What about the young Assistant Scoutmasters?
It was December 18th 1992, a Friday night at Troop 327 was having it’s Christmas party/parents night. That night our scoutmaster Lee handed me a few merit badges (that would never be seen to a sash) a Life patch (that would only be pinned on my shirt for a Troop activity that Sunday ) and the one patch that I was really anticipating and would be on my sleeve for the better part of the next 15 years, my Assistant Scoutmaster patch.
Sure, I wouldn’t be 18 till the next Monday, and my application hadn’t been sent to council but by the next time we met as a group, I would be an Assistant Scoutmaster. The last few months I served as junior assistant scoutmaster during my first semester in college, the troop leaderships was easing me into my next role. I was ready. I took trainings, starting going to round table meetings, volunteering for district jobs and helping lead my troop. Eventually I would be called upon to be scoutmaster.
My most important role during those early years was often as the second adult. We couldn’t have an outing or even a troop without a second adult present. And over the years I served in that position, as did dozens of others who "aged out" but decided not to abandon the troop of their youth.
The first trip I led solo, I was 23 and I had along with me a newly minted 18 year old assistant scoutmaster with me, that young man would many years later become our troop’s scoutmaster as well. That was one of the best camping trips we ever had, despite massive thunderstorms rolling through the area and all but three other units actually stayed at camp that weekend.
But if you fast forward to today, we couldn’t have even gone on that trip. Because we didn’t have proper two deep leadership. Which is now defined as two registered adults over the age of 21. As opposed to two adults one of whom must be 21 and at least one other over the age of 18.
Your second over 21 year old can’t even be just a parent coming along for the weekend, it needs to be a registered leader. I know there are people who will say good, these rules make sense. But there are times when finding a second adult to go on a trip is hard, but now they need to be over 21 and registered. There are many troops that will have to cancel trips because they can’t meet the threshold. People will say it’s the parents responsibility to step up and be there for their kids. That is great in theory but it is not always the reality. Some kids don’t have an adult at home who can or is willing to make the time.
And there you have a handful of assist scoutmasters 18-20, who are pretty much wasted space in cars. They can’t drive kids (according to youth protection policy) and they don’t count as actual leadership. What is their role now? Should they say goodbye to their friends, families and mentors the day of their 18th birthday? And should we hope they come back after they turn 21?
I know there is the unit college reserve which theoretically keeps young men connected to their home units while away at college. But are those young people coming back? I don’t know. And not all young people go away to college. I personally stayed local for my studies.
During those years I was an indispensable part of our leadership team. Would I have stayed on these next 25 years if I had no role or reason to be with the troop for three years? Hard to tell.
Not every scoutmaster for a troop is some random kid’s dad. Some are home grown, often without kids in scouting. If we marginalize our potential future leaders we are risking the future of the organization.