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. 

Varsity Scout Planning Feature[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!

varsity teaching feature sqI 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,

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Peter Baldwin
Peter M. Baldwin is Coach of a Dallas-Texas-based Varsity Scout Team comprising three congregations, completed Wood Badge Training in 2015. Peter holds an MBA from the University of Oregon and is a CFO and change management specialist by trade. He is an early LDS missionary to the Hungary, Budapest Mission (1991-1993). His Church service is mostly with the youth having recently served a four-year term as an early morning seminary teacher followed by his current service as a Varsity Scout Coach. He and his lovely wife Nancy met at and graduated from BYU-Provo and are the proud parents of three teenagers and one soon-to-be teenager.

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