My worst day as a Scouter

I have spent over 9000 days as a Boy Scout leader (9237 as of the writing of this post).  But I know that my worst day as a leader took place around my 200th day.

My troop had traveled to an environmental center in Pennsylvania as our annual year-end trip. It was a great time. This was my first year-end trip since my eighteenth birthday, instead of staying in the bungalow with the guys from my old patrol, I had watch duty for one of the bungalows that were housing some of the younger scouts. I was responsible for their well being, I wasn't there to hang out with my buddies and listen to a CD of Flood by They Might be Giants. The center was really great, there was canoeing, swimming, and lots of hiking trails.

On the last day, we were there, it was decided that the troop would take a hike through a fossil trail. There were locations to "discover" and excavate fossils. One of the older guys looking at the map realized that there were a series of waterfalls and natural pools further down the trail. One of the guys said we should all skip the fossils and hang out at the waterfalls until the "little kids" caught up. Being 18 and a half, I thought that sounded great. To this point I was, in fact, a fully "trained' leader, training was not as intensive in 1993 as they are today. We kept walking when we got to the first fossil spot.

No one stopped us. I think we honestly got lost in the shuffle. The older more experienced leaders were genuinely engaged in the fossil activity. Along the trail I walked among my friends, it wasn't a big deal. Then we came upon the waterfalls and natural pools.

It was beautiful and refreshing on that hot June day. We frolicked under the waterfalls and waded into the shallow pools. Yes, I know that that in addition to not having two-deep leadership, we were also disregarding safe swim defense, we had no lifeguards though all up us had passed a swim test earlier in the trip to qualify to ride in canoes. Having taken a swim test (even the adults) before going onto the water was responsible leadership that I should have been emulating. Instead of doing what I was doing.

And then the worse thing happened. One of the guys a 17-year-old (who is now a director of wireless security - so he lived), was in one of the pools and unexpectantly found a deep spot. A very deep spot. all of a sudden one of my best friends was just a hand reaching out from just under the water. I grabbed a long stick and sprawled out. I put the stick into his hand and helped pull him out of the water. It was agreed that we wouldn't tell anyone about that. (So Lee, Mr. Dowd, and Barbara sorry you had to hear about this now)

But we went back to doing dumb things that teenagers do. I am pretty sure someone else went into the deep part again. But since it wasn't a surprise, there wasn't a need for a "water rescue". I think about it now, what if we couldn't get him out? What if he needed real medical assistance? This is obviously something I would never do now.

A while later, the rest of the group caught up with us. And my scoutmaster laid into me. Telling me how irresponsible it was to take the kids out alone. How it made the younger guys rush since they now saw the activity as un-cool since the older guys didn't want to do it. I put the older guys in danger and left the main group, short one leader, as well. I felt terrible about it and the lesson was learned. Nothing really bad happened (well there was that one thing), but it could have turned out really bad.

Through the years I held on to that failure as a reminder to take my responsibilities more seriously.

Years later as a member of my district's training team I wrote and presented a training called "Not One of the Boys" it goes over things that are completely common sense to me now but seemed foreign to a newly minted 18-year-old Assistant Scoutmaster. You can click on the image below to download it. I have also shown this presentation to our young men when they tell us that they would like to stay on with the troop after their 18th birthday.


Click on the image to download my training guide for about transitioning from scout to scouter. 


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