By Douglass K. Daniel
Shawn Stanley sighed as he bent over the soft sand. He had been carefully scraping a trowel along the surface of a section of an archaeological dig, but only chunks of dark clay had turned up.
Shawn had learned that patience is a must for recovering a remnant of the past. He made another pass over the sand. And another. And another.
Tink! Shawn heard and felt the metal blade strike something solid.
"At first I thought it was just more clay," said Shawn, a First Class Scout with Troop 201 in Moberly, Mo. "But then I got to scraping around a little more on the outside of it, and I saw the white of the bone. Then I knew it wasn't clay."
Digging around its edges, Shawn grew excited as the outline of a rib appeared. He began to unearth his find.
More than 400 other Scouts made discoveries of their own last fall at a merit badge college sponsored by Troop 67 of Boonville, Mo. And their troop leaders discovered how six months of planning could turn a first-time event into a success worth repeating.
Big events in Scouting often come from little ideas. And this little idea was simple enough: Organize a merit badge college for the Scouts of mid-Missouri. And make sure the boys enjoyed themselves.
"Our goal is actually not [only earning] the merit badge," said Bob Pryor, Scoutmaster of Troop 67 and one of the event's organizers. "We want to have fun with the kids and for them to have a good time as well as get to go home with a merit badge in hand."
But how could they accommodate a horde of supercharged Scouts? They would need classrooms, equipment, counselors, and places to eat and sleep. Not only that, but Scouts would need ways to burn off a heap of energy.
Missouri's unpredictable weather in November--a blizzard was as likely as a warm spell--offered a potential challenge.
"We were looking for a place where we didn't have to care about the weather," he said. Pryor found it on 52 sloping acres in Fayette, Mo. Central Methodist College had been educating young people there since the mid-1800s.
Would Central Methodist turn over its campus to the Scouts for a weekend? No problem. Central Methodist president Marianne E. Inman, a member of the council's executive board, gave the go-ahead after hearing a well-organized proposal--and recognizing a chance to showcase the college.
With the help of a score of volunteers, the organizers set out to make it happen.
Joy Dodson, a unit commissioner with Troop 61 in Glasgow, Mo., assumed command as event coordinator. A librarian and computer science teacher at Central Methodist, she was familiar with both what the Scouts would need and how the college could meet those needs.
Scoutmaster Bob Pryor handled Scouting-related activities, while Bob Wiegers, an assistant district commissioner with the Boonslick District and a Central Methodist history and archaeology professor, helped arrange the merit badge classes and recruit the counselors.
For the next several months the organizers stayed in touch via e-mail and held frequent meetings.
Facilities could accommodate only 500 participants, so enrollment was capped at that figure. Then came the important decision of which merit badges to offer.
One concern was appealing to experienced Scouts who had already earned most of the basic, required badges. "For the older boys we tried to emphasize interesting merit badges that are not common," said Pryor. "We literally opened up each merit badge book and asked, 'Can we do this?'"
The result was a smorgasbord of 26 classes for a variety of merit badges, including Aviation, Truck Transportation, Geology, and Medicine.
Also included were required badges, like First Aid and the Citizenship ones, for any Scouts who might need them.
"At first, I didn't want to offer any required badges," Dodson said, "but Bob insisted. And it turned out that those classes filled up quickly."
Registration packets were mailed to 130 Scoutmasters in the council. Classes cost $8 to $10 each and were limited to 15 to 20 participants. Enrollment totaled 420 Scouts and 100 adult leaders.
Half of the participants went home after spending all day Saturday working on their badges. The others pitched their tents on the football practice field and spent one or two nights sleeping under the stars.
The campus student union was open. And so was the Phillips Recreation Center, with its pizza, soft drinks, and other concessions. And Scouts could swim or play tennis, basketball, or racquetball after dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
Following a morning welcome ceremony in the Paul H. Linn Memorial United Methodist Church, Scouts scattered to their classes.
In the Morrison Observatory, those intent on earning the Astronomy merit badge gazed at a 12-inch Clark refractor telescope and a 12-inch Newtonian reflector telescope.
Indoors at the E. E. Rich Swimming Pool, the boys began a daylong swim despite temperatures in the 30s outside.
For the Archaeology merit badge, the counselors had created a mock dig in a volleyball pit. They salted the pit with skulls and other bones from critters likely to have roamed the area hundreds of years ago.
"It's interesting to find out what's happened in the past," Shawn Stanley said after the dig. "I was surprised at all the different ways they can tell how old something is."
Outside the rec center, an air horn sounded. Trucker and Troop 67 assistant Scoutmaster Jude Florek had brought his 18-wheeler, a 1996 Freightliner, to the Truck Transportation merit badge class.
Scouts climbed onto the driver's seat and strained to look at the road ahead. "Now you can see what professional drivers see every day," Florek said.
In the Stedman Hall of Science, Scouts watched Central Methodist chemistry professor James Gordon conduct electricity from a power source to a light bulb. Would tap water conduct electricity? The bulb came alive with light. Distilled water? The bulb remained dark.
"Ions conduct electricity in a liquid," Gordon explained,"and tap water has ions, while we've taken out all the ions in distilled water."
In another classroom, Morse code dits and dahs from three shortwave amateur, or "ham," radios represented voices from around the world brought in by Earl Fenton, a GTE employee in Columbia and a Troop 69 leader. Amateur radio lets you "meet all kinds of different people and learn about stuff that's happening over there," explained Troop 69 Tenderfoot Scout Joey Simmons.
In the evening, the boys sat in the rec hall and talked about the interesting things they'd done during the day.
"I chose the Plumbing merit badge because it involved hands-on work, not just sitting around, listening, and writing notes," said Eagle Scout David Vance, from Troop 90 in Centralia.
Star Scout Aaron Meyers, of Troop 4, Columbia, said the college was "a great place" to earn the Citizenship in the Nation badge. "The instructor was a good teacher, and I liked finishing most requirements in one day."
"We've got even more badges lined up for next year," Troop 67 Scoutmaster Bob Pryor said, in summing up the key to the event's success: "You gotta have fun, or it's boring."< P> The combination of earning a merit badge and having fun should continue to make the Central Methodist College event a hit with leaders, counselors--and Scouts.
A former articles editor with Boys' Life magazine, Douglass Daniel lives in Manhattan, Kan.
Spreading the News
Troops in Missouri's Boonslick District make news not just because they are active, but also because they know how to get the attention of local news media.
"We tell people what we're doing," said Kurt Wildermuth, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 4 in Columbia and public relations chairman for the district. "We ask for coverage."
A professor of public relations at the University of Missouri, Wildermuth knows how to do the asking. Through his efforts, two newspapers and a TV station sent reporters to Central Methodist College to cover the merit badge event.
Here are Wildermuth's tips for getting news coverage of Scouting events:
"Publicity for events like the merit badge college shows the Boy Scouts do more than camp out," Wildermuth said. "We want people to understand who we are, what we do, and how we contribute to the community."
Tapping Resources In and Out of Scouting
Central Methodist College offered a valuable resource for the Great Rivers Council merit badge college, and faculty members provided counselors for almost a third of the 26 classes.
Organizers purposely sought instructors from other sources. "We tried to get many perspectives," event coordinator Joy Dodson said. "We wanted sessions to be taught by more than just college staff. We wanted the boys to understand that everybody has some expertise of one kind or another."
For help in finding merit badge counselors, the organizers offer these key tips:
"We just asked them," Joy Dodson said. "It's not really a surprise. That's how Scouting works and how this area works. It's just a big cooperative. When your neighbor needs help, you help."
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