An essay by Ray Capp, April 17th, 2018
My Dad died 28 years ago today, and this morning I was thinking what a good man he was.
Growing up in Canton, Ohio (home of the Football Hall of Fame) there was really only one universally encouraged extracurricular activity for boys. Some kids played Little League, but really (we thought) baseball was only for boys who couldn’t take the pounding on gridiron. I was no exception. We played football year-round in every neighborhood street, certainly on school teams, and in the off-season on vacant lots. Dad had played football, too, and he was my biggest cheerleader.
My position was right guard. What I lacked in size, my coaches felt I made up in spunk and grit. At practice one afternoon, I found myself nose to nose with the toughest, snarling brute on the team, (who was also our captain). He was three years older, mean as a snake, and outweighed me by 60 pounds. Our scrimmage coach told me to throw a cross-body block to keep him from ravishing our second-string quarterback. I did, and it worked! The coach screamed at him for 20 minutes and made him run laps for the rest of practice. I was scared to death, but he was actually pretty nice to me after that.
I wasn’t so lucky with David Firrachio. He was a 300 pound 8th grader who played for the Catholic School across town, and more-or-less just swatted me away to get at our running backs. Dad spent an afternoon watching him push around his scrawny 92-pounder, who would have had to have used shoe pads to stand 5’2”… Dad wanted me to play football like he did. He REALLY wanted me to play football. But after that afternoon across from David (who later became a high school friend), Dad took me for a milkshake. While proud of my mettle and approving my tenacity, he let me know that football might not be the best future for me.
Most sporting kids eventually come to a similar conclusion, sometimes willingly, sometimes in denial and only with parental help. Some get ground into the dirt enough times that a coach recommends another path. For bullheaded me, it took my Dad and a collaborating coach to get the message through.
Did I mention that my Dad really wanted me to play football? But he was a realist and also a great, loving father. So he encouraged me to get involved in Scouting. His idea was that very few kids actually “make it” in sports, and that the experiences I would have in Scouting would help build character traits in me that he, my Mom, our church, and school leaders wanted to see blossoming in his diminutive son.
Dad was right. I took to Scouting like a fish to water, and it is where I learned the lessons that still guide me today. On top of that, the next season, the coach asked me to be a manager on the football team, and that was great fun, too!
My Dad was right not to let me, alone, decide what was “good for me” or solely how to use my time. He was also right about Scouting. Today, I often hear of families with MANY more choices than we had, wrestling with the same issue of how to use discretionary time. With limited hours, dollars, and ability to shuttle kids from activity to activity, there’s normally a moment like the one caused by David Firrachio swatting me around: a decision must be made. The kids can’t join the lacrosse team, Little League, Scouts, church choir, band, and the school play without driving themselves and the parents crazy. There comes a day of reckoning.
Too often, parents turn to an 8-year-old or 11-year-old and say, “Look, you can’t do everything. What do you want to drop?” Scouting gets lumped in with soccer as an equivalent use of time. But allowing a pre-teen to make that decision, as noted by Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh, “is like asking a 9-year-old if he wants pizza and ice cream for dinner again tonight.”
Let me encourage parents to think through such a choice at a deep and abiding level. While I’m an advocate for Scouting, several youth serving organizations like 4-H, FFA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and church youth groups have an element that is not typically so prominent in sports programs: they focus directly on developing character. Doing so is at the center of the Scouting program. The values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law are the pervasive, quintessential, and universially accepted American values.
As parents and families struggle with allocating their time and resources, I strongly encourage them to include a youth-serving organization that delivers a program extending over a period of years, has a long-established and trusted national support network for all kinds of children, and which is committed to developing the child over the sweep of time. Parents who don’t have their kids in a character-development program are taking a risk.
Sports are great, but it’s a false dichotomy to suggest that they cannot exist synergistically with other activities, (like Scouting, for example). While I was Scoutmaster, I had many Eagle Scouts who were also competing in the state swim meets, had been recognized as the preeminent forward on the best soccer travel team in Nashville, ran on the Yale University track team, or competed as a high school lacrosse All-American.
Young people who reach the varsity or college level in sport usually turn out pretty darn well. Research tells us that sporting kids develop characteristics including social skills, tenacity, family support, and the foundational underpinnings of teamwork. But fewer than 4% of kids who enter the world of sports make it to a varsity letter, much less college ball.
Those who fall off the sports pyramid typically do so as young adolescents (12-14). If the kitchen table conversation on “what do you want to drop” ends with a choice only among various sports, many such youngsters eventually will be left with video games and the uncertainties of social isolation, sedentary habits, and life as an “IN-doorsman.” Parents who do not have their children in a character-development program risk providing no social, spiritual, or developmental support for a little sportster that ends up among the 96% who don’t make the eventual cut. It’s an outcome that my Dad moved expeditiously to avoid for me, and that I was lucky enough to mitigate in my own children’s lives.
Scouting can come alongside interest in sports and deliver some long-term benefits for children. Sports is known for developing teamwork, but that can happen only if you’re on the team. Scouting accepts everyone. And no one can tell me there’s a better test of teamwork than eight boys in a Scout patrol, choosing a menu, buying the ingredients, packing it into the campsite, conspiring to keep the goodies safe from raccoons, collecting firewood, cooking it, and cleaning up a meal (sometimes in 37 degree rain). This goes on in every Boy Scout troop, every month, for a several-year span.
Scouting delivers more than a spirit of teamwork. Persistence is part of the program. A youngster who starts at age 6, 8, or 10 can spend more than half of his lifetime before an Eagle Badge is pinned on his shirt. What other program helps a little child set a goal as far away as their own age, and then stand with them to achieve it?
Parents should look this choice of activities square in the eye and help their children make choices that work out for a lifetime.
Let me point out some things about Scouting that you may not know.
- Scouting for over a century has delivered value to families and service to communities.
- Scouting brings over a million adult volunteers to the table to support the kids in our program. These adults simply wouldn’t invest such time and effort without seeing great results they help to bring about.
- Scouting can last a lifetime (as in my case, and for maybe a thousand other people I know personally and well). These men and women devote a good portion of their adult lives to seeing that today’s youth can have what WE had as kids, and they’re some of the most delightful, helpful, and caring human beings I know. Longevity in a program like Scouting means value is being delivered. I know of no other organization that happily fosters the kind of long-term commitment that Scouting enjoys. Scouting’s men and women are there to give back.
- Scoutmasters are the head coaches of our movement — life coaches, really. Every Scoutmaster, every week, sums up the values that the Scouts should take away from the experience they just went through in a “Scoutmaster Minute.” They draw out the learning from the group and help them frame the life lessons of their kayak trip, cliff climbing, Dutch oven cookout, or fire-building contest. It is a weekly, non-preachy mini-sermon. The boys (and soon, girls) sit quietly at the feet of such leaders in thousands of troops every night all across America to hear the stories woven to reinforce the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
- Scholarly research confirms Scouting’s ability to develop character, leadership, resilience, and persistence. A bitter snowstorm, once endured, becomes a badge of honor (and years of stories). The breakfast tipped into the fire teaches with a powerful kick, and yet demonstrates kindness from the neighboring boys who share their French toast. The accident in the woods calls forth the proper delivery of first aid, reinforcing skills within the rush towards danger, and even the lesson of loving care.
- You cannot take the “outing” out of Scouting. Scouts love nature and spend their youth rejoicing in it. Sedentary friends can’t kindle a love of the outdoors they sometimes fear, sometimes eschew, sometimes flee. But the memories of the smell of campfire, heat from embers burning, songs sung, owls heard, creeks forged, fears faced, all stay with a soul. Nature is a teacher for those who experience it.
- All this learning, life lessons, even the hard lessons are part of the fun. Not all classrooms have four walls, or a teacher, or joy. Scouting’s classroom is the world. Those who enter the curriculum tend to “dig it” over a period of years, with muddy faces, dirty fingernails, and smiling eyes.
- In Scouting, young people make lasting friends. For the first time in my life I met kids from the “other side of the tracks” (little did I know that we lived on the wrong side). Kids gain confidence when they sleep soundly through a thunderstorm with the skills they learned, and wake up to cook a breakfast worthy of a lumberjack. They push their bodies, not in competition with other kids, but as a collaborative team, up the cliff and back down. They learn in a safe environment that if they don’t do it, no one is going to do it for them. The Scoutmaster won’t let them starve, but neither will he cook their dinner for them.
- And it’s a safe place–an accepting place. Everyone is welcome. In the safety of this accepting environment, risks can be taken, fears faced (with support), failures understood, and persistence toward a goal reinforced.
My Dad was so happy that I stuck with Scouting, and was even more proud when my Mom pinned my Eagle badge on me. He encouraged me to participate in National Jamborees where I met kids of all kinds — kids I didn’t even know existed, from places I couldn’t pronounce. He encouraged me to explore being a staff member at our local camp, because he wanted me to learn to pass along some lessons. He joined me on some father-son campouts, and together we won a three-legged race!
As it turned out, my Dad ended up happy with my football life, too. After I became the student R.A. for Notre Dame’s football team, Dad joined me at as many games as he could. He got a front row seat, and met all the members of the national championship team; he even was sitting right next to me when RUDY, my classmate, was carried off the field! So I kinda brought it around and made the old man happy.
He made me happy too. I miss him.