as a leader instead of a Cub Scout, this will help me immensely."
In their den meetings now, Justin and Joel are in the center of the action, comfortable, confident, and helpful. They are Boy Scouting.
No one knows their value better than the boys in the dens. Beau Metcalf, 11, the den leader's son, says about Joel, "I think he's great. I really like him helping out, and my mom doesn't have to do so much work."
"He gives us encouragement," says Daniel Sappington, 11, talking about Justin. "He helps keep us in line, and he's an example."
Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo.
October 2001 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2001 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.