By Riley Manning
TUPELO – This weekend, one of the area’s oldest and largest Boy Scout troops will celebrate a milestone.
Troop 12, sponsored by First United Methodist Church of Tupelo, will have its 750th consecutive monthly campout.
For those keeping count, that’s a campout every month for the past 621⁄2 years, a streak they believe to be a record. According to Ty Robinson, scoutmaster from 2005 to 2010, the excursions began with Scoutmaster Paul Eason, who took charge of the troop upon his return from World War II.
“The story I’ve heard,” Robinson said, “is the troop was on a campout at Tombigbee State Park, when someone – it may have been the senior patrol leader – said, ‘This is fun, we ought to do this every month.’ It’s as simple as that.”
Eason, now deceased, led the troop until 1991, racking up an impressive tenure of 45 years as scoutmaster. Since then, the troop leadership has changed hands numerous times, but the tradition has carried on, thanks to community and congregational support.
“Troop 12 is a very organized troop, and we have parents who are really willing to help,” said John Finch, scoutmaster for the past four years. “And the campouts themselves are just fun. All the red tape and planning is done, and you can go camping.”
Finch said the troop’s annual round of campsites spans parks in Arkansas and Tennessee, where Scouts participate in everything from horseback riding to white water rafting.
But for the 750th event, Troop 12 is keeping it close to home, pitching its tents on the lawn of FUMC Friday night. On Saturday, the Scouts will host a lunch fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the FUMC fellowship hall, where they will offer $10 barbecue plates. Anyone is welcome, especially past members of Troop 12.
For Robinson, like many others involved with the troop, his participation brought his own Scout experience full circle. Robinson achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in 1985, and was asked to serve as assistant scoutmaster when he moved back to Tupelo in 1992. His rented apartment was located right next to Troop 12’s Scout hut.
When he became an Eagle Scout, he was Troop 12’s 203rd member to do so. Now, the troop’s number of the highest rank in Scouting has more than doubled.
“Only something like four percent of Scouts get their Eagle,” Robinson said. “Aside from the community service project and the required merit badges, Scouts also have to go before the Eagle board. They aren’t so much asked how to tie a certain knot, but higher-level questions about what they learned. You have to prove you’ve earned it.”
Another aspect of the troop’s working in tandem with parent cooperation, is the amount of responsibility the Scouts themselves take in planning and preparing for a trip.
“The fact that the troop is very Scout-run makes them stand out, I think,” Finch said. “The boys plan the trips, what food they’re going to bring, what activities they want to do.”
Boys will be boys
Scouts themselves admit their training also has come in handy in their lives outside of Scouts.
“Lots of people hate public speaking, but as senior patrol leader, you have to stand up and speak in front of people every week. Now it’s not really a big deal at all,” said third-year Scout Mills Winders.
Scout BJ Simmons agreed, and said helping plan campouts has made him more self-sufficient.
“It comes in handy because even if you don’t know how to do something, you aren’t afraid to figure it out on your own,” Simmons said. “It’s nice to not have to depend on other people all the time.”
But when asked what they enjoy most, the Scouts share a mischievous grin. In boys-will-be-boys fashion, they say their favorite parts of campouts are playing pranks on one another and being outside. And white water rafting.