Missed Opportunities

Scouts, what kind of opportunities were you looking for when you joined a scout troop? That’s easy! You were looking for fun. You may learn about a whole bunch of big, impressive words like Loyalty and Reverence and Honor and being Trustworthy. But you didn’t join for that. You joined for fun.

You wanted camping and swimming, and cooking over an open fire, and roasting marshmallows, and sleeping outside in tents. That’s what your expectations were. As leaders, we know that. But we hope that once we get you in uniform, other parts of the Scouting program will make an impact on your life as well as all the fun stuff.

As you grow and become more knowledgeable about the Scouting program, you will see some doors, opportunities if you will, that you might consider opening. There’s a door marked “Summer Camp”. Another door is marked “Photography Merit Badge”. Another door is marked “Knots.” Another door is marked “Orienteering.” As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of doors just waiting for you to open them and see what kind of opportunity is waiting there for you.

Do all scouts open the same doors? Nope. They don’t have to. They open the doors that spark their interest. The real objective, however, is to open doors that don’t spark your interest. The ones that you don’t know if you are going to like them or not. The real objective is to train yourself “to try”. Because you never know what unique opportunity you will miss if you fail to open that door.

As you work your way down the hall, opening doors and learning about what is inside and then coming on down the hall to open more doors, you begin to notice that there is one door at the end of the hall. All the doors seem to be leading to that door. On the door is a sign that says “Eagle Scout.”

Will you make it to that door? I didn’t. I was in Troop 26 when I was a Scout. I saw the door. I wanted to make it that far. I met Eagle Scouts in Troop 26 that I looked up to and wanted to be like. I looked up to Walmer Frank and Jim Goller and Don Shutters just like you guys look up to Don Hull and Bob Doby and James Foutch and Jesse Stallings. I promised myself that I would make it to that door. But I didn’t.

The two photos in this Scoutmaster’s Minute tell a story. I am in both photographs. One, the black and white one, is the first scout who joined the troop after I became Scoutmaster in 1969, earning his Eagle Scout Award. His name is Mark Herhold. He was one of the first ten Eagle Scouts in Troop 26 and earned his Eagle Scout award in the early 70’s. He is now living in Chicago with a great job and a wonderful family and a beautiful house. Why? Because he never missed opportunities. He tried his best to learn everything he could learn. He did that at Byrd Jr. High, he did that on my 7th grade football team, he did that at Memorial High School and OSU, and he continues to do that today. He went places and met people and he took advantage of opportunities. He saw the door marked Eagle Scout and he went in.

The color photo is the 515th Eagle Scout in Troop 26. He knows about opportunities too. He saw the door and he went in. Both young men are Eagle Scouts. Both are going places. I think I helped them both make it to that door. I hope I did. Consider this! Maybe, if I help enough boys to make it to that door marked Eagle Scout, that might be sort of like making it myself. Do you think that might be true?

The answer to that is “no.” I missed the opportunity. I had it. And I missed it. It doesn’t matter how long I remain a Scoutmaster and it doesn’t matter how many Eagle Scouts this troop produces. It doesn’t matter if there are 515 Troop 26 Eagle Scouts or 10,515. There could have been one more. Me. But it didn’t happen because I missed my opportunity. I can’t blame anyone but myself.

We talk about “taking a step towards the chairs.” The chairs we are talking about are the chairs placed in front of the Eagle Scout Court of Honor for the boys who are making Eagle Scout that night. Will you make it through the door? Will you make it to the chairs? Is one of those chairs waiting for you? Will you make the most of your opportunities in Scouting and in life?

And remember, there is one more door in that hallway. Scouts don’t like to think about it. That door is open. On the door is a sign that says “18 Years Old”. When that door closes, all the other doors lock. You’ll never be able to open them again. Never. And that will be a tragic missed opportunity. I missed my opportunity. Don’t miss yours.

And what about that door? If you go inside that door marked “Eagle Scout”, is that it? Nope. Then you find more doors. There is a door that says “Leadership Corp” on it. Another says “Philmont Scout Ranch” on it. Another says “Sommers Canoe Base”. Another says “Alaska.” Another says “Australia”. My advice to you is this. Make the most of your opportunities.

© Bill Shaffer 2003


I Have been a scoutmaster for thirty-five years and I have, for as long as I can remember, started each year with the same Scoutmaster’s Minute. I love this one because it is so appropriate for the new year.

It’s about one of my very favorite movies. The musical version of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol. Its called “Scrooge” and stars Albert Finney. My favorite part in the movie comes when Scrooge wakes up in his bed after having seen all the ghosts. The last ghost showed him his death and the “ponderous chain” that he had forged in life through his despicable deeds and now must wear in death for eternity. Scrooge wakes up scared to death. His blanket is wrapped around his neck and shoulders exactly like the chain had been wrapped around him in the dream.

Scrooge can’t believe he is alive. And he’s not sure what has happened. But he is elated to find that it is Christmas Day and he hasn’t missed it. And what he says next, in word and song, is the subject of this Scoutmaster’s Minute. Here is what he said.

“Perhaps it didn’t happen. Perhaps it did. But I’m alive. I’ve got the chance to change…..and I will not be the man I was. I’ll begin again. I will build my life. I will live to know that I have fulfilled my life. I’ll begin today. Throw away the past. And the life I will build will be something that will last.

I will take the time I have left to live, I will give it all that I have left to give. I will live my days for my fellow man and I live in praise of that moment when…..I was able to begin again.

I will start anew. I will make amends. I will make quite certain that this story ends on a note of hope. On a strong amen. I will thank the world and remember when…..I was able to begin…….again.”

For whatever reason, Scrooge decided that he could start over and lead a more productive life. A life that was focused on helping others rather than gratifying his own wants and needs.

That same thing happens for us at the time of each new year. That is the time we think about :new years resolutions” and making changes in our lives. I’m doing that too.

I want to be a better scoutmaster. I want to be a more compassionate friend. I want to read some books that I have been meaning to read. I want to visit some people that I haven’t seen in a while. I want to go to a museum, hoping to be inspired to paint a picture or draw something. I love to do that but often claim to be too tired to be artistic. I want to give some of my art to my friends. That always makes me feel great, to give something that is a part of myself to others. I haven’t done that very often. I want to write more birthday cards and thank you notes. I want to be there for friends in need. I want to smile more and gripe less. I want to see God in the sunrise and stop to notice the flowers and the falling leaves. I want to pause and reflect on the gift of the friends I have had and the blessings of the new friends I am making. I’m glad for this time to reflect on the time I have left and, like Scrooge, make the most of it.

How about you? What are the promises you are making to yourselves at the beginning of this brand new year. Think about this scouts, and don’t waste this exciting new opportunity……….to begin again.

© Bill Shaffer 2003

Learn Something New

Several years ago, I took an art class. The class was on “scratch art” and it turned out that I was pretty good at it. The art board was made up of layers of white on top of each other and topped off with black. Using a little stylus, you scratch away the areas on your subject where the light hits. It’s a very unique form of art and my instructor was so impressed with my work that he insisted that I do a “one man” show at one of the big hotels here in Tulsa. I was so scared, seeing all my work matted and framed and hanging on the walls. I didn’t tell anyone who I was. I just wandered around listening to what people had to say about my work. It really felt good. Everything sold except for one piece. I kept it and hung it in my home.

You may think that this Scoutmaster’s Minute is about art. Or you may think that I am just taking this opportunity to tell you how cool I am and about the art work that I can do. You would be wrong. This Scoutmaster’s Minute is about failure.

My failure. I’ve always been good at art. I practiced drawing a lot in elementary school and junior high school. And none of it was in art classes. I was drawing in classes that were addressing other subjects. Subjects that I should have been paying attention to. Instead, I was drawing. My teachers and my mom thought that this was wasting my time. I used the excuse…”Well, it’s something that I am good at!” I was using one talent as an excuse to avoid learning anything else.

You know, sometimes the road to being a successful person goes through places that we don’t want to go. Sometimes we have to study things that we don’t want to study and read things that we don’t want to read. Some times we have to listen to some people that we don’t want to listen to. We can’t just hide behind the one or two things we are good at.

Here is an example. I was asked to fix a toilet once. Actually, I was asked to just change the toilet seat. That had to be easy, I told myself. All I had to do was loosen the screws that held the seat to the porcelain. But they were rusted shut. I couldn’t get them to move. But I had a hammer. A gentle tap on the screw should do it. I hit the screw with the hammer and the toilet bowl cracked in half. I was sitting on the floor trying to keep the two halves together when I noticed that the water was turning red. I had cut my hands on the porcelain. In an attempt to get the water to go away, I reached up and flushed the toilet. Mistake!!! More water rushing in.

How about the plumbing Merit Badge? Wouldn’t it have been great if I had spent a little time with this one when I was in scouts.

My challenge for you in 2002 is this. Learn something you don’t want to learn. Take a merit badge about a subject that you are not interested in. Stretch your talents. Grow in your ability to handle different things.

Don’t be like your old Scoutmaster. Don’t be standing there at age 56 and talking about the only thing you are good at. That’s not success. That’s failure.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

Keep Running Till You Cross Home Plate

I used to love baseball. Or at least I thought I did. I joined the Franklin Phillies in the 5th grade, got my glove and my T-shirt with Franklin Phillies on it and my baseball hat. I was ready. I only played one year. Actually, it might have been less than that. I really only remember one inning. I was up to bat. First time. First game.

I think I knew from the minute that the ball left the pitcher’s hand that it was coming straight at my face. I did exactly the wrong thing. I turned and ran. Two steps. The wire mesh backstop kept me right there till the ball hit me right in the back of the head. I can still remember my fingers holding onto the backdrop right before the lights went out. When I woke up several minutes later I had made up my mind. I knew right then that baseball was not for me. I went home and told my mom. “I don’t want to play anymore. I want to do something else.” My mom wanted to know what we were going to do with my brand new $15 dollar baseball glove. $15 dollars. Boy those were the days. I think gloves are more expensive now. Anyway, one game, one inning, one pitch, end of baseball career.

You know, scouts, I think Scouting is a lot like baseball. You know after the first campout whether or not you like it. Maybe it takes a little longer. Maybe after your first winter campout. Or maybe after your first rainy campout or your first summer camp. But you know pretty early if the scouting program is the activity for you.

Scouting is a great activity because of the values it teaches. Any young man would benefit in a positive way from learning about the Scout Oath and Law and the values that these codes of conduct represent. But let’s get real. Very few boys join scouting because of the code or the Oath or the Law. They join because of the fun. If its not fun, they put their uniform in the box marked “garage sale” and move on to something that “is” fun. And that’s OK. Scouting isn’t for everyone. I wish everyone loved it as much as I do but that just isn’t the case.

But what if you do like it? Lets pretend that scouting is like baseball. What if you hit the ball instead of running from it? What if you get to first base and everybody is cheering and you feel great about yourself? What if you steal second and get into scoring position and everyone in the stands is going wild?

What if you hit a triple? The coaches are screaming and clapping. All your team members are excited. You are standing proudly on top of third base with your chest stuck out. You’re dusting yourself off after a fantastic slide into the bag and you glance up in the stands and see your parents with their cameras and camcorders preserving this special moment. A triple. How great is that? Your heart is about to bust through your chest. You just can’t believe you love baseball so much.

But let’s say you hit a game winning home run. You are a senior in high school. This is the final game of the State Championship. Bottom of the ninth, score tied, two outs, two strikes and three balls. Bases empty. This could be the last pitch. You swing. You connect. You see the ball going over the fence as you round first base. And what if this is your very first home run? Ever? The fans are going absolutely nuts. Your grandparents are up there in the stands. So is your little league coach. And there is your little brother. He’s wearing a T-shirt with your number on it. Popcorn is flying in the air as people high five each other and fireworks are going off and the computer generated scoreboard has the words “HOME RUN” flashing on and off for everybody to see.

That home run is the product of all the coaching, all the games, all the practice sessions. You’re part of a team and you have developed the skills to make a difference in the game. As you round second base, you think about all the times your parents have driven you to practice. All the uniforms you have bought and outgrown. You think about all the coaches you have had that shared a little time out of their lives to spend with some invaluable time with you.

You round third base. You see home plate. The third base coach is waving you home. The team is lined up waiting for you to lift you on their shoulders when you cross the plate. People with cameras are trying to get into position for a great shot. Hats and gloves are flying in the air. The fans are stomping the bleachers with their feet and chanting your name over and over.

But then a strange thing happens. You stop. You look around. You see all the excitement that is going on. And then you see the excitement stop. Your team is looking at you. Your parents are looking at you. They don’t know what you are doing. They look confused. You look over at the bleachers and you see the little kids team. They were chanting your name just seconds ago. They looked up to you and they wanted to be like you when they got to be seniors. Now they are looking at each other wondering what you are stopping for. You look back at the scoreboard. They have already added your run to the total for your team and the scoreboard is now flashing “State Champions” over and over.

And then you turn away from home plate. Your batting helmet is lying in the dirt somewhere between first and second. You take off your baseball hat and drop it in the dust between third and home. And you walk to the locker room without looking back. The field and the stands are absolutely silent as the team and the spectators watch you walk off the field.

What do you think of this little story, scouts? I repeat. I think Scouting is a little like baseball. And if that is true, the story I have suggested to you is exactly what happens when you have passed your Life rank and you walk away without getting your Eagle Scout award. All the people who invested time in you from your den mother and your Webelos leader to your scoutmaster and all the merit badge counselors will never understand why you walked away after getting that close. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to explain. I was First Class when I quit and I have a tough time explaining that. I can only imagine what it would be like to be so close to the Eagle Scout Award, and then not earn it.

This Scoutmaster’s Minute (Sorry, I know it has been longer than a minute!) is for Life Scouts. The rest of you need to hear it too but it is primarily for Life Scouts. You are getting older and other things are starting to become important in your lives. Cars, jobs, girls, coaches, harder courses in school, peer pressure, lots of things. But remember what you said to yourself that very first time you saw an Eagle medal pinned to someone’s chest. You told yourself that you were going to be standing there someday. I know that is what you said because that is what I said.

If you are a Life scout, you can see the prize. You have worked so hard already. Home plate is just a little further. Don’t walk away before the game is over. You have the skills, you’ve hit the ball out of the park. Come on down the line to home plate so we can give you the recognition you deserve.

© Bill Shaffer 2004


Scouts. What does self-discipline mean to you? Is it a good thing to have? Is it a good trait to develop in yourself? Why.

Tonight, I would like to give you a reason why I think self-discipline is worth some attention from each scout in the room.

I work at a psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents. I was talking to a young man today who had just lost control of his temper over something really insignificant. He lost his temper and began throwing chairs and personal items at the staff members who were called to assist in calming him down. It became evident that they were going to have to physically control him because of the potential danger he was posing for the staff and for the other children around him.

After he calmed down, he shared with me his thoughts about “authority figures”. He said “I don’t like people telling me what to do. I don’t like people getting in my face and giving me orders and stuff.”

Scouts, this is an important lesson. Listen closely. If you have self-discipline, nobody will ever have to discipline you. If you follow the rules, if you have consideration for others, if you treat others as you would like to be treated yourself, if you conduct yourself in a way that is approved in the society in which you live, nobody will ever have to get in your face and tell you what to do.

If, on the other hand, you disregard rules, treat others with disrespect, ignore societies standards of acceptable behavior, discipline will come your way. Teachers, employers, coaches, policemen, judges, prison guards, you name it, will get in your face and let you know that you have stepped over the line. The discipline you receive will increase in direct proportion to your inability to discipline yourself.

If you have a temper, work on it. Develop self-discipline to keep that temper in check. Your family and friends won’t be able to count on you if you let your temper get out of control. They will never know how you will react to things so they won’t be able to trust you. For those of you with a temper, just know that you are not alone. I have one too. Its something I have to work on every day. Don’t let your temper control your life. If you allow it, your temper will make your life difficult. It will lose you friends and it will diminish the confidence and respect people will have for you. I’ve been there. I know what I’m talking about.

You all know right from wrong. You all know the Golden rule. You all know the Ten Commandments. You are all familiar with the rules and laws of our city, our state, and our country. Since you know all those things, the only thing left is for you to make a commitment to abide by those concepts and live your life in a way that will inspire your family and your neighbors, your employers and your employees, your teachers and your scout leaders.

And it all starts with self-discipline.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

A Circle of Friends

Who is in your circle of friends? How did your circle of friends develop? How does your group of friends handle other kids who would like to join your group?

This is a difficult question to ask a young person but I’m going to ask. What drives your group? What does it take to become a part of your “circle of friends”? Is your circle based on common interests or hobbies? Is it based on skills? Is it based on shared goals? Or is it based on being and remaining “popular”?

If you find that it is necessary to wear the right clothes or have the right shoes or be in the right (acceptable) clubs or organizations, if you have to laugh at jokes that are not funny or laugh at specific people not in your group? Or if you have to follow leaders who are leading the group in the wrong direction, or if you are expected to do things that you know you shouldn’t do, or if you have to become a party to putting other people and other groups down, or if you find that your association with the group is causing your relationship with your family to suffer……..then I would seriously consider finding a new group. How does being in a group like that make you a stronger and better person? How does being in a group like that make you a better adult as you grow up? Guess what! It doesn’t.

This is the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado. The two young men involved in causing that tragedy were, from all accounts, outside the mainstream groups. In fact, according to the videos I have seen of these young men, they hated all the mainstream groups and the kids in them. I wonder why. The videos definitely showed their hatred. But the videos don’t come close to telling us what caused the hatred.

We will never know all the details of that terrible day at Columbine High School. We will never know what caused that event that affected the lives of so many people across the nation. And although we can never condone the course of action they decided to take, we should try to understand what caused them to do what they did. We’ll never know what drove those young men that culminated in that horrible day and we’ll never know what part society played in it either.

People are trying to understand. They are trying to find some clue by watching the videos the boys left, reading their web site and their journals, all filled with anger and hatred. But are the clues there or should people have been looking much, much earlier?

I wish I could have seen how those young men were treated by other kids and other groups when they were little. Their suicides certainly seemed to indicate that they were more than willing to leave this life. What had life done to them to make them so angry?

So my question to you, scouts, is this. How do you treat others? The kids you like and the kids you don’t. I know that I remember the kids I was mean to. And I remember the kids who were mean to me. You never forget that stuff. Ever.

A Scout is kind. Reach out to others. Reach down to those less fortunate. Reach up to those who have knowledge or skills that can make you a better person. Reach out to those who can use your help. Widen your circle. Don’t limit yourself to one little group of people.

Remember that the interactions you have with others are like throwing pebbles in a lake. The ripples go forever. The kind things you say to someone might show up years later in ways you can’t imagine. I really believe that this is true. But if it is true, then the reverse is also true. The terrible things you say and do to people might show up years later in ways that you cannot imagine.

And above all, remember this. We’ve all heard about the Golden Rule. But I want to address what I call the “The Black Rules”. Those rules are…..One of the best ways to make yourself feel better….is to make somebody else feel worse. One of the best ways to make yourself feel more important….is to make someone else feel less important. One of the best ways to make yourself feel strong….is to make someone else feel weak. One of the best ways to lift yourself up….is to force someone else down.

These are rules that a good Scout should never be a part of. A Scout who is kind will never treat another child with such disrespect. If your circle of friends practices the Black Rules………do yourself a favor. Make new friends.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

The Weakest Link

Scouts, have you ever seen a suit of armor? Tonight’s Scoutmaster’s Minute is about a medieval suit of armor called “chain mail”. This is a suit of armor consisting of lots of adjoining chain links. The object was to create a suit that entirely covered a knight’s body with these connecting links. The desired effect was that the suit could not be penetrated by arrow or lance or sword. The chain mail would deflect the other knight’s weapon or prevent the weapon from penetrating the suit.

Of course there were problems that were caused by the shape of the human body. There were some places in the chain mail suit of armor that were weaker than other spots. Archers and swordsmen were trained to concentrate on the “weakest links” in their opponent’s armor. The neck and the armpit, for example, were spots where the locking links were not as strong because of the curves and bends of the body.

That is were we get the term, “the weakest link”. A suit of armor was only as strong as its weakest link.

If your patrol was a suit of chain mail, and each patrol member represented an individual link, what part of the suit of armor would you represent? Would you be considered the patrol’s weakest link? Would you be the patrol member considered to be the most vulnerable and the least likely to make a positive contribution? Or would you be considered a strong patrol member? One who does his part. One who tries his best and steps up when someone is needed. What part do you play?

Scout’s, don’t be the weakest link in your patrol or in your troop.

© Bill Shaffer 2004