The time to learn a new program is coming soon. The time to reflect is now.
I do not criticize the new youth program [announced by the LDS Church] – I don’t even know what it is! It will probably be a great one that will either compare to or exceed the Varsity program in form, acceptance, and effectiveness. I am certain that those of us who believe in the Varsity program will transition to the new unspecified program peacefully and willingly with a finely-tuned capability honed by the many effective youth-mentoring principles we learned from our tenure with Varsity.
[However,] I am one of the walking wounded being called off the Varsity Scout battlefield. Though my wounds are beneath the surface, the pain is real. For the past four years, I have been a Varsity Coach in Texas of a Scouting team of mid-adolescent boys comprising three wards.
I recently learned that the Varsity and Venture programs would be officially cancelled by my chartering organization at the end of this year. Like hundreds—if not thousands—of other adult Varsity leaders, I fought to implement a marvelous youth program that was conceived and designed for a time when a generation of young men would need an attractive alternative from addictive technologies and other time-wasting diversions. The Varsity program does this by inviting young men to experience high adventure in the great outdoors.
Conducting great and challenging themed-activities was not our primary goal; the activities were the means for us to instill character in these young men while mentoring them to become effective leaders in their careers, callings, and stewardships. Reflections, Coach’s Corners, and Business Meetings became part of my vocabulary. I came to know the effectiveness of the program and the great impact its successful administration had on the lives of many young men and their families.
I bear the wounds of mostly ‘friendly-fire’ as I exerted full energy and devotion to rally the adult leaders around me by explaining the importance and effectiveness of the Varsity cause to any within the sound of my voice. I silently pleaded, as a common soldier with no standing, for vision and direction from central command – for the sound of the trump to be more certain.
The last several years, HQ was largely silent on the matter so I delved into the program and chartering organization manuals and websites and became an expert on the Varsity Program. I learned that there was only one program prescribed for 14-to-15-year-old boys – and that was the Varsity Program. I determined to do my best to implement it.
On a local level, there were very few people who could explain the mechanics of running the program. At national training at Philmont, I met others who shared my conviction. There I met some of the Varsity pioneers – the ‘Vision-Holders’–those who believed firmly in the program, who could explain its purpose and mechanics clearly, and who had born many fruits of its success. Some had labored as much as 40 years to implement it consistently. All had experienced a mix of early resistance followed by great success.
I was humbled to be in their presence and learned as much as I could from them. Once back home, I called for air support in the form of training and collaboration from my stake leaders and there was little to none given. The job of the stake leaders was doubly difficult—they didn’t understand what I was doing and they had to manage the ‘grumblers’ or those who had given up on learning and implementing this Scouting program but who didn’t have anything else better to offer. I called for ground reinforcements from my ward leaders and eventually much to my consolation, we received new recruits, though they were fewer in number and dedication than I would have liked. After great difficulty implementing the program mostly due to the initial inaction and inattentiveness of leaders around me, my program became successful and received greater support from our ward-level leadership. We had gained critical mass!
I have directly experienced the effectiveness of the Varsity Program and feel it is a monumental decision to let go of a carefully thought out program with many great traditions such as Operation On-Target, Mountain Man Rendezvous, and Varsity Vision Training that now appear will lose their momentum. Recently, I left a stake meeting feeling that those who chose NOT to run Varsity and Venture programs were right all along and that it was a mistake for many of us to have pursued Varsity Scouting the past several years. At that meeting, I longed in vain for a leader who would respect the Varsity and Venture programs and the noble service that had been rendered by some in the room.
Since my operations were based from a lonely Varsity outpost in Texas away from the larger fold of teams; I was mostly unfamiliar with how the battle was faring in other regions where I understood the infantry was stronger, but where the battle raged nonetheless. Like many others across the nation, I believed in a Varsity resurgence, that we would receive sufficient aid, that many more leaders would rally to our cause, and that we would finally prevail. I was convinced we could win this battle up until the time of retreat.
I am grieving the loss of a great program. I have been left alone on the battlefield to self-medicate my wounds as there is no one available to diagnose, let alone treat my pain. I reflect on the many hours and dollars I invested the last four years in a program that is now ending and that seems now few people truly understood. I do not feel validated. I grieve for the pioneers of the Varsity program more than I grieve for myself. Their wounds and scars must be so much greater than mine. I have found myself seeking consolation from other wounded survivors. I am ready to bury the program if that is the only option; nonetheless, I plan on running our Varsity program with conviction and enthusiasm until the end of this year.
My fleeting hope is those of us who want to continue with Varsity programs after December 31st will be allowed that option. It is also my hope that under the present cancellation circumstances, someone with standing would communicate a ‘recognition and comfort’ message similar to those who are most affected by this change.
Yours in service to our youth,