Over the weekend, we held a tri-district Scout camporee. In my council, fall camporee events are usually held separately by each district. But the council decided to combine districts into clusters this year as part of the BSA Centennial celebration. The event was dubbed the Fall Encampment. All clusters in our council held their encampment events simultaneously. Our cluster was assigned to Camp Fife.
Staffing and Preparation
When several Scout districts run an event together, coordination efforts increase. I first met with the camping chairmen of the other two districts last winter, not long after my district’s winter camp. Over the next few months, we met many times and frequently coordinated by phone and email. We developed plans, made assignments, reported on assignments, etc. We recruited help from our districts, gathered gear, and trained people to do their parts.
Two years ago, my district held a somewhat similar event at the same venue. We sponsored it, but we invited two other districts to join us. We made a monumental effort to recruit attendees from our district starting in the spring. One of the other districts made a decent recruiting effort. The third district made registration info available to its units. That year we ended up with about 650 overnight campers (youth and adults). We invited Cub Scouts to join us the following morning. That doubled our numbers.
This year we did not get our recruiting effort seriously underway until toward the end of summer. Once summer hits, Scouting units (and commissioners) in my area don’t think about much other than their summer program. They don’t really start thinking about their fall program until the boys are in school. The earlier camporee is held in September, the less lead time you have for recruiting attendees. Of course, spring recruiting is problematic too. It’s just too darn early. It’s an annual conundrum.
Still, I like to hold camporee in September because the weather tends to become more of a challenge in October. With most units in our area being sponsored by the LDS Church, the first weekend in October, which is the church’s semiannual general conference, is off limits. The council often holds other events in October with which we can’t conflict. Pretty soon, you’re pushing up against Halloween and even into November. We already hold one district winter camping event each year. So September ends up being my preferred month for fall camporee.
This year’s fall encampment event focused on Boy Scout troops. Cubs were not invited. Varsity and Venturing units were welcome, but we did not provide events aimed at those groups. Given that the two districts we teamed with this year were smaller than the districts we teamed with in 2008 and the council had problems with its online registration link, I expected that we’d get about 500 overnight campers. I don’t have final numbers, but I believe that we were closer to 425.
The final weeks leading up to the event were nightmarish for me. Trying to manage the assignments of numerous volunteers is very much akin to herding cats. I delegated as much as I could. But some matters simply cannot be easily parsed out to others. With an event like this, you can unquestionably know that some plans are going to fall through the cracks. So you work hard to cover the essentials while hoping that enough of the rest will fall into place to make for an overall success.
I mentioned in this post that I had received two new church callings during this period, while still having to handle the calling from which I was being released. Throughout the end of August and beginning of September, I found myself taking almost any opportunity to escape the mounting burdens endemic to my involvement in this event. Going to a movie with the family, doing manual labor at a Scout camp, and working in the church welfare orchard became exercises in escapism. But putting off unpleasantries off can increase the burden, since you generally have to deal with them anyway.
Last Thursday evening as I was getting the final gear together, I started to feel my burdens ease as I tipped over the fulcrum point from preparation to execution. There was almost nothing more I could do to prepare even if I wanted to. All that was left was to do what had been planned. Whatever was going to work would work. Whatever was going to fail would fail. And like good Scouters, we’d adjust.
Executing the Event
I popped out of bed at 5 am on Friday. I would be totally engaged in the event for the next 39½ hours. By 11 am, I had the truck completely loaded. I caravanned to the camp with another leader. My counterpart from another district had been working at the camp all Thursday evening and all Friday morning. I immediately jumped in and started working. Being that it was hot and sunny, I was soon sweaty and sticky. My job was to set up 70 event sites. I finished that task around 5:40 pm.
We had spectacular weather. It was warm and sunny. A stiff breeze often moves up or down the canyon in which Camp Fife is situated, especially later in the day. I was pleasantly surprised that we had very little wind at all throughout the event. Still, it was so dry that we prohibited campfires except for the one we had for the camp wide event at the official campfire bowl on Friday evening.
While I did event setup, the registration folks arrived and got set up. Although the event technically opened at 3 pm, we only began to see units arrive around 5 pm. Most were in camp and were at least somewhat set up by 7 pm. At 7:20, the event chairman realized that no one had been assigned to emcee the evening assembly that was scheduled for 7:30. Having done many of those, I took over. We had troop yells, a flag ceremony, and some songs. Then we headed for the campfire bowl.
They were having some difficulties with audio/visual equipment, so one of my sons and I ended up leading the restless crowd in several songs before the people running the campfire event were ready to roll. Then we had a very nice event that featured skits, songs, and patriotic presentations. Many people left the event quite moved around 9:30. Starting at 10 pm, we had a senior staff meeting in the lodge that unnecessarily lasted a whole hour. I trudged back to camp, where my sons and I bedded down for the night. Although it had been hot, it got quite chilly during the night.
I rolled out early on Saturday morning to distribute materials to event sites that were scattered over an area about a quarter mile long. I was wearing a winter coat. As the 8:15 am morning assembly approached, the sun came up on the parade grounds. We went from winter jackets to short sleeve shirts within five minutes. In the meantime, many of the people running the events showed up and got their stations set up. After flag ceremony, we turned the crowd loose on the events.
I immediately noticed that at least a third of the events were not staffed. Some events kind of ran themselves. Others needed staff for safety reasons. Most required staff for instruction and organization. Most of the events that were not staffed were non-critical. They were mostly for fun rather than fulfilling a specific scouting purpose. We had plenty of other fun events that were staffed.
There was one event I felt was critical that went unstaffed. But it required specialized skills and the assigned volunteer had not shown up. There was nothing that could be done about that. I ended up spending the day running between four unstaffed events that were in close proximity to each other. I could tell that many boys (and leaders) enjoyed themselves, despite the shortage of event staff.
Scouting attitudes and practices have changed since I was a boy — at least in my area. I have found that people expect overnight Scout events to be finished by lunchtime. Many of the single district camporee and Klondike events I have run wrap up at 11:30 am because the venue where these are held will charge us another day of rent if we go past noon.
We saw some people heading out of camp almost as soon as flag ceremony was over. There was a pretty steady stream of vehicles heading out from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. After I had no customers at my events for 20 minutes, I took a break for lunch and broke down my personal gear. I had more customers after that, but the crowds continued to thin out.
By 2:30 pm, the place was dead. There were only a few boys left doing any of the events across the camp. I immediately began dismantling the event sites I had set up the day before. With it being hot and sunny, I was soon sweaty and sticky all over again. But the stuff came down far more rapidly than it went up. I loaded stuff in the truck as I went.
By 3:45, we were vacuuming and mopping the lodge. By 4 pm, I had my truck fully loaded and everything tied down. There were a few more loose ends to tie down. Then I hit the road, arriving home around 5 pm.
My wonderful wife immediately came out and started helping me unload. We managed gear as we unloaded, parsing out personal gear, district gear that could be stored at our home, gear that required attention before being stored, and borrowed gear. By 6 pm, I was on the road again, returning borrowed gear.
I spent an hour and a half taking care of gear, cleaning the truck, etc. I was grateful for how well it all went to its proper place. Around 8 pm, I was finally able to head to the shower. It is difficult to describe how glorious that felt. At about 8:30 pm, I was able to plop down on the couch in the family room. Months of preparation, followed by 39½ hours of execution were finally over. I had a deep sense of relief, but also a sense of accomplishment.
The Trust Factor
As I mentioned in my earlier post about stresses, my capacity to handle the past several stress filled weeks had much to do with my willingness to trust in God. My preparation for this event included countless prayers. When I was in tune enough to listen, I was always told that everything would work out alright. And it did.
Throughout the event, I uttered many prayers of both need and praise. I was often stunned at how rapidly my prayers of need were answered. Over and over, it was reiterated to me that if I don’t give up on the Lord, the Lord will not give up on me. The first point of the Scout Law is, “A Scout is trustworthy.” This characteristic strives to emulate God, who is eternally trustworthy.