By Barbara Wolcott
A California council's "Robin and Little John" weekend introduces Cub Scouts and their moms and dads to the joys of the bow and arrow.
Historians may question whether Robin Hood and Little John ever existed, but there is no doubt about the value of their inspiration to Cub Scouts in Southern California.
Begun in 1974, the Robin and Little John weekend camp introduces Cub Scouts and parents in the Orange County Council to the joys of the bow and arrow.
The event is held twice a yearspring and fallat the Orange County Council's Rancho Las Flores, a weekend Scout camp located within the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. The 50-acre site features gently rolling hills with a wooded area, wetlands, and two archery ranges. During the weekend, Cub Scouts go from station to station for supervised archery shooting, games, and crafts.
Since 1998, attendance has averaged about 230 boys, with a high of 364 and several weekends sold out.
"We promote the event as a weekend devoted to archery," says Scouter John (Tex) Stanford, one of the volunteer members of the council's campmaster corps, which helps staff the weekend. "Even nonshooting activities like craftswhere Cub Scouts might make a hat ornament in the shape of a miniature arroware related in some way to bows and arrows."
That many participants come back again and again is one indication of the program's popularity. And returnees often become increasingly involved in the sport of archery.
"We'll see some kids who participated as Cub Scouts come back as Boy Scouts and volunteer to help out on the archery range," Stanford says. "They want to be of service, of course, but being on staff also gives them a chance to do some more shooting on the archery range."
One key to the event's success is its focus on allowing participants plenty of time to do what they came forshooting arrows at targets and having fun doing so.
"We keep the off-range activities to a minimum," Stanford explains. "Often at day camp or at a family camping event where archery is an optional activity, the kids have little time left to shoot after they've listened to a lecture on safety and the rules of the range. Instead of a brief chance to shoot a few arrows, we want participants to be able to shoot all day Saturday, and half a day on Sunday."
Mom and dad get to shoot
Another reason everyone enjoys Robin and Little John so much is that boys and parents both share in the fun. The event is one of the council's special "Partners and Pals" weekends, an opportunity for bonding between Cub Scout and parent, and range officers insist on putting a bow in the hands of every parent or other adult partner who accompanies a Cub Scout.
As a result, some moms and dads catch the archery bug. "The kids get the parents involved, and the next thing we know, parents show up with their personal archery equipment," Stanford says.
"Some parents are reluctant at first, and we have to insist they shoot at least one arrow," he adds. "But once that happens, we often have to kick them off the range later because they get so involved. And getting interested in archery at camp can lead to their getting more involved in Scouting."
Range officer Debra Parker, who first participated as a volunteer day camp leader because of her three sons in Scouting, is now a regular staff member at Robin and Little John events.
As a trained range officer, she is versed in rules for shooting safety and discipline. The council's required training for range officers includes a weekend course that covers basic safety practices and procedures, shooting techniques, and equipment. [See sidebar.]
Parker appreciates the value of knowing more about archery than just the fundamental safety rules. She recalls the time when a small Cub Scout was frustrated because his arrows kept bouncing off the target. "He didn't care so much if he hit the bull's-eye; he just wanted his arrows to stick in the target. I realized I needed to know how to shoot in order to tell him what he needed to do."
Balloons and CDs
The variety of targets is another reason Cub Scouts enjoy shooting arrows. Among the popular targets (attached to 80-pound hay bales) are shiny CDs. "Kids love to see the disks shatter," Tex Stanford observes, "although the CDs are small and the kids usually only hit them by accident." "And we also do games like 'hit the balloons filled with biodegradable confetti,'" Debra Parker adds.
On the archery range, discipline is strict and unrelenting. Boys must straddle the firing line (an empty fire hose) when the O.K.-to-shoot-signal is given.
"Some shooters will stop when birds or ground squirrels are in the vicinity," says Parker. "The odds are against any animals getting hit by a stray arrow, but we have to chase the wildlife away so the kids can resume shooting."
Parents tell range officers that using a bow and arrow helps their children develop a kind of concentration that they can transfer to other activities and interests.
Probably the most celebrated "graduate" of the Robin and Little John program is Dan Perez, who sometimes serves as a guest instructor. He started shooting arrows while serving as a Boy Scout helper and now is a nationally ranked competitive archer.
"My passion for archery started in Scouting," Perez says, "and I like to give back to Scouting what I can." He does that by imparting the same enthusiastic involvement in archery that he learned from staff instructors when he was a Scout.
Freelance writer Barbara Wolcott lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
September 2003 Table of Contents
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