Longtime Scouter left behind template for running Eagle Scout boards of review

eaglepatchDon Bennett directed Eagle Scout boards of review like a film director creating his latest masterpiece. He challenged the Eagle candidates with expertly crafted questions all with the goal of making the young man see just how his time in Scouting has formed who he is. He brought out the best in people.

That deft touch in Eagle Scout boards of review is what David Watson will remember most about Don, who died earlier this year.

David wrote a touching tribute to Don (pictured above) and gave me permission to share it with you all. You’ll find it’s about more than just a great man; it’s about the attitude he brought to an Eagle Scout board of review. Consider it mandatory reading for anyone who may some day sit on an Eagle Scout board of review and decide the fate of an Eagle candidate.

Find the tribute, edited for style, after the jump. 

How to Run an Eagle Scout Board of Review: A Tribute to an Old Friend
By David A. Watson

“Success in training the boy depends largely on the Scoutmaster’s own personal example.” — Robert Baden-Powell

It was late. The church was deserted, and a storm was on its way — Hurricane Ike, as it turned out. After Hurricane Katrina, nobody wanted to mess with a storm. Alas, there we were holed up at an Eagle Scout board of review.

The chairman, Don Bennett, insisted on it, not because he was a stickler for rules or protocol, but for the boys. He didn’t want to hold up any Scouts on their way to achieving their Eagle rank. He wanted them to know what conferring this badge meant to them, and it didn’t matter to him that Ike was on its way. He’d seen storms before. We all had.

Don loved to regale the young men about everything from the weather to all sorts of Scout-related stories. That was Mr. Don Bennett in his 80s, still going strong and always a character. That’s why when he left us earlier this year, I began thinking about how this longtime chairman of the district’s Eagle board approached the Eagle board of review. He was the type of guy you could tell was tough right down to the bone marrow. He passed just a few weeks after telling his fellow board members he was sick, having kept his illness from all of us, everyone except for his spouse.

Through my years of scouting, Don had become my friend and mentor. He will be missed, but his teachings within the Scouting world, and beyond, will live on. I learned a lot from him personally; even when I thought I had a great deal of experience as a Scouter, and that I had nothing left to learn, Don proved me wrong.

First, there was the recitation of the Scout Oath, said aloud while standing, and showing the Scout Sign, of course.

“On my honor, I will do my best, To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

Then, the Scout Law, still while standing: A Scout is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

Don would make the Scouts go over it again if they missed the first conjunction — “and” — in the Scout Oath. Then he would invite them to sit down and “take a breath!”

Don’s philosophy was to try to give young men advice about Scouting. He encouraged them to be involved in Scouts as adults and to reflect on what their scouting meant to them in retrospect. 

Throughout his tenure, Don served as winter camp director, Wood Badge participant (and staff member), and Scoutmaster. At the behest of the Bay Area Council, he reinvigorated a failing troop into a much larger one. Troop 609 in League City, Texas, found new life under Don’s watch. He was also a father, a serviceman in the Air Force and a retired electrical engineer (with NASA programs.) So, you could certainly say he knew stories.

Don enjoyed spinning old tales for the Scouts. He’d talk about how cold it was during Winter Camp of 1983, or how hot it was at Philmont climbing Mount Baldy.

During boards of review, the former Scoutmaster asked the boys what their favorite campout had been. Usually it would have to do with a damp-humid-hot or a wet-cold-muggy campout we have here at Camp Karankawa.

Don would quickly follow up with: “What did you learn about yourself from this campout?” The response was predictable; the boy would learn that he was tougher than he realized, that he really could stick it out without Mom and Dad. Yep, exactly!  Little did the Scouts know, that was exactly what Don wanted them to see.

Next, Don explored the merit badges the Scouts had earned. He’d ask which merit badge was easiest for them, and of course, which was the toughest.

Don would investigate what they’d learned about themselves, and the response would come back something like this: “I learned that I just have to try something new, and I might like it.”

Yes, and Don wanted to know perhaps if they thought that one or more of the merit badges might lead them down a career path, just like Electricity merit badge had for him many years before.

I still like to ask boys about leadership. Don always wanted to know whether it helped to bully one’s subordinates. “No,” the boys answered definitively (which of course was the answer we wanted to her.) Don asked them, “Is it more difficult to be a leader or follower?” Usually, the Scout would say it’s hard to be a follower; they were beginning to understand why this is an important skill to master in life, to be part of a team and not to take credit when it isn’t called for.

I also like to ask the Scouts about their inclusion of boys with disabilities in Scout activities. This was Don’s wish as well. After I had been on the Eagle Board for several years, I had a stroke that left me with difficulty speaking.

It was Don who sent me an email saying he hoped I could come back to the Board. Because, as he said, it would be good for the Scouts to see that an old duffer comes back to Scouting because he wants to, and that disabilities don’t stand in the way of Scouting. I owe a great debt to him for that; it really helped in my speech rehabilitation.

From my perspective, it is clear the boys (really, young men by the time they get to us) understand and appreciate the investment they have made in Scouting. Don would ask boys, finally, what part of the Scout Law was most difficult for them to practice, and he’d relate to their struggles, telling the Scouts, yes, he had that trouble himself.

The boys would feel better about trying to do their best. Don’s philosophy was to send them away with their Eagle badge, and a smile on their face.

The church stayed dark that night as that storm came in, but I never forgot the satisfaction I felt sitting on that particular board of review. Besides, as Don pointed out as we were leaving, “That storm will create a fine mess — one that Scouts can clean up for Eagle projects!”

30 thoughts on “Longtime Scouter left behind template for running Eagle Scout boards of review

  1. Thanks for sharing this – The Eagle BOR, while scary for most Scouts, should be a positive experience, and a growing one. Sounds like this Scouter, right in my own backyard (I’m in Sam Houston Area Council) knew how to do it. There is much to think about in this tribute.

  2. Don’s questions are *precisely* of the same sort that we do at our district Eagle boards of review. These, and other, questions about the Scout’s *experience* in his troop and how he has internalized the Oath, Law, Motto, and Slogan into his very core and how he demonstrates this both in and out of uniform, and serves as an example of this to others, completes our understanding of the Scout’s character and whether he is truly an Eagle Scout in every sense and whether the unit has done he, and his fellow Scouts, justice in fulfilling the Mission and Vision of the BSA.

  3. I will chair or sit on two Boards in one week. I am on the District list to chair or sit on Eagle Boards. We usually get two or three per month. Next week we have four. Dec 2012 we had eight so the boys could get the special Eagle badge. I should have kept track, but I believe I have fledged about 60 Eagles since I began. This post was incredible timing.

    • Dave (great name by the way…), I agree with you and actually, I think they SHOULD be used at any Scoutmaster conference.

      I’m a bit challenged here because I don’t think these questions really get at the heart of the Eagle Scout award and, more importantly, don’t really help the Scout appreciate a.) the work that was done to achieve it, b.) the help gotten along the way from anyone and everyone, c.) ‘leaving a legacy’ as BP put it and d.) how the award and more importantly, the Scout differentiates themselves from the masses and equally as important – how they will choose to do so going forward. Likewise, there’s no mention of the Eagle Scout project, the values instilled by/because of it nor what the Scout actually learned from the process.

      For some time it has felt, to me, that instead of truly challenging scouts to earn the Eagle Scout Award (I earned mine in 1986), we’re paving the way to make sure more get it and, by virtue of numbers, get more ‘Eagle Scouts’ out there in the world. I’m all for more Eagle Scouts and a representation of Scouting in America, but ‘greasing the wheel’ doesn’t do anyone any favors and, more importantly sets exactly the WRONG example for what the real world is like.

      While I certainly empathize with the thought that the BOR shouldn’t be a negative experience, I don’t agree that there shouldn’t be some real trepidation on the part of the Scout. We’re training leaders as part of this program and part of leadership is having to deal with scary situations and through various means, working through and overcoming them. Tension is not always a negative driver – in can be a great motivator, when managed in an appropriate way.

      In the boardrooms of corporate America (and the world), there are often difficult conversations requiring formidable positioning and a firm grasp on one’s character, principles and ethics. On the factory floor, values are often questioned. In professional services, one’s integrity is often called into question and it’s the leadership skills we learn in Scouting that almost always helps us either be successful, or know that we did the right thing and followed the principles of the Scout Oath and Law.

      Where all that starts, frankly, is in places of measurement by one’s coaches, guides and mentors. If we aren’t constructively criticizing and setting high expectations for our youth then, eventually, we just get a nice badge, a pat on the back and a youth who will become a statistic – one that we really don’t want.

      I appreciate Mr, Watson’s and Mr. Bennett’s service to Scouting, and applaud them for their efforts with youth and the Eagle BORs referenced here. This post was not meant to demean them in any way. It is my hope that we can all benefit from broader discussion on this topic. I welcome any and all direct replies.

      • Why don’t we just put them on the rack and flog them with a wet noodle to doubly ensure they “get it”? 🙂 After all it’s a rough would out there!

        I earned my Eagle in 1976 and don’t think it’s my place to state that you were not challenged enough when earning your eagle.

        We don’t grease wheels but should be ensuring the gate is open and inviting them through. Eagle board or reviews are times to celebrate the accomplishment, and I for one an excited at each EBOR I sit on to be one of the first to congratulate a scout for achieving what they have achieved!

        • Charles – if you were on my Eagle Board of Review, it would be absolutely your place to provide that feedback. Likewise, if I spelled out all the things I did, requirements met, Eagle Scout project completed and questions I was asked at my BoR here on the Internet for the world to see then, by doing so, I would invite your criticism by the act of putting it out here.

          You earned that right by either being selected to be part of my Board of Review and/or by being an Eagle Scout who has earned the award before me. Whether you chose to take it is, well, part of character. 🙂

          That being said, however, nowhere did I suggest corporal punishment, demeaning a Scout nor not appreciating the Scout’s accomplishments to get to this point. I believe that by asking pertinent, challenging and thought-provoking questions you’re doing just that – celebrating the work that was done and driving the Scout to take pride in that and their ability to demonstrate it in a BoR which. frankly, mimics much of real life beyond the walls of Scouting.

          Again, I don’t expect to take anything away from celebrating the achievements of the Eagle Scout candidate, but this is a Board of Review, where an outcome is expected. If there’s a choice in outcome then somewhere, sometime, someone has either said or could say ‘No’. That’s something else that should be understood – that there’s a possible ‘no’ outcome and that the Scout needs to…not surprisingly…’be prepared.’ As previous posters have indicated, there is an appeals process where, if the Scout feels they were treated unfairly (or in the case cited above, where they were personally attacked or as what appears to be the standard, challenged to the point of breaking down) they can use the appeals process. It’s not a perfect system, and I understand that. It’s not a perfect world either.

          It’s my expectation that there are people invested in the process and the right outcomes, but that it’s not just simply a free pass. I’m sure it won’t come as a shock to you (or anyone else), but I’ve voted ‘No’ in an Eagle Scout Board of Review and I’ve also declined invitations because I thought the Scouts either weren’t ready, weren’t able to demonstrate their capabilities or didn’t meet the requirements of an Eagle Scout project (before everyone jumps on me – this was a particular case where the Scout deviated from his approved project without notifying anyone and/or getting approval from the appropriate sources BEFORE ‘completing’ his revised project, which we all learned about IN the BoR).

          In the example cited regarding the Eagle candidate being questioned about his dead dog, while I’m disappointed that the Scout left the BoR in tears and was antagonized to the point of breaking down, I am encouraged by his desire to go back and try again. I don’t agree with the notion of breaking kids down (there are plenty of other ways to do that in life and outside of Scouting, it doesn’t need to happen here…) however, I do also know that the resolve he is showing is exactly what we’re looking to teach our youth about leadership. If there is a silver lining in that story along with others where they have been overly or unfairly challenged in a BoR – it’s that the Scout decided to not give up, work through it and come back again. That shows character and confidence which are things we are trying to instill in the leaders of the next generation.

          To be clear, the Eagle Scout award, the work done to achieve it and the process of validating and then awarding it are to celebrated and appreciated. I have been honored to be part of many Eagle Scout Board of Reviews and look forward to more in the future. In my current work role, I have the opportunity to interview hundreds if not thousands of people yearly and I make it a point to interview (even if I don’t have a job readily available) EVERY Eagle Scout that crosses my desk/inbox. I do it because I know how hard I worked for the award, and I know how hard it is to truly earn that award. It’s my commitment to Scouting and to the youth who it has served.

          Charles, we may not agree on the method, but I do appreciate your feedback. Likewise, I appreciate your service to Scouting and look forward to crossing paths with your Eagle Scouts (and, well, all Scouts you’ve worked with) out in the world in the future.

  4. I ask the Scout to repeat the first part of the Scout Oath. After he says “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country …” I stop him.

    Then I ask, “What is honor? What is your honor?” followed by “What does ‘duty’ mean?”. Then, “What is your duty to God?” There’s no wrong answer to that question from a denominational viewpoint, I just want to hear him put it into words and to acknowledge that he has one. And then finally, “What is your duty to your country?”

  5. I’ve participated in several Eagle Boards of Review as a committee member and committee chair. I’ve always believed these are to be teaching lessons that ratify what a young man has done and learned on the way to becoming an Eagle. I don’t see the need to fail one, just as my academic advisor wouldn’t let us take our Ph. D. defense unless he was sure we’d pass.

    One question I have used (successfully) with a Scout, especially if I know he’s seen other Eagle Courts of Honor before, is to suggest that National goofed up in preparing his presentation kit, and instead of including a single Eagle mentor pin, they had included many. I ask the young man who else besides the one mentor he had picked would get the extra mentor pins and why.

    The first time I asked that, the young man asked how many there were. I replied “As many as you need”. he responded that he’d need a lot of extra mentor pins. The rest of the answer was great to here, but that first answer told us all that the Scout had learned the lesson I hoped to reinforce.

  6. I think they recited something wrong.

    A Scout is
    clean, and

  7. My younger son (16-years-old) was so traumatized in his Eagle BOR after they asked about our dying dog he couldn’t answer any more questions. He “failed” his BOR because he couldn’t form a complete sentence after the questioning. He was asked to come back in 6 months. That sounds like a punishment to me. He will be scarred for life thinking about this experience. He has been in Scouts since he was a Cub Scout Wolf, won the 4th grade speech contest at school, lives by the Scout Oath and Law, is very smart, an OA Rep., served every leadership position available and was just elected the SPL. I believe the boy is ready for Eagle Scout. He completed all the Eagle requirements before he had major chest surgery this summer, attends every campout and volunteers for every service project the troop and other scouts sponsor.

    The letter received from the District Advancement Chair says come back when “you are better able to demonstrate more confidence in your abilities and are better able to articulate your responses to the questions posed to you.” Who would be able to continue being grilled when a question comes out of left field about your dying dog that you have had since your were 5-years-old?

    Why is it that a boy’s Eagle BOR must be so traumatic? Every scout in our district ends up crying and emotionally damaged or affected on some level when they leave the BOR? Am I missing something? Isn’t this supposed to be a time of getting to know the scout and celebrating his accomplishments? Hasn’t the Scoutmaster and Troop vetted the boy already? I haven’t found anywhere that says you must be articulate after being hazed by adults or demonstrate abilities during an Eagle BOR. How can 3-5 strangers get to know a boy and his level of commitment to Scouting in 30-45 minutes?

    My son will be scarred for life over this and I’m very disappointed. He has my blessing to tell these people to stick the Eagle rank where the sun doesn’t shine. He tried speaking with the District Advancement Chair tonight at Round Table about rescheduling and was told to speak with his Scoutmaster, so I guess he still wants another chance.

    By the way, our family has been part of Scouting for the past 8 years. My husband and I are both registered adult leaders, I’m the Advancement Chair for our Troop, my older son is an Eagle as of Dec 2012 and an Asst Scoutmaster. Not that any of that matters for my younger son’s Eagle BOR but it makes me wonder what is going on?

    Anyone else have this situation in your district?

    • If this was in fact the situation, you have been involved in scouting for over 8 years and are the advancement chairperson then you are fully aware of the appeals process. Suggest you start the appeals process now.

      • There is an appeals process for being denied but he was only delayed, so there is nothing formally written by BSA about a situation like this.

        • Appealing the decision is entirely up to the scout under disputed circumstances. Just the fact that the board did not advance this scout after the board of review is justification enough for the scout and or parent to submit an appeal under disputed circumstances.

        • I agree, Charles…it seems as though the BOR treated this scout unfairly, especially in view of his record as a scout. The BOR is bound to inform him about the appeals process.

        • Carey, thanks, you are right in pointing out that the board had the responsibility to tell the scout about the dispute process.

          Marcy, don’t go through district anymore, go directly to the council advancement chair with the dispute. You need to help your son as his advocate with council. Tell your son to hold his chin high, he earned this and is well deserved.

    • There is something very wrong in the way your district conducts the Eagle Scout Board of Review. The BoR should not be an inquisition. It should be a conversation with the young man about his life in Scouting, how the program has changed his life, and what his life ambitions are. I’ve chaired and been a board member for many boards.

      Before we meet with the candidate, we review his application, reference letters, and project book. If we find any problems, we try to resolve them before the interview starts. If we can’t resolve them, we explain what needs to be done to the candidate, his parents and the troop representative. The board will reconvene at the next month’s BoR session.

      We begin the board asking the candidate to recite the Scout Oath and Scout Law. The first question is how did he decide on his project, then how did it go, etc. Other questions will be about merit badges, camping, school, future ambitions, etc. We always ask what part of the Scout Law he finds the hardest to live up to, and what would he change in his troop. Finally we ask if he has any questions for us. We try to keep him at ease and ease his nervousness.

      I am always amazed at how busy they are and how they manage to balance all the activities. The variety of projects is interesting, and, whether large or small scale, the projects fill a specific need.

    • I’ve only heard of one scout in the Northern Star District of the Bay Area Council failing his Eagle BOR. I don’t know the details, but I’d bet it was caused by a very major issue. As a rule, the fitness of a scout to sit his Eagle BOR is to be determined even before his Eagle SMC. In fact, the Scoutmaster should not agree to conduct an Eagle SMC until he is satisfied the scout is qualified to sit his BOR. The Eagle BOR is intended to be an uplifting experience that drives home the significance of the Scout’s accomplishments and his future responsibilities as an Eagle Scout. Your Council Executive should deal with this issue and replace the Board members if necessary.

  8. I had the privilege of knowing Don Bennett and serving on his winter camp staffs including that cold 1983 year. He was a man among men and I am better for knowing him. Thank you David for this this fitting tribute to him.

  9. I also don’t mean to take away what this great man has contributed to Scouting. I didn’t know him but I celebrate his contributions.

  10. Don was my husband’s uncle. He was a great person and one that I loved. He loved talking about scouting and was excited when he found out that our son became an Eagle Scout. He talked lovingly about scouting and was proud that he was part of a wonderful organization. Don will be greatly missed by his family and friends.

  11. Marcy,
    I can’t answer to your experience, but I’m pretty sure what my Dad would have done. He would have called a short break, walked over to the scout, put his arm around him and spoken to him privately to see what the problem was. He probably would have told a story about his childhood dog, Bob, to make him laugh. He was a deeply compassionate man.
    When your son goes up again, his victory over this will make his Eagle extra sweet. I know you will celebrate with him.

  12. Don was the Troop Committe Chair when I was in scouts at Troop 445 in Friendswood. Many times I can remember throwing my backpack into the bed of his blue truck on the way to or from a campout. I also remember him practically cutting his thumb off while helping me with my Camping merit badge conservation project. When I moved back to the same area and became an ASM and then SM at Troop 442, I was not surprised to see him still active and chairing the Eagle Board. He demonstrated commitment in everything he did. As SM, I had the priviledge to sit through about 60 Eagle BORs with my scouts chaired by Don and I always appreciated the way he managed them. The current Board is doing a fine job, but I will always miss him. He was a fine man and great example of a servant leader.

  13. Don did my Eagle BOR back in 2010. I was 14 at the time and extreme nervous. Don told me to relax as soon as I walked in and made me feel welcome. He had great questions that really that made me look at the overall impact that scouting had had on my life. Although I only met him once, he made an impact my life and made me appreciate Scouting.

  14. I had a recent BOR question and need to pick some brains. The Guide to Advancement clearly states that a Scout or his parents or guardians cannot have any part in the selection process of BOR members. Does this also restrict the Scout or parents or guardians from requesting particular BOR members? It appears that requesting could be permitted as long as it is understood that there is no obligation to select any of those who are requested. Thanks. With regard to the article, I think that there are a lot of EBOR that could stand to read this before they conduct their review.

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