Score-O in Longhorn Country
By Ernest Doclar
North Texas Scouts and Scouters grab maps and compasses to track down blaze orange markers in a wildly popular orienteering meet.
Sporadic drizzle turned the road leading into Sid Richardson Scout Ranch the color and viscosity of a fiery Lone Star chili. But nothing bogged down the procession of cars, trucks, and vans en route to the Longhorn Council's annual Score-O orienteering meet. Teams of Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers, and adults arrived at the camp 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth ready to compete in the map and compass contest that the council bills as its "most popular event."
"Registration figures show almost 1,800 orienteers in 374 teams, ready to hit the trails," reported assistant meet director Linda Krouse, as competitors lined up for the first of two mass starts. "We count 610 Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts, 860 Boy Scouts, and 44 Venturers, plus 239 leaders."Why do so many youth and adults show up for Score-O?"First off, it's fun," said assistant event director Clif Wright. "You've got to see the faces of those kids and adults crossing the finish lineit's the sheer joy of knowing that they 'beat the course.' Then there's the companionship and the competition, each troop, den, and crew trying to beat the other. Also, Score-O emphasizes basic Scoutinghow to get along in the woods on your own."
"And don't forget the mental part of orienteering," added event director Don Strickland.
"To get a high score, you've got to plot a strategy," he said. "You don't just crash through the woods looking for the control markers. To place in this contest, the team has to decide whether it's best to go for a lot of five- or 10-point controls that are easy to get to or try for fewer 15- or 20-point controls that are farther away and more inaccessible."
Additionally, Score-O is open to any BSA-registered, out-of-council Scout or Scouter.
Controls and markers
To make the event competitive for everyone, teams are grouped into categories: Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers, and adults.
"Names of all orienteers are listed on the team entry form," said Krouse. "And to certify their score, all listed participants must arrive together at the finish linewhich also helps ensure that no kids are left in the woods."
Krouse spread the course map on a camp table and showed where the 75 Score-O markers were placed throughout the northwestern part of the 3,000-acre camp. (The staff closely guards the map so no one sees the tiny, numbered controls printed on it until just before the official start.)
Months prior to the meet, the four key organizers in the council's Score-O eventKrouse, Strickland, Wright, and Gordon Couchspent several days walking the course and spotting the control points. Days before the actual contest, they placed the control markers, orange and white cloth "flags" numbered to correspond to circles printed on the course map.
How do the course runners prove they've reached a control point? "Each control has a punch apparatus," Couch explains. "Competitors insert the control point spot printed on the rear of their team map into the jaws of the punch. Squeezing it leaves a unique punched-hole pattern that judges later verify as correct for that control."
Teams of Boy Scouts, Venturers, and adults tear off into the woods at 1 p.m., followed by Cub Scout teams at 2. All must return to the finish line by 5, or be penalized five points for every minute late.
Pathfinders of every age
Before the starting horn blows, each team, such as Den 5 of Pack 434, St. John the Apostle Catholic Church, Fort Worth, Tex., gets a half hour to study its O-map and determine strategy.
Each of the five Den 5 Cub Scouts was accompanied by a parent. "We're out just for the day; we brought our lunch," said den leader Suzanne Paulo. "We're here to learn about orienteering, but we're going to have fun, too."The horn sounded, and the Cub Scouts, accompanied by moms and dads, set out in search of control points. The den clawed its way through mesquite tree thickets. Their pace was leisurely, parent and Cub Scout sauntering hand in hand from control to control. The parents appeared more competitive than their second graders, but having fun and sharing the learning experience were the primary concerns of all.
Lynn Wilbur, a leader of Dallas Girl Scout Cadet Troop 156, had a team of three girlsMisha Davis, Amanda Beal, and Katy Warrenand a boy, Josh Crowder.
"The girls are also members of Josh's Venturing Crew 425 in Lewisville, Tex.," Wilbur said. "To get ready for Score-O, we taught the girls orienteering at our troop meetings. Some of our adults and I set up simple courses in the neighborhood. You don't need a park or the woods to teach these skills. And we took advantage of some free training in map and compass at the REI store near us."
Practice and preparation
Score-O also includes a morning training session, conducted by staffers at Sid Richardson to reinforce earlier unit orienteering instruction. At a gathering of all competitors, Score-O old-timers review the rules, answer questions, then offer team instruction.
Assistant Scoutmaster David Reid of Troop 264, New Hope Lutheran Church, Keller, Tex., said preparing for the October outdoor experience helped enhance the unit program.
"We train the boys for a full two months before the meet, reviewing basic compass and map reading," he said. "We match up the older kids as teachers with the younger ones."
Scout Tom Mitchell, Troop 7, St. Francis Catholic Church, Grapevine, Tex., noted that he and several of his fellow Scouts enjoy competing in Score-O even though they have already earned their Orienteering merit badge. (Tom's father, Pat, is a counselor for the badge.)
The final moments of the contest were drawing near as mudsplattered Steve Brunner, a Scouter of Troop 1910, First United Methodist Church, Keller, Tex., and his adult teammates crossed the finish line.
"We fielded eight teams of four Scouts each today," he said. "The kids seemed to be well organized, so we Scouters decided we'd make up a team of our own. It was a mess out there, but we got 435 points in almost four hours."
Final tallies revealed: Tiger Cubs, the high-score team, earned 125 points; Cub Scouts, 235; Webelos Scouts, 295; Boy Scouts, 650; Venturers, 400, and Scouters, 675.
No team scored a perfect 915, nor did the staff really expect that to happen. A sweep of the contest would have meant that the team reached every control and suffered no penalties.
Clif Wright summed up the day by noting another occurrence at every successful Score-O: "When taps sounds tonight, we Scouters will know we're going to have the best night's sleep of the year [because] Score-O drains every bit of energy from the kids. They're out like a light."
Ernest Doclar was the editor of Scouting magazine from 1989 to 1994.
The Longhorn Council Orienteering Committee offers two other big meets each year. Cub-O is a Cub Scout-oriented event that draws 1,100 to 1,400 Cub Scouts every December. The Spring Orienteering Meet is a two-day public meet in March with map-hikes and seven different courses ranging from novice to expert level. It is open to individuals, orienteering clubs, R.O.T.C. units, and any Scouting unit. For more information on Longhorn Council orienteering events, check the council Web site, e-mail LHCEmail@aol.com, or call the council at (817) 624-5500.
September 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.