Coming Home to Peterloon

By Lori Murray

Since 1927, Cincinnati's Dan Beard Council has staged a biennial mega-camporee and patrol competition.

While the morning sun worked hard to burn off the remains of the previous day's rain, Scouts and leaders scurried through the hardening mud. The backdrop was a mini city of tents, sprawled across an open meadow and carefully designed to accommodate the weekend's guests.

A tug-of-war briefly occupied the attention of about 50 Scouts. Although the struggle ended in less than a minute, with the victors enthusiastically celebrating their triumph, the vigorous action typified the spirit of competition that prevailed at Peterloon 2002.

The event is Dan Beard Council's jamboree-style camp and patrol challenge, held every other October in Cincinnati and named for the farm where it originally was held. Four thousand Boy Scouts from 214 troops attended last fall's weekend of fun-filled activities. They included units from seven councils other than Dan Beard, traveling from locations as far away as Ontario, Canada.

A 'multi-experience event'

"Our goal is for the boys to enjoy a fun, multi-experience event," said Peterloon chairman Dale Bradford. "We offer them competitive events, but we also want them to be able to enjoy Scouting and other activities without a competitive approach."

Peterloon's popularity was evident from the start of Saturday's events. And no one was surprised that organizers were able to stage such a quality Scouting extravaganza, because Peterloon has been a council tradition since 1927.

One reason for Peterloon's success is the simple reason that since the mid-1950's it has been held every other year, said vice president of program Jon Beeson. Waiting two years for the next event increases anticipation as participants look forward to what for many is both "a celebration of Scouting and a reunion," he said.

Veteran Scouter Jack Simon attended his first Peterloon as a Boy Scout at age 13. "As kids, we were impressed with the size of the event, and kids today are just as impressed," he said. "For the adults, it's also a time to renew old acquaintances."

The buzz of activity just inside the entrance to the campgrounds confirmed the fact that Peterloon participants have plenty to do. Boy Scouts quickly made their way up and down a gravel road to stations hosting different events.

Scouts practiced signaling with semaphore flags from the top of a small tower. Others tossed tomahawks at a wooden target, while some tried to win a competition in constructing a flagpole and raising a flag.

On the BB-gun target range, a line of Scout marksmen dropped to their bellies and looked keenly at their targets before firing the gun cradled in their arms. Nearby, Scouts in the Izzy Dizzy relay race lunged across the finish line, tired—and dizzy—from their efforts.

And that was just a sampling of the day's happenings. On a hill overlooking the camp, Scouts rappelled from a 60-foot tower after taking in a perfect view of the 500-acre lake, where boys rowed boats and learned about boating safety.

Throughout the complex, numerous forms of entertainment also attracted Scouts, from a roving magician to spontaneous volleyball games and the Order of the Arrow Ku-Ni-Eh Indian dancers.

The Patrol Challenge

Although the list of events seemed endless, the main focus of Peterloon was patrol competition in traditional Scout skills. This was accomplished through the Patrol Challenge, in which more than 150 groups of 6 to 10 Scouts competed in 7 to 10 events, including the traditional Simon Kenton Relay. Winners were announced at Saturday night's arena show.

At the fire-building competition, orange-shirted Scouts from Troop 956, Hamilton, Ohio, huddled around a structure of dry wood they had assembled and watched as it erupted into flames. In minutes, water was boiling in a pot and the Scouts celebrated a new weekend record: 2 minutes 25 seconds to start a fire and boil water.

"We used dry wood over wet ground and got the fire started immediately," said 11-year-old Jonathan Kuhl. Patrols were allowed to prepare in advance for the event and most brought their own starter packets, working with a choice of three matches or flint and steel.

A competition called Working Together emphasized (what else?) teamwork. The action appeared to be a cross between a game of Pick Up Sticks and fishing. As one Scout stood aside and shouted commands, four others held the corners of a wooden structure, maneuvering ropes and pulleys that controlled a large hook, designed to grab and lift a block of wood and then set it down firmly.

One false move could ruin the outcome. Nick Posge, 13, of Troop 803, Cincinnati, Ohio, summed it up: "A lot of people think that all the pressure is on the leader giving commands, but if the others don't listen, you won't succeed."

Adult volunteer Ron Becker agreed. "The leader must not get frustrated," he told the Scouts from Troop 803, "and you guys all worked together as a team."

At the catapult station, patrols worked vigorously on a device that could break the day's record of propelling a sponge ball 116 feet. Using their own design or printed directions provided by the judges, they connected nine pieces of 5-foot-long, 1-inch-diameter poles together with binder twine, creating a catapult they eagerly put to the task of launching sponge balls downrange.

The Izzy Dizzy relay required Scouts to race across a field, then run upright around a standing baseball bat seven times, and return to tag the next team member. The team with the best time for the day became the winner.

Spirit of competition

Although reeling from the dizziness of the race's return leg, 12-year-old Shawn Engel of Fort Ancient, Ohio, was able to share what he liked best about the weekend. "I enjoy Peterloon because of all the great things you can do," he said. "All the activities are fun, even though not all are for competition."

A flurry of excitement was heard from the puzzle-building competition. "Guys, what about this piece?" shouted a competitor. "Quick! Finish the circle first and hurry," exclaimed another. Members of Troop 941, West Chester, Ohio, scrambled to beat the clock and tally points while connecting the pieces of a giant wooden floor puzzle. Sound like fun? "It is when you get to do it with your friends," said 12-year-old Zach Schneider.

It was this spirit of competition that dominated the day. Saturday evening, almost 4,700 Scouts and visitors gathered in an outdoor setting for a dazzling program that began with a three-man skydiving team. Winners of the patrol competitions and councilwide skit competition were announced. The evening ended with a fireworks show.

The day's events made it clear: Video games and TV shows are no match for the highlights of Peterloon.

Freelance writer Lori Murray lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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