Scouts honored by Eagle status

It’s -15 degrees outside and senior Casey Coffman is in the middle of the wilderness — camping. Coffman, along with 11 others, is a member of one of several Boy Scout troops in Great Falls who made an untimely camping trip near Neihart this past winter.

“That was one of the coldest nights of my life,” Coffman said.

One would assume that in this day and age of cell phones, iPods, and video games, that the camp-happy group called the Boy Scouts would have no purpose, but for some scouts in the community, it has proven otherwise. Senior Austin Thompson said that the Boy Scouts program has quite a few lessons to teach.

“I found out that Boy Scouts is more than just a bunch of guys who decide, ‘Hey, let’s go camping this weekend.’ They really teach you life skills,” Thompson said. “Everything from how to work leather to being prepared for any emergency.”

The Boy Scouts of America began in 1910 and have since then enrolled more than 50 million scouts and awarded more than 117 million merit badges. Typically, the groups are divided into specific ranks. Most begin their journey in Cub Scouts, and traditionally “cross-over” into Boy Scouts at about the age of 12 and then move up gradually through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second class, First class, Star, Life and then Eagle.

Reaching the Eagle Scout title is above all honored and respected.

“It’s a highly prestigious rank, and I will always be an Eagle Scout,” Coffman said.

Since joining the scouts program in the first grade, Coffman said the scouts have provided him with an abundance of the outdoor activities he loves.

“I absolutely love being a scout,” Coffman said. “I love to go camping, and I even met a lot of my friends through the scouts. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.” 

Both Thompson and Coffman work alongside the other individuals in their troop to not only go camping and learn how to survive in the wilderness but also give back to their community. Thompson said he has consecutively participated in the Boy Scouts food drive and has also provided his services to restoring several trails as well as picking up trash around the community.

one might not expect boys in high school to continue participating in something typically meant for younger children, but for Coffman and Thompson the lessons taught extend much farther than those childhood years.

“The scouts are for any age; it doesn’t matter if you’re eight or 80 years old. The lessons you learn you use for the rest of your life,” Coffman said.

Thompson said that the vast majority of individuals who portray that frame of mind are simply buying into the Boy Scouts stereotype, which he assures is real but not for every scout.

“Boy Scouts has just taught me a lot of life lessons from managing money to being prepared for emergencies, to shooting guns, to even cooking,” Thompson said.

For some, like GFHS senior Scott Mathson, being an Eagle Scout actually helped him land a job.

“Most kids would think that being in Boy Scouts at this age is a dorky kind of a thing,” Mathson said. “Ultimately, it is highly looked upon by colleges and jobs, and actually helped get my job.”

While the numbers may look impressive, there are numerous problems facing the Boy Scouts of America. Thompson said that he is personally seeing a rapid decline in membership and not just nationally, but locally as well.

“The numbers just aren’t what they used to be. Parents are no longer encouraging kids to do it, and kids are just not interested anymore,” Thompson said.

Coffman said that though younger boys are becoming less interested with the scouts, the program itself is also to blame.

“I feel that the activities that newer troops are participating in have decreased in difficulty and creativeness, and as of right now they don’t do quite as much as I think they should be doing,” Coffman said.

“There was a statistic that I heard that only 10 percent of anyone who joins Boy Scouts makes it all the way to Eagle,” Thompson said. “And when I crossed over to Boy Scouts I made a promise to myself that I was going to get to Eagle, and I’m not going to stop until I get it.”

Despite the declining number of members and lack of involvement of the newer troops Thompson and Coffman said that they both intend to continue participating in Boys scouts

“As a result of Boy Scouts, I feel like I’ve become a better leader,” Thompson said. “[Boys Scouts] really taught me leadership skills and responsibility.”