When The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it was discontinuing its Varsity and Venturing Scouting programs for young men ages 14–18 in the United States and Canada, my three teenage sons rejoiced.
My 13-year-old and 15-year-old twins had heard the news while they were at school. When they burst through the door that afternoon, they looked and acted like they had just won the Super Bowl.
“We don’t have to get our Eagles now!” they exclaimed, not fully understanding the Church’s announcement.
My three oldest sons have earned their Eagle Scout badge, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America (thanks in large part to their mom and their scout leaders). The youngest three are painfully close but the Eagle project looms in front of them like Mount Everest.
My response to my three youngest sons was, “Well, this change doesn’t take effect until January, 2018. You still have plenty of time to get your Eagle.”
“Well, the Church doesn’t want us to get our Eagles anymore,” they said.
“Of course the Church leaders want you to get your Eagle,” I replied. “They didn’t discontinue Boy Scouts.”
Their elation quickly turned to aggravation.
“Besides,” I continued, with their crestfallen faces looking back at me, “after all you’ve done, why would you quit now?”
Feeling emboldened, I reminded them about a fringe benefit.
“Two of your brothers have received scholarships for receiving their Eagle Scout awards to help them pay for college.”
Just like that, I dashed their delusions of not getting their Eagles.
The decision by the Church impacts a lot of kids, not just mine.
The Utah National Parks Council boasts 85,419 youths and 44,219 adults in 6,509 units and 99.4 percent of those units were sponsored by the LDS Church.
Will this mean fewer LDS scouts will get their Eagles? I’m not sure, but gauging by my sons’ reaction, I’m guessing it will.
I’ve always tried to encourage my sons to earn their Eagles while trying to avoid threats (“No driver’s license until you get your Eagle”) or guilt trips (“Don’t you want to follow your brothers’ footsteps?”).
But I’ve found that my younger sons have more distractions and excuses to not get it, so I’ve resorted to bribes and warnings.
By way of encouragement, I’ve also told them that every year the BYU football program touts dozens of Eagle Scouts on its roster. And about 80 percent of incoming male BYU students have earned the rank of Eagle.
I received my Eagle just months after I turned 14. I can say that the scouting program has benefited me in my life.
Here are five things I learned from getting my Eagle:
1. Life skills
Raising six sons is a lot like being the leader of a scout troop. I often feel like a scoutmaster, herding kids here and there and trying to teach them various skills, like how to cook bacon and how to fix a flat tire. What I learned from completing the First Aid merit badge has been helpful, considering all the many trips to the Emergency Room and Instacare over the years for my sons’ broken bones and stitches.
When I was a scout, knot-tying was the bane of my existence. But I have remembered one — the bowline. I learned to tie it one-handed and I can still do it decades later. It will come in handy if I ever find myself dangling over the edge of a cliff and someone throws me a rope.
3. How to be away from home
I’ll be honest — my idea of camping is spending a night at a Marriott in a remote town. But camping in strange places, away from the comforts of home, certainly helped me on my mission, which was basically an overnighter that lasted two years. It was an inoculation against homesickness. I know that because I got my Eagle, I could survive, if I had to, in the wilderness. I can build a fire. I can find food. I can build a shelter. Once, I forgot to bring water on a campout and spent a sleepless night with a dry mouth. I have never forgotten to bring water on a trip since. That night, I internalized the Scout motto: “Be prepared.”
4. Consequences of service
I learned that simple acts of service can impact the lives of others. For my Eagle Project, I collected used books from my neighborhood, put them in boxes and delivered them to Primary Children’s Hospital. It was a long, and sometimes humbling process walking up and down the streets, knocking on doors, asking people to donate books. But people were kind and generous and I appreciated their support. A couple of weeks after my project was over, I received a personalized note from a Primary Children’s Hospital administrator thanking me for my service and letting me know how much the children enjoyed the books.
Finally, I learned perseverance and how to achieve something difficult. When I finished my Board of Review and then received my award in a Court of Honor, it was gratifying. As a young boy, I didn’t realize why it was important to get my Eagle. I didn’t understand the importance of finishing what you start. But I do now. Maybe I’ll share that with my sons.