In Search of... Knowledge, Teamwork, Fun

By Nettie H. Francis
Photographs By Nadia Borowski Scott

A troop's annual scavenger hunt has grown into a district event.

Troop 10's Fire Ants Patrol (from left, Austin Shin, Daniel Coulsell, Michael Costanzo, Daniel Armendariz, Chris Engelmann, Bruce Park) pose with a prize giant pumpkin they were able to borrow for use as a big point-earner in the one-day district scavenger hunt.

On a crisp fall Friday evening in a Southern California school parking lot, youth and leaders gather expectantly around a small canopy. It's the beginning of the Western Los Angeles County Council's Balboa Oaks District Scavenger Hunt.

Anticipation is in the air as the small crowd waits for the seconds to tick by. Then, at 6 sharp, anxious patrol leaders receive information packets and two disposable cameras from event organizers seated beneath the canopy.

They eagerly begin looking through the seven-page list of clues for the weekend competition. Nearly 30 patrols are competing and every second counts.

"The scavenger hunt is the outing of the year for our troop," says Scoutmaster Paul Oliver of Northridge, Calif., who originated the event and first conducted it with Troop 307 (which is chartered to the First Presbyterian Church of Granada Hills). "We wanted something different, in addition to camping, that was both fun and challenging."

Oliver, a courier for Warner Brothers Studios who spends his workday driving around Los Angeles, is familiar with local tourist sites as well as with some not-so-familiar places. He believed a scavenger hunt would help boys learn more about their community and also build patrol unity.

After beginning as a troop activity, the scavenger hunt soon gained popularity as a district event and will become a councilwide activity later this year.

The challenge has three parts: collecting objects, participating in certain patrol activities, and taking photographs of places visited.

Points are awarded for each completed challenge. Patrols earn additional points for every uniformed member and leader in the photos as well as for displaying a patrol flag.

To provide transportation and guidance, two adult leaders register with each patrol of three to eight boys. But the competition's planning and decision-making are the Scouts' responsibilities.

And that's how the Scouts like it. "We get to be more independent," observes Andrew Hwang, 15, of Troop 307's Wolverine Patrol. "Everything's not all laid out for us."


The Fire Ants record their visit to Mann's Chinese Theater.

After receiving their packet of clues on Friday, the Fire Ants Patrol from Troop 10, Reseda, Calif., gathers at a leader's home. (Some Troop 10 Scouts are scavenger hunt veterans, as the troop, chartered to the First Methodist Church of Reseda, previously borrowed the idea from Troop 370. Now Troop 10's assistant Scoutmaster Jack Fishel teams with Troop 370's Paul Oliver to be co-organizers of the district event.)

The patrol list has nearly 200 items to collect, seven activities, and 50 "photo safari" locations. It's a daunting task for one weekend and the Scouts get to work planning strategy.

Using colored pens, patrol leader Daniel Coulsell, 13, highlights items patrol members can bring in, like a foreign stamp, ostrich egg, and pogo stick.

A few "mystery clues" are also included. To solve one, Michael Costanzo, 13, and Chris Engelmann, 11, go online to decipher a Morse code message, which reveals that a bag of peanuts is worth 100 points.

The Scouts also plan how to visit as many photo locations on Saturday as possible within a 75-mile range throughout the Los Angeles area.

"Where can we find a pelican?" "How far is the Los Angeles Zoo?"

The conversation is lively and intense. On a city map, the patrol members highlight locations that are close together and worth the most points.


Early Saturday the patrol sets out on its photo safari. Their first stop is a local fire station.

"We're on a scavenger hunt," Daniel explains to a tall firefighter. "We receive 10 points for each firefighter in our picture."

The firefighters are happy to oblige, and appear from everywhere to pose with the boys.

Next stop for the Fire Ants is downtown Los Angeles, to take pictures at the famous Griffith Observatory, the hillside Hollywood Sign, and "The handprints and footprints of a famous Scout" (Jimmy Stewart) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre.

Along the way the boys stop to pose with a mailman and some military personnel. Before the weekend is over, patrols will also visit the "Famous building built in the shape of a stack of records" (Capitol Records) and the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library, site of the tomb that is the late president's final resting place.


The weekend isn't just about taking photos and collecting items, however. Managing money also plays a role in the competition.

Each boy brings $25 for expenses such as gasoline for the driver's vehicle, food, patrol activities, and clue items the Scouts may decide to buy. Points are deducted if a patrol goes over its $25-per-Scout allowance.

"I keep track of the money we've spent and collect our receipts to turn in on Sunday," explains Chris Engelmann, Fire Ants Patrol treasurer.

Patrol unity is another focus. Points are earned for participating together in activities like making cookies, camping overnight, playing miniature golf, or attending a church service. All in full uniform, of course.

"This activity shows the big city that Scouting is alive and well," notes Glenn Sartain, a Troop 307 assistant Scoutmaster.

During the day, the response Scouts receive from the public is impressive, as their uniforms turn heads wherever they go.

At the Santa Monica Pier, the Beaver Patrol of Troop 583, Castaic, Calif., meets a former Scout. "The parking lots were full, but he helped us find a place to park, gave us the Scout handshake, and told us that Scouting was the best thing he'd ever done," recalls assistant Scoutmaster Nina Rettke.


The Fire Ants locate "famous Scout" Jimmy Stewart on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When the hour for the scavenger hunt turn-in arrives on Sunday afternoon, boys and leaders are exhausted but also exhilarated.

The site buzzes with excitement as patrols arrive to hand in cameras, lists of photos taken, expense record sheets, and assorted collected items, which Scouts unload to be counted and recorded.

Objects of all shapes and sizes cover the ground. A scale model of the Titanic, a wooden surfboard, a tarantula, a licorice root, an eight-track tape, a boat propeller, bagpipes, and a phonograph needle form just a partial list of the inventory.

Naturally, the boys are eager to share stories of how they acquired each item. The Fire Ants display a huge pumpkin, nearly three feet in diameter, explaining that the local Tapia Brothers farm provided it for the event.

"Has anyone brought in a camel yet?" asks scavenger hunt co-coordinator Jack Fishel. "It's worth 1,000 points—if it only has one hump."

Sure enough, a live camel is on the list, but none shows up. A fire truck arrives, however, and a cheer goes up from Troop 307's Scorpion Patrol, which has just earned 300 points.


Developing pictures and tallying scores will take several weeks, and the winning patrol won't be announced until the following month's district Boy Scout leader roundtable.

The activity's purpose, though, has already been accomplished.

"The scavenger hunt brings the kids together. It promotes a boy-run troop," observes Scoutmaster Cliff Kahn of Troop 351, Encino, Calif.

"The best part was, we decided what to do and how to do it," sums up Troop 307's Wolverine Patrol leader Jeff DeGough.

"And we got to know each other better," adds patrol member Cory McCarthy.

Like all patrols in the competition, the Fire Ants of Troop 10 are exhausted after the weekend. But, along with everyone else, they agree on one thing:

"We can't wait until next year!"

Freelancer Nettie H. Francis lives in Las Vegas, Nev.

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