ON A BRISK APRIL WEEKEND, A SMALL ARMY OF VIGOROUS TEENAGERS IN khaki shorts and shirts adorned with rolled orange neckerchiefs and colorful patches, pins, and badges descended on an East Texas ranch. The event was the annual father-son camp-out of Boy Scout Troop 82, which meets at Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Almost 200 members strong, the troop served 350 plates of food around the Saturday evening camphre at the ranch.

There was not a dweeb in sight.

On the same Saturday evening, the several dozen members of Troop 167, which meets in the Good Street Baptist Church in South Dallas, manned a different food line, as it does once a month: dishing cafeteria-style for the homeless at the Martin Luther King Center.

No wirnps allowed.

From the Park Cities to South Oak Cliff, Piano to Duncanville, a quiet, boy-led revolution is underway. Boy Scouts never went away, of course. But during the mid-’70s, when the counterculture gained ascendance, the organization immortalized in more than 80 paintings by Norman Rockwell became the epitome of square. Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent? A re you kidding? Besides, who needed to know how to tie a square knot or start a camphre without matches? In high school during the ’70s, I never would have dated a Boy Scout. A guy who wore a scout uniform in public certified himself as a dork.

And helping little old ladies across the road? Please.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, the national membership of Boy Scouts of America-which is headquartered in Irving- plummeted, bottoming out in 1979 with about 4.2 million, and membership remained flat through the ’80s.

But something happened 88 the baby boomers had children of their own. Next year. Boy Scouts of America will celebrate its 90th anniversary-and somehow, the movement started by Robert Baden-Powell is hotter than ever. Nationally. Boy Scouts of America is growing about four percent a year, faster than the population of eligible children, which grows about one percent annually. In 1997, BSA had about 6 million members. And it’s even hotter in Dallas. The Circle Ten Council, which covers 11 counties in North Texas and one in Oklahoma, is the fifth-largest in the country and one of the fastest growing of 326 BSAcouncils in America. Like the national organization. Circle Ten’s membership dropped to 27,946 in 1978, its lowest in decades. But this year, with almost 72,000 youth members and 18,000 adult volunteers. Circle Ten is upgrading and expanding its programs and facilities. In June, it opens Cub World at Camp Wisdom off Spur 408-like Disneyland for Cub Scouts, complete with a giant two-story log fort, two wooden pirate ships, a castle, an Indian village, a space village, and a “cave maze” topped by a mountain of dirt.

Soon, Circle Ten will finish an enormous clover-shaped swimming poof-big enough for canoe training, witha 114-foot waterslide meandering through the trees-at Camp Grayson on Lake Texoma. Clements Scout Ranch near Athens has a new 60-fooi climbing and rappelling tower. This summer, 6,800 scouts will attend Circle Ten’s three week-long camps, and 4,300 will attend day camp programs.

But Circle Ten’s most important effort this year has nothing to do with outdoors skills. In effect, the area’s local Boy Scout franchise is helping reinvent the scouts. With a slick new marketing campaign featuring kids in goatees and graphics that could have come from an MTV spot, Circle Ten is intent on proving thai the nation’s once-dweeby movement for boys is instead the epitome of cool, For suburban kids. Boy Scouts is a chance to do something on the edge, like rock climbing. For inner-city boys, it’s a different kind of gang than the ones they see every day. At the heart of this makeover is a simple idea; All boys need to see what they’re made of, whether they live in Section 8 housing or elegant subdivisions. And if Circle Ten’s recent growth is any indication, the Boy Scout revolution has begun.

Most boys join Scouts just to have fun-to spend time in the outdoors learning how to do cool stuff like catch, scale, and gut a fish or rappel down a rock face. Others get involved at the insistence of parents who know that the list of Dallas Eagle Scouts reads like a businessman’s “who’s who”: Ross Perot Sr. and Jr., former Gov. Bill Clements, Bobby Lyle, and Tom Hicks, to name a few. The words “Eagle Scout” on a college application or a resume mean one more step up the ladder of Success.

But for a few, joining scouts and becoming an Eagle can mean something much more basic: Survival.

“When he gets up in the morning he may tie a knot in his necktie, and leave the necktie outside his vest until he has done a good turn… The good turn may not be a very big thing – help art old lady across the street….” -Handbook For Boys, 1911.

Okay, so they don’t help little old ladies across the street much anymore. “They might think we were trying to rob them,” says Thomas Lipscomb. Now 68, Lipscomb, brother of councilman AI Lipscomb, has worked with Troop 167 at Good Street Baptist in South Oak Cliff for almost 40 years, becoming scoutmaster in 1977 after the previous scoutmaster died. His wife Zenobia is a Cub Scout den mother. His son Brian made Eagle Scout and just finished his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma. Thomas knows that having Eagle on his application helped Brian snare a partial scholarship.

Lipscomb’s troop is one of the largest African-American troops in Circle Ten, ranging from several dozen to as many as 40 members each year. Since 1966,87 teenagers in Lipscomb’s troop have achieved Eagle Scout status. “One thing I can say, of all the Eagle Scouts that we have made, every one has finished school, every one has gone off to college,” Lipscomb says. “Not a one has been in trouble. I ’ve never had to go to the jailhouse and get one out.”

Scouting for African-Americans has changed drastically from Lipscomb’s days as a Tenderfoot. “It was just something for an outing, and the uniforms were attractive to us,” Lipscomb says, “We would look forward to camp-outs at area parks. That was a novelty to us.”

In fact, for many years. Boy Scouts had an image problem with minorities in America, despite its wide acceptance in other parts of the world. “In the black community, it’s always been looked at as a program for rich white suburban kids,” says Pete Peterson, held director for Circle Ten. “It was fairly expensive, and there was no concerted effort to make it available to the inner city.”

That’s where the marketing campaign comes in. Peterson and the other professional scouts at Circle Ten Council are trying to change the perception of the scouts with an outreach program and an aggressive, in-your-face campaign by DDB Needham. In 1996, the advertising agency did a pro bono ad campaign featuring posters that turned the image of Boy Scouts on its head. One showed three boys with tough attitudes staring at the camera: “Sure they help little old ladies across the street. Ya wanna make so mething of it?” Photographer John Katz, who shot the pictures, also produced several TV public service announcements with the same theme.

DDB Needham creative director Kevin Sutton says the idea was to make Boy Scouts hip and relevant Sutton, never a Boy Scout, interviewed scouts in urban areas, expecting to find out that adults ran the troops and the kids had to go along with it.

“I think what surprised me was how much fun some of these kids have doing this stuff,” Sutton says. “The kids looked forward to going to scout meetings.”

Sutton looked at the traditional Norman Rockwell images of scouting but couldn’t find anything thai related to modern teens, even for white kids in suburban areas. He found inspiration in a U.S. News & World Report issue on resilient kids. A Houston teen said that he had gotten involved in a gang and was on the path to jail when he discovered Boy Scouts, which provided the same sense of belonging, hierarchy of leadership, and peer discipline he’d found in a gang.

With that gang metaphor in mind, Sutton and his team created six vivid new posters of urban images that were 180 degrees away from Norman Rockwell-but that a kid might want to rip off the wall and slick in his room-to be unveiled this fall. “Want to join a gang? How about one that’s produced 16 presidents, 71 senators, and 129 astronauts.” Another one reads: “Gangs, violence, drugs-when this is your neighborhood, wilderness survive! takes on a whole new meaning.”

The boys chosen for the posters look tough, muscular, almost intimidating. “We didn’t want to show a bunch of pansies.” Sutton says.

Except for a couple geared toward Cub Scouts, all the boys featured on the posters are Eagle Scouts. “At 6 foot 4 and 250 pounds, he could lake your life,” says one poster, showing a huge young black man staring at the camera. “But with 28 merit badges, he’d rather save it.”

The Dallas campaign has gotten a lot of attention from other councils in urban areas, who have either borrowed some ideas or asked to use the posters. Peterson hopes it will shake up preconceived notions of Boy Scouts.

Peterson offices at Circle Ten Council’s gleaming new building located on Harry Hines at Regal Flow. The office looks like any other, except for the numerous bronze busts and eagles scattered about. A store offering scout paraphernalia and camping equipment at the front is so inviting 1 have to resist the urge to buy an official Boy Scout hatchet or canteen. This-not the National BSA office building in Las Colinas-is the heart of decision-making for local scouting.

National BSA produces programs and publishes handbooks, merit badge booklets, and the monthly magazines Bays Life and Scouting. and runs Philmont. the immense wilderness Boy Scout Valhalla in New Mexico, but rarely gets involved in local issues. With a $7.3 million operating budget. Circle Ten Council is like an independent franchise, receiving no funding from the national organization.

Circle Ten operates four camps-Camp Wisdom, Camp Grayson, Clements Scout Ranch, and Camp Constantin on Possum Kingdom Lake-and provides record-keeping, sells uniforms and scouting paraphernalia, and most importantly, provides year-round training for adult leaders.

The program now serves about 26,000 Cub Scouts (grades 1-5), 31,700 Boy Scouts (age 11 and up), and 13,670 Explorers (co-ed for age 14 and up). A subsidiary program called Learning For Life is used on 238 school campuses as an adjunct to die curriculum. In addition, there’s a Partners In Youth Crime Prevention program, a unique col-laborative effort between Circle Ten and the Dallas Police Department for about 1,000 Cub Scout-age boys in 30 high-crime areas.

Now 44, Peterson grew up around Fair Park, He joined a troop in elementary school and made it to First Class. But he let Scouts slide. “They met right after school, and 1 was playing football,” says Peterson, who still has the broad build of a football player. “I didn’t make an effort to stay in touch with my scoutmaster.” Besides, all that outdoor lore didn’t seem to have much to do with his life.

After getting a degree in counseling and computer science, Peterson joined Circle Ten in 1978 as a professional staffer, the council has about 45 professional staff. Peterson estimates that in the past 10 years, Boy Scout involvement in the Dallas inner city has doubled to an estimated 28,000 scouts.

While suburban programs focus a great deal on the outdoors, a black troop might focus more on life skills. The result is that many of the activities pursued by an African-American troop may be very different from a troop in a white suburb.

That’s one reason why Scoutmaster Lipscomb has seen enthusiasm for scouting grow in the black community. “Now, it’s a different thing.” says Lipscomb. “There’s something very captivating to the young men now.” Lipscomb and his troop have raised me profile of scouting in the community. Troop 167 marches at the front of the Martin Luther King Day parade, providing the color guard. They’ve performed drills at the National Baptist Convention before thousands of people, receiving standing ovations. In me past 20 years, Lipscomb’s taken boys to Philmont and to other scout events in virtually every state in America.

While many predominantly white troops may be somewhat lackadaisical about the uniform-a scout shirt worn with jeans, or missing a neckerchief-Lipscomb insists that his scouts wear the uniform head-to-foot, with red tarns for dress-up events.

“We let our uniforms speak for us, for pride.” Lipscomb says. “We don’t play half this, half that. If you teach them the pride of it, it brings out respect for themselves, for the church, for their family. When we’re out parading, the boys at their schools may be teasing them, saying, ’Look at them in their monkey suits,’ but they don’t care.” A recycling program makes used uniforms available for those who can’t afford them.

Another of Lipscomb’s secrets: He does not allow his scouts to make Eagle until they are juniors or seniors in high school. Some troops push boys to make Eagle as soon as they are eligible-for some, as early as 14-knowing that at about age 16, when hormones kick in, they may lose interest.

“They let these kids become Eagle Scouts too soon,” says Lipscomb. “What’s he going to do then? There’s no challenge. He will lose interest, and he’s subject to getting into any kind of trouble. He’s vulnerable to a gang.”

Peterson, who is also a volunteer scoutmaster, says he knows of 20 to 25 scouts from drug-infested areas of Dallas who have made Eagle in the past seven or eight years despite incredible odds. For many boys, their scoutmaster is one of the few positive male role models in their lives. “When parents have a problem with a boy, the first person they call is the scoutmaster,” Peterson says.

“I think scouting has helped keep them alive,” says Lipscomb.

“Every boy delights in the adventure of a hike into the woods. He loves to explore caves, to climb hills, to wander through and spy out unknown territory”-Handbook for Scoutmasters, 2nd edition, 1920

Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah,” booms attorney Marvin Smith as he walks to the podium, answered by the same call from a room full of boys and parents. Tall, with curly brown hair and a graying beard. Smith wears a scout uniform that strains at his middle-aged paunch. As “bead czar” of Troop 636, Smith injects a loopy sense of humor, doling out beads in recognition of participation in troop events at each quarterly Court of Honor; kids wear the beads on leather thongs attached to the belts of their uniforms.

The troop has convened in the basement of the White Rock United Methodist Church under the direction of Senior Patrol Leader Soren Hall, a handsome 15-year-old who leads the 90-minute ceremony with the gravitas of a bank president. The ritual, complete with repetition of the Scout Oath (“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country… ), awarding of merit badges, and lighting of candles, could be taking place in the same basement in 1959, the year the troop started-except for the fact that some of the oldest members have ponytails, members of the Venture patrol are wearing wacky ski caps on their heads, and the troop’s teenage webmaster gets recognition for getting the troop schedule online.

Part of the ceremony involves inducting new members. I watch as SPL Hall soberly twirls and wraps an orange neckerchief around my 11-year-old son Andrew’s collar, giving him the left-handed Scout shake, making him and two of his best buddies official members of Troop 636. A scout trefoil pin is attached to his shirt upside down, to be turned right-side up as soon as he does a good turn.

Despite the edgy marketing campaign, to a remarkable degree, the basics of being a Boy Scout haven’t changed much in 50 years.

Scouts now can earn merit badges in computers, disabilities awareness, and space exploration. But the sections on knot-tying, citizenship, first aid, physical fitness, and animal tracking are much like those learned by boys in 1959. And the requirements for Eagle-progressing through ranks from Tenderfoot to Life Scout; earning 21 merit badges; holding leadership positions within the troop; and performing a significant community service project-remain the same.

After years of litigation. Boy Scouts of America has successfully fended off court challenges seeking inclusion of girls in Boy Scout troops and acceptance of homosexuals and atheists as scoutmasters. There are some significant nods to modem realities: The 11th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, released in November 1998, includes guides for parents and scouts on sexual abuse. All adult leaders now undergo criminal background checks, and the organization has a strict “two deep” policy: Adults must always have another adult present when they work with kids.

The two biggest changes in scouting? One is increased competition for boys1 time, says Smith. “Our kids’ schedules are awfully full anymore,” he says. The other: the high level of adult involvement required in good troops. When a boy becomes a Boy Scout, so do his parents.

Smith’s son Nathan joined Troop 636 at age 11, four years ago. He joined to have fun with his friends in the troop. Marvin and his wife, Karen, had their own agendas.

“For me, it was a way to help me be a better parent,” says Karen. “I could see the things they were teaching him that I should be teaching him.” She especially liked the idea of having a lot of substitute parents around Nathan, adults who cared about him. For Marvin, it wasn’t just a way to spend time with his son but “a longing to get back,” a return to his own childhood. But they had no idea Nathan joining the troop would change their lives as well. In fact, Nathan didn’t take to Boy Scouts as quickly as they did.

Karen dived in first, buying a uniform, attending all the meetings, helping boys with rank advancement-completely enthralled with all things Boy Scout. She and Marvin both wear uniforms, adorned with their own badges. But scouting, to Marvin’s surprise, wasn’t just about teaching some skills to his son and his friends.

“I didn’t expect to build such strong relationships with boys and with other adult leaders,” Marvin says. “And I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much.”

Despite all the adult involvement. Troop 636 is an example of the traditional “boy-led” scout troop, with boys doing most of die planning and decision-making.

“The leaders are to be as invisible as possible,” says Marvin. “Ideally, me scout program turns over to diem the idea: What do you want to do, and how are you going to pull it off? It’s a very hot topic for the boys. Do they get to make decisions or not? They guard that jealously.”

Karen’s learned to back off. “It’s helped me team in general that it’s really his responsibility,” she says. “When he does accomplish something, it’s really his accomplishment. This last year, I’ve sat on my hands and kept my mouth closed better than ever.”

Next year, Nathan goes to high school. “I find myself feeling sad that he might not be so interested in it soon,” Karen says.

’’Severn! things should be remembered when going on a hike: First, avoid long dislances… There are a lot of false notions about courage and bravery and grit that read well in print, but fail miserably in practice….”-Handbook For Boys, first edition, 1911

As a stiff spring wind whips through the towering trees, the insistent whine of power sanders and the smell of new sawdust fills die East Dallas backyard off Tremont Street. Six teenage boys stand around two work tables dial grip flat yellow planks of fresh pine. Craig Stiff, a lanky 17-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair and die whisper of a goatee, wields a power tool on the soft wood, which, in a few weeks, will be transformed into a kayak. A junior at the Townview Science and Engineering School, Stiff just made Eagle Scout. Though the national average of those scouts who make Eagle is about 2.5 percent, Troop 636’s average is about 25 percent. But don’t call it an “Eagle Factory”-die reputation some other troops in town have earned for pushing Scouts to the rank before they reach 16 and get their driver’s licenses. They’re not giving away merit badges at 636.

“All of us are going to make Eagle this summer,” says Jason Spradling, the new Senior Patrol Leader, as he works on the wood. At 17, Jason, a sunny blond vigorously working a stick of gum, is at the pinnacle of his scouting career. After a competitive campaign, he successfully challenged Soren Hall for SPL of Troop 636.

Ironically, a few months earlier, Soren’s father, Ron Hall, was chosen Scoutmaster of 636 by the troop committee, replacing contractor Jim Wintel. Father and son had carefully negotiated a balance of power; his son’s skill at handling the adult leaders and maintaining an even keel with the boys had won Ron’s admiration. Soren’s loss, after six successful months of leadership, hit each of them hard.

Ron Hall, who has a gentle, frequently flashed smile, had not been a scout while growing up. Soren joined to be around friends but got deeply involved after getting into a leadership position. “I started seeing the power I had to teach these guys things,” Soren says. “I found out I was really good at it.”

Ron remembers when he was hooked. “I had already paid my dues and had a position, though I wasn’t doing a very good job, I had been taking several boys to the meeting. On the way one night, one of the boys asked me, ’Mr. Hall, when are you going to join Scouts?’ ’What do you mean? I joined Scouts six months ago.’ ’Well, you don’t have a uniform.’ The next day. I bought a uniform.”

The hardest thing about being a scoutmaster: balancing adult involvement and boy leadership. “Sometimes boys aren’t very nice to each other.” Ron says. “When they determine a boy’s not doing his job, that’s peer pressure in its pristine form. Everyone in the patrol has a job. If one doesn’t do his job, everyone suffers.”

As darkness falls, Jason, Soren, Craig. Will, and Tristan move to the front porch. They’re members of an advanced “Venture Patrol” and are anxiously anticipating a summer High Adventure. They’ve chosen to tackle a 16-day backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon, a trip that many adults would have rouble completing.

Certainly one reason Boy Scouts is increasing in popularity is the desire for young men to test themselves. In an America where military service is unlikely for most, and sitting in front of a computer, negotiating the Internet, is the only way many kids push frontiers, boys still need to find out what they’re made of. Scouting has kept up with the times, with outdoor programs like COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience, much like a ropes course) and Venture Patrols.

After discussing and planning the Grand Canyon trip for months, the Venture Patrol of 636 started seriously training just recently. Last weekend, they made a 12-mile hike in the Ouchita Mountains in Oklahoma. They’re going back, accompanied by some members of the troop, and are in charge of every aspect of planning.

While talking on the porch, they make trail mix. The night before, Jason and Craig gave a presentation to the younger scouts on what to bring and how to pack a backpack. This is the hardest part for some adult leaders: letting teenagers take responsibility for their decisions, good and bad. Didn’t check the weather report and nobody brought ponchos and ground cloths for their tents? They get soaked. Didn’t bring enough food? They go hungry. Adults are there to guide, but not to direct. “When that happens, it’s boring,” says Jason.

Now a junior at Bryan Adams High School, Jason joined Troop 636 when he was 14 after hearing about it from a friend. “I didn’t know Scouts existed,” Jason says. At the meetings, Jason found other cool kids. One had a long ponytail; others were into computers. Not the image of “pansies” or goody-goodies that other teens kid them about.

“Some guys would like to do h, but they’re too afraid of what people will call them,” Jason says.

Well, maybe some things will never change.


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