Hooray for Webelos Day!
By Jan Johnson
Photographs by Nadia Borowski Scott
For 15 years Troop 1212 has invited Webelos Scouts for an afternoon sampling of Boy Scouting's fun and adventure.
When Noah Yates was a Webelos den leader in the early 1980s, one thing in particular frustrated him: finding an opportunity for his Webelos Scouts to fulfill one of their Arrow of Light requirementsto visit a "Boy Scout-oriented outdoor activity."
Because the problem bothered him so much, Yates used it in a role-playing segment during a course on the Webelos-to-Scout plan that he and fellow Scouter Don Estes taught at the council's College of Commissioner Science.
"I played the part of a Webelos leader, and Don was a Boy Scout leader," Yates recounts. "I gave him a hard time for not helping us Webelos leaders with this Arrow of Light requirement."
A few years later, after he had become Scoutmaster of the brand-new Troop 1212, Yates was still teaching the class. As he reviewed his notes for the role-playing segment, he read: "Webelos leader gives Scoutmaster a hard time for not helping Webelos Scouts."
Hey, he thought, I'm a Scoutmaster now. I should be doing something to help the Webelos!
He began searching for a slot in his troop's busy schedule. "Then it hit mewe could use the day at the local park when we prepare for the district spring camporee as an occasion to also invite Webelos Scouts."
And that's how Troop 1212's annual Webelos Day at Mira Mesa Recreation Center in San Diego came about.
Two basic purposes
From the beginning, Webelos Day served two purposes: It provided Webelos Scouts the chance to visit a Boy Scout outdoor activity and thus fulfill an Arrow of Light requirement, and it showcased some of the excitement awaiting them as Boy Scouts.
Webelos Day was an immediate success and has been repeated every January, year after year, rain or shine. From as far as 30 miles to the north and south, Webelos Scout leaders and parents come with their dens and sons. Attendance in recent years has topped 200 visitors.
At Cub Scout roundtables, Yates has stressed to Webelos leaders that the afternoon is not a recruiting tool for Troop 1212 but a service offering Webelos Scouts a chance to talk with Boy Scouts and participate in activities with them.
Not surprisingly, many Webelos Scouts, regardless of how far away they have lived, have expressed a desire to join Troop 1212.
"Many times Mr. Yates would have to discourage some Webelos Scouts and their parents from joining our troop, because of the great distance they would need to drive for weekly meetings," says Peggy King, Troop 1212 assistant Scoutmaster and Webelos Day publicity chairperson. "Instead, he would encourage them to look at other troops in their local community."
Vintage Boy Scout activities
The troop spends the morning preparing for the spring camporee. Then, the Boy Scouts welcome Webelos Scouts, leaders, and parents to join them in an afternoon of vintage, hands-on Boy Scout activities.
Events that involve the traditional Scout skills of knots and lashings are among the most popular. Heading the list is a 40-foot monkey bridge, which requires walking along a rope strung between two tripods about six feet off the ground, while holding on to "handrail" ropes on each side. The bridge always has the longest lines, says Ron Carver, Troop 1212 committee chairman, and it easily qualifies as (to use a Disneyland superlative) the day's "E-ticket ride."
Spider webs and 'wompons'
On each side of the monkey bridge, Webelos Scouts test their skill at launching tennis balls from catapults. The tripod-shaped giant launching devices are also troop pioneering projects, and all afternoon the boys send tennis balls flying back and forth high over the monkey bridge.
At a nearby fire-building event, Boy Scouts provide the Webelos Scouts with a supply of kindling and tinder. They then help the younger boys build a fire so that its flames will reach and burn through a piece of string stretched 12 inches above the fire.
The spider web is pure fun. Twine or rope is woven around 12-inch stakes to form a pattern parallel to the ground. Webelos Scouts then crawl under this "web," trying to avoid detection by a blindfolded "spider" (a Boy Scout with a squirt gun in his hand). More than 20 bells attached to the web can alert the "spider" to "shoot." Boy Scout spotters watch closely and call to wet Webelos Scouts when they're "out."
Hot dogs and soft drinks are available for purchase. But more interesting (and free) fare abounds at the cooking stations. Scouts show their guests how to make "wompons"biscuit dough shaped into cups, roasted over hot coals, and filled with cherry pie filling. Webelos Scouts also watch the cooks prepare lasagna and pineapple upside-down cake in Dutch ovensand then sample the results.
'Roping' them in
Another popular attraction is rope-making, in which two Webelos Scouts twist the ends of twine in opposite directions until a rope is produced. (In 1998, one Webelos Scout enjoyed this three- to four-minute effort so much that he later used it as an activity at his own birthday party.)
A few yards from the sidewalk, a 15-foot signal tower causes passersby on the street to turn and gawk. With Boy Scout supervisors close by, as many as four Webelos Scouts at a time climb the tower. On top of the platform, they typically shout out, "I can see my house from here!" or "I used to play baseball over there!"
Evidence of Scouting's outdoor tradition is everywhere. Throughout the model campsite, lashed tripods feature nifty Scout-made camp gadgets. Some Webelos Scouts and leaders get their first glimpse of Boy Scouts opening patrol boxes and setting up a camp kitchen. Flags and troop awards fill the park gazebo.
Because Webelos Day has two objectives, participants see the event's benefits from a variety of perspectives.
Troop 1212's current Scoutmaster, Tom Kubow, emphasizes how the experience helps prepare Webelos Scouts to become Boy Scouts.
"It gives them a chance to interact with Boy Scouts," he says. "They see what Boy Scouts do, and they become enthusiastic about becoming Scouts."
Webelos leader Cory Benefield of Pack 640 agrees, saying that one reason sixth graders drop out of Boy Scouting after a short time is because "Webelos Scouts aren't used to boys leading boys; they get overwhelmed and quit."
To ease the transition, Webelos Scouts need as much exposure to Boy Scouting as possible, Benefield notes. "And this event helps them see Boy Scouts running things, with adults helping out as needed."
Troop 1212 Scout Jason Roberts, who attended a previous event as a Webelos Scout, vouched for the impact the experience can have on a fifth grader. "When I came to Webelos Day, I thought everything was so cool, how the Scouts made everything from poles and ropes. And now I want to help today's Webelos Scouts see how much fun Boy Scouting is."
Webelos Day also provides a public relations tool.
"The best way to get the message of Boy Scouting to the community is to show what Scouts can do," declares Jeff Bostwick, board member of the BSA's San Diego-based Desert Pacific Council.
"All these events are boy-runand some are quite sophisticated," observed Bostwick, who came with his Webelos Scout son. "The community can see that Scouting teaches boys character, self-reliance, leadership, duty to God, and service to the community, helping to prepare them to become tomorrow's leaders. And seeing it here is better than reading about it in the newspaper."
For Noah Yates, the man who started it all and now serves as a Troop 1212 assistant Scoutmaster, the day's benefits are rewarding.
"What I enjoy most is the look of accomplishment in the eyes of the Webelos Scouts when they finish an event," he sums up. "That's my 'paycheck,' so to speak."
Freelance writer Jan Johnson lives in Simi, Calif.
Keep It Simple, Advertise, And Get Help
One key to the 15-year success of Webelos Day, says Scoutmaster Tom Kubow, is the simple fact that it is unique to Troop 1212.
"No other troop in Desert Pacific Councilthat I know ofhas this kind of event to help with the Arrow of Light requirement. We schedule it on the last Saturday of January so Webelos Scouts can have the experience before they cross over to Boy Scouting."
To any troop or district considering a similar event, Troop 1212 offers these additional tips for long-term success:
Keep it simple. "We do the same activities year after year because they work," says assistant Scoutmaster Noah Yates, who originated the event in 1985. "A troop starting a Webelos Day doesn't have to build a complete signal tower and full monkey bridge for their first year. We try not to spread ourselves too thin or make it too complicatedthat way we keep a high standard with what we do."
Use hands-on activities. Getting and keeping Webelos Scouts involved is important, says Kubow. "We don't ask them to sit down. We give them a chance to practice making a fire. And they take home something in their handsa six-foot piece of rope they made."
Prepare ahead of time. Kubow starts signing up adult volunteers and training new parents in November. "I get fire permits for fire-building and cooking, and reserve a large area of the park. We check suppliescharcoal, firewood, spools of binder twine. We check the poles [for pioneering projects]; this year we had to buy 20 new ones."
Get enough help. All Scouts in Troop 1212 are expected to work at the event. In addition, many parents who are not registered leaders willingly volunteer to help, and even some former Scouts return to lend a hand. All new adult staff members receive training.
Advertise. "We take fliers to roundtable meetingswhere we also make a brief, two-minute presentationand we leave fliers at the council service center," says Kubow. "We are always careful to explain that the event is not designed to recruit Scouts to our troop. It's a service to all Webelos Scouts, so they will continue in Scouting wherever they can."
Learn more about Troop 1212 and see additional photographs of the most recent Webelos Day on the troop Web site, http://www.ARMAnet.com/T1212.
Smoothing the Passage From Pack to Troop
Webelos Scouts are a primary source of new members for Boy Scout troops because the pack's Webelos den provides fourth and fifth graders with a foundation for entering Boy Scouting.
Many troops assign an assistant Scoutmaster or committee member to serve as a liaison to leaders in a Cub Scout pack operated by the troop's chartered organization or to other neighboring packs.
The following four steps can help establish an ongoing relationship between a Scout troop and a Cub Scout pack:
See Chapter 12 in the latest edition of The Scoutmaster Handbook (BSA Supply No. 33009) for more tips on how to recruit both Webelos Scouts and boys with no Scouting experience for troop membership.
March-April 2000 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2000 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.
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