A Cub Scout Rant

A Cub Scout Rant September 15, 2017


Yes, it’s time for the annual Cub Scout gripe.

Last night was the official “Blast Into Scouting” recruiting event.  The Chicago area council had advertisements on the radio, on facebook, on billboards.  And, we, the leadership of our local Cub Scout pack, advertised in the school newsletter, in the parish bulletin, via an e-mail to parents — heck, we even visited the classrooms, handed out information folders to the boys, and had my husband, who is good at this sort of thing, tell them all the fun things that Cub Scouts get to do.

And then we waited.  And a grand total of three parents showed up to the kickoff meeting for the Tiger Cub first graders.

Sure, there are two other parents who have said they’ll participate, which makes 5, which is a do-able size for a den, if the parents are all committed and willing to share the leadership and be good sports about the small size.  And the parents who were there expressed some hope that they may be able to convince some others, and we talked about all of the activities that the Cub Scouts do, and told them about the “mini-campout” that we did last year that was well-suited to families without camping experience, since we did all the fun camping “stuff” — a hike, a camp-stove cooked meal, a campfire with s’mores and campfire stories, followed by packing up and sleeping in our own beds, and we emphasized that there’s a lot of flexibility in the den activities, that the meetings can be after school but don’t have to be.

But at the same time — well, there’s the siren song of Pack XXX, at the public school that’s practically next door.  And I am very worried that the moment these parents start to think about Pack XXX, we’ll lose them.

We have 30 boys, and struggle to get good attendance at our activities and meet minimums for outings.  (We’re hoping to join up with the school’s Girl Scout troops for a few things this year to remedy this, and to make the events more family-oriented and increase turnout.)  The other pack?  They have 70 boys, and can do all the things that this size affords.

Before I took on the Committee Chair role, back two years ago, the existing leadership was already unable to recruit enough families to start a Tiger den, because the parents were neither willing to be den leaders nor share leadership among them, and some unknown number of them left for that public school.  (The recruiting for last year was easier because someone stepped up very early on to be den leader, so that we were able to say to parents, “meetings will be after school, led by John Doe.”)

And, also before I took on the Committee Chair role, the pack leadership seriously discussed “merging” with this other pack — except that it wouldn’t have been a merger.  It would have been a matter of our pack folding and surrendering our charter, no matter how nice a face anyone puts on it.  And maybe existing scouts would have moved over to join their 70, but without a tradition of Cub Scouts at our own school, it would be pretty quickly devolve into “if you want to do Cub Scouts, Pack XXX will let you join there.”   Two reference points:  in the neighboring town, there used to be two Cub Scout packs, one for the two north side schools and one for the two south side schools, but these both folded; now a local church is trying to sponsor a pack for all of the boys.  And nearby, to the south of us, the local elementary school’s pack folded; nominally, the pack affiliated with the school to the east of us welcomes those boys, but I talked to a mom while waiting for my son at karate, and she said, “we have no Cub Scout pack at our school,” so it sure wasn’t perceived of that way.

Now, I get it.  Our school is half the size it once was, for all manner of reasons — a decline in the total number of parishioners, drops subsequent to the recession that never recovered, changes in demographics as the immediate neighborhood ages, and new families move in who are attracted to the proximity to our suburban downtown rather than, as in the past, being a “neighborhood of Catholics,” even competition from the church just north of us, with a more charismatic pastor and a more attractive set of parish activities.  And it’s hard to maintain all the activities that we’d like to have when that means fewer people to share the load, in general.

And parents feel like they’re stretched too thin.  But a large part of the problem is the monster of Travel Sports.

Yes, my sons each participated in soccer for a year or two or three.  They showed no talent for it and we pulled the plug after having given each of them sufficient opportunity to feel like Mom & Dad had not deprived them of something all their friends had.  We talked about how the participation trophies they got were to be thought of as souvenirs.  And then that was that.  In the meantime, my oldest plays trumpet.  My middle son took karate lessons, and is now immersing himself in all manner of afterschool clubs now that he’s started high school.  And my youngest takes piano lessons and an art class.

But Travel Sports?  It is so dismaying when parents say, “we’re dropping Cub Scouts because we’re too busy” and it’s, in the end, because their sports take up too many hours a day, too many days a week.  And for what?  Are the parents motivated by the goal of their children being stars?  Winning college scholarships?  I suspect in most cases, around here at least, it’s not even that:  it’s the fact that, once your kid is good enough for travel sports, you don’t want him “stuck” in the house leagues with the inferior kids, and it then becomes all-or-nothing, because parents don’t have the ability — or don’t think they do, anyway — to say, “yes, my kid wants to be on the team, but we can’t participate in more than one practice a week, and the games scheduled for these four Saturdays pose conflicts with other obligations, so we won’t be there.”


Your kid will most likely stop playing his chosen sport when he reaches high school.  Maybe not — maybe all the years of preparation will land him a spot on the high school team.  The chances of playing on a college team are even slimmer still, unless you count intramural sports.

Scouts?  Well, look, obviously you get out of it what you put into it.  If you don’t volunteer as a parent to plan activities, there are fewer activities available.  If you don’t show up regularly, then the activities lose their fun and excitement due to small turnout.  But there are opportunities.  Scouts provides opportunities for character development, for leadership skill development, for experiencing the outdoors — and, yes, families increasingly take it as a point of pride that their idea of “roughing it” is staying in a Motel 6 rather than a Marriott, though honestly they wouldn’t even be caught dead in the former.  But it is not something to take pride in.  In the long run, boys benefit from learning to pitch a tent, and everything that goes along with that, far more than from learning to kick the winning goal.


Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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