Saturday, August 07, 2010

100 and Counting

In some ways, nothing has changed about the Boy Scouts since I was a kid, and indeed since the movement was first founded by Lord Baden Powell back in 1910. They still wear uniforms of khaki green and tan, still cook out over fires, still swap patches with each other with the zeal of Wall Street traders. But neither Lord Powell nor myself had envisioned merit badges for robotics, high adventure camps featuring Class 5 white water rapids or live Twitter streams from the woods updating mom and dad on who's winning the tent Nintendo battles.
Indeed, the latest display of how the movement is trying to stay current was on display the last week of July at the National Jamboree held at Fort AP Hill, an Army base in Bowling Green, Virginia. Normally, jamborees like this are held every three years. This time out, however, it was delayed for an extra year so as to coincide with the centennial anniversary of Scouting. With that as a rationale, and just as if a person were turning a hundred, there was a desire to throw a really big bash and a whole lot of people to wanted be able to say they were there.
So as the culmination of a week of camping and workshops and cookouts, the Scouts cranked it up to eleven for a blowout. Billed as "A Shining Light Across America," they gathered together on a huge parade ground at the base on a balmy Saturday night. The weather cooperated as they staged a nationwide satellite broadcast that displayed things old and new, featured a score of celebrities, and shot off enough fireworks to give the Fourth of July a serious run for its money.
Preshow festivities officially started at 5PM for the 8P show. While kids in Indian costumes performed their version of Native American dances, and Scout bands from places like Trinidad and Tobago played sets on steel drums, the various troops began to assemble. In front of a giant stage featuring large screens, a high definition video wall and rappelling towers, an audience of over 40,000 kids and their leaders took their places. They were joined via satellite with Scouts gathering to watch and participate in Jacksonville, Ft. Wayne, Durham, North Dakota and New York City's Times Square. Countless other groups and individuals gathered to watch a live web feed, bringing the total audience to perhaps double those on site in Virginia.
With thunderous music and fireworks, the kids counted down to the start of the show. The evening featured many classic Scout staples, like kids singing and dancing, candle lighting and shoutouts to various states and troops. But much was updated to appeal to the next generation. Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca made his entrance by rappelling down a scaffolding onto the stage. Paratroopers dropped into the event, sing-alongs were with done to live performances from indie bands such as Switchfoot and pop-rockers like Honor Society, and the featured competition was an onstage Rockband contest fought iPad to iPad and magnified on screen for all to see.

This being a hundredth birthday party, there were taped messages from celebrities from President Obama to rocker Ted Nugent. Videotapes traced the history of Scouting's past, and previewed the future and the new high adventure base in West Virginia that will serve as the jamboree's permanent home going forward. And the one of the highlights of the night was undoubtedly a talk by Mike Rowe, the host of TV's "Dirty Jobs" and an Eagle scout himself, who made his entrance in the bucket of a front end loader to wild applause, and wore a tee shirt that said, "A scout is clean, but not afraid to get dirty."
Some two and a half hours later, after recitations of the Oath and Taps piped in via satellite played by a pair of Scouts with the Black Hills of North Dakota in the background, the event wrapped up. In the various satellite locations the kids and their families shuffled out to head home, while on site in Virginia they made their way back to their tents. It's true that when compared to Woodstock, Altamont or Bonnaroo, there was far less mud, no violence and the music wasn't exactly making history. But a lot of kids went home happy and juiced about the movement, and that's a pretty good tradeoff.


Marc Wollin of Bedford handled the Jacksonville portion of the Jamboree broadcast. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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