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Watakachoo

Many things have happened in the last week. Much of which I'm sure many of you want to hear about. Well, I've talked to a lot of you so you know a lot of things about interviewing at Kansas State, etc etc.

What I would like to comment on tonight is something not a lot of people understand but is something that has had a powerful place in my life. A close female friend of mine is working on becoming a professional scouter for the Dallas-area council of the Boy Scouts of America, and she and I have talked much about my experiencing with Scouting in my own life, and my memories of the troop that shaped a lot of my experience through my teen years.

Most of us have a lot of experience with groups of people and organizations in our lives. But I would venture to say that very few of us experience an organization that truly excellent. A group that has a deep sense of pride that has developed out of its own rich history. A group that is filled with figures who are deeply committed to what they do - not for their sake or the sake of their own children but for the sake of those who need what they have to offer. A group that defines what transformative and influential leadership is really like. A group that is so committed to its own ideals that it will stop at nothing to acheive them. A group that does not bow to outside pressure and relies on its own vision to experience greatness. A group that has its own legends and mythical heroes that are passed from generation to generation. A group that has at its center someone who has become larger than life to thousands of men who now live all over the world. A group whose thousands of alumni can all shout with perfect precision the word "ITKITN LITTLEKITN OTENTOTEN LITTLEBOATN ESKILIOTENTOTN BOTOSKOTETENTOTEN WATAKACHOO!!!"

This group is BSA Troop 26 of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The larger than life figure that moves the lifeblood of this group is Bill Shaffer, who has led the troop for nearly 37 years. Bill is a man that has emerged from a troubled youth to make his entire life's mission the formation of young men. He had no father as a boy (his was killed in WWII) and ended up finding trouble instead of identity. After years of military school and some college at University of Tulsa, he was asked to take on a small group of 12 boys for a year. He reluctantly agreed. This was 1969, and today that rag-tag, unorganized group of sloppy kids is now one of the biggest, proudest, most highly respected units in America. This was affirmed not long ago with the Outstanding Organization in America award from the Kennedy Foundation. The other winners have been NBC Television and the Kansas City Royals. Gerald Ford came to Tulsa and presented a Troop 26 Court of Honor. Ronald Reagan invited a delegation from Troop 26 to his office in California. I was part of a Troop 26 group that welcomed George H.W. Bush to Oklahoma. The troop has published two books of letters written to Troop 26 from celebrities commenting on aspects of the Scout Law. Gerald Ford wrote the introduction to the first one.

But beyond all the bragging and name dropping, this troop taught me skills that are going to last a lifetime. We camped. Every single month. No matter what. Minus 10 degrees? Bring it on. Torrential rain? Wear a poncho. We camped all over Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and sometimes in Colorado. We used canvas A-frame tents. Every patrol looked out for itself. These were the best of times. These were the worst of times. But every experience in this extensive camping program added something to the arsenal of life skills - not just outdoor hobbies. I walked the halls of Washinton, D.C. with them. I looked out over the harbor from the head of the Statue of Liberty with them. I stood atop the World Trade Center with them.

I learned about honor and pride in this organization like I have learned nowhere else. Honestly I'm not sure where you would learn things like that elsewhere, or in other troops for that matter. The rich history and traditionalism of this troop was carried from generation to generation through intricate oral storytelling. To this day I know the adventures of dozens of men who preceded me by years and years who I have never met.

There were moments I have thought could be the dramatic climaxes of emotional movies. About 100 of us were camping and an out-of-council summer camp in Colorado during a period of decline in the overall morale of the troop. One of the legendary Eagle Scouts, whose name ran deep in the oral stories, appeared at the camp and ended up delivering the type of dramatic speech that reenergizes entire armies in war movies. Today I only imagine how those next several days would be captured by swooping camera angles and orchestrated crescendos as 100 boys marched through camp in perfect uniforms and formation, filing into general assembly in perfect silence before hundreds of other sloppy adolescents staring on in disbelief. Troop 26 had found its glory again and was going to conquer the world. Every year there was a open house of Boy Scout Troops at the Exposition Center in Tulsa. Many troops would have a table or two at a booth and a little display about things they did. Where was Troop 26? Just look for the giant Troop 26 flag flying 30 feet over everyone else suspended by the giant mast of the specially constructed 50 foot fresh-cut log ship that had become the temporary home to the extensive Troop 26 historical museum. Troop 26! WATAKACHOO!

We have always been known around that area of the country as the "Eagle Factory." Most troops are happy to have one or two scouts make Eagle each year. Troop 26 regularly awards about 10 at time, two or three times per year. This is due to highly organized three-part advancement system - the Leadership Corps, which is composed entirely of active Eagle Scouts, handles all First Class and under rank advancement. This is overseen by the Advancement Chairman who has detailed computer records for each scout and where he stands at any given time. The other key is the active participation of anywhere between 40 and 50 Assistant Scoutmasters who teach dozens of merit badge classes each week. Every weekly meeting sees every scout climb through the advancement ladder in some way. And every required badge for Eagle is taught in-house. Many troops have to rely on summer camps or district offerings for their scouts to get anywhere.

I mentioned Bill Shaffer. I said that this man has become larger than life to thousands. This is no exaggeration, as Bill has become one of the most influential male leaders in my life. He is virtually a second Dad to thousands, and for many he is the father they never had. This is appropriate because Bill has never been a father himself. He has also never married. This troop, quite literally, is his entire life. Bill has been recognized as one of the greatest scoutmasters in the nation on numerous occasions. He has won Scounting's highest award, one that has been given to only two scoutmasters in the nation, ever. His every waking moment has to do with his dedication to these boys in some way or another. His passion runs deeper than any passion I have ever seen anyone have about anything. Also, when Bill speaks, people listen. Some of the most electric experiences I have had have come at end of week ceremonies at Council summer camps. Often scoutmasters are invited in front of the huge bonfire to say a few words about their experiences. Many get up and say they've had a fun week. Bill is always last. This is when the entire camp goes silent as the slightly stooped man works his way to the front and stands before a generation of young men, looking them in the eyes. He then delivers a slow, methodical soliloquy that sends you into the depths of what has taken place within your soul. Your character. Your pride. You as a young man that the world is depending on. When Bill walks back up that stone pathway, you have just explored the depths of your own identity and the hairs on your body are standing on end. You have just realized that this is a man that is giving his very life for you.

The pride. The excellence. The leadership. The tradition. The men and the boys being trained to be men. This is Troop 26. WATAKACHOO!!


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