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Hundreds of Boy Scouts gather at Scoutland for Winter Camporee event
Troops from around Northeast Georgia searching for merit badges and more
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Phil Olin, 62, scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 221, poses Saturday in front of a camping area. Olin was in charge of organizing this year’s Boy Scouts’ Winter Camporee at Scoutland. He sees scouting as a good way for the boys and their parents to learn life lessons, even through failures. - photo by Erin O. Smith

This weekend, Boy Scout Troops from Hall, Jackson and Barrow have come together at Scoutland campgrounds north of Gainesville for the 2015 Chattahoochee District Winter Camporee.

“This morning they were in different training sessions working on some of their different requirements, learning about the safety behind it,” said Phil Nichols, district executive for the Chattahoochee District of Boy Scouts of America. He grew up as a Scout and has been a professional scout since 2012.

“In the afternoon they’re going to be working on putting together lesson plans, working on what their action plan is going to be if they have a victim,” Nichols said. “Each troop is going to have an individual victim for the weekend, so they’re going to be looking for them this afternoon.”

The scoutmaster of each group develops and executes a scenario for troop members to find the location of the victim, assess their location and how to treat them. Each troop has been working on preparing for this week for months, having to complete different trainings online and within their individual groups before coming together at the Winter Camporee.

In addition to the search-and-rescue skills, they get to apply all the camping and survival skills they’ve learned as they spend three days in the winter weather near Lake Lanier.

“It’s all up to them. Everybody has their own chuck box, each patrol. They have to wash their own dishes, cook their own food,” said Walter Cooper from Gainesville and Troop 26. “We’re just basically here to monitor. They do need some help sometimes, but primarily the older kids tend to help the younger kids. That’s the goal.”

The leaders of Troop 26 have done their best to let the boys plan and make decisions. Parents are there as mentors who help guide them, and are available when needed.

“It’s just fun watching them having to do everything for themselves,” said Charlie Gollmar of Kennesaw, whose nephew is also part of Troop 26. “They have to do their menu, they have to cook their food, they have to get up in time to cook their food. It’s all up to them to get it done.”

Learning is just part of the fun, as the troops attend various events throughout the day.

“It exposes them to a lot of different things. Some of them they hate, and they never want to do it again,” said Don Fields, Scoutmaster of Troop 700 from Winder.

“We try to bring the boys to the council events like this because it’s a good place for them to work on their merit badges. They offer things like this that you can’t really do on your own. There are a lot of merit badges that they can’t do unless they come to these events.”

Many of the skills and lessons learned from the Scouts can be applied to other life situations.

“We are a young man’s leadership organization, growing boys into men,” said Phil Olin, the volunteer chairman for the Winter Camporee. “We do that by teaching them camping skills, teaching them skills in their patrols, and how to lead other boys and how to work with other kids.”

The selected merit badge the scouts were working toward during the Camporee was the Search and Rescue badge, just one of the 118 they must earn. A total of 19 troops totaling 258 Boy Scouts and 64 adults spent the weekend learning skills involving planning and organizing for the weekend.

“These kids today are smarter than I was, more aware of the Internet and everything,” Olin said. “These kids aren’t just doing Scouts. These kids are doing other activities, might be 4-H or FHA, or some other club or athletics. They’ve got a lot of other things going on in their lives.

“The neat thing about Boy Scouts is anyone can be a Boy Scout; in Boy Scouts, there’s no first and second string. It gives kids in Scouting a chance to have victories, to excel. If they’ll apply themselves, they can do anything they want to do.”

The Scouts were also joined by several groups of Webelos, fulfilling one of their requirements to camp with Scouts to get a preview of what to look forward to.

“Not everything is about sitting back and playing video games, and sitting back and watching TV and schoolwork. There’s other things in life, you can get out do things and work as a team, and just have a good time. Not everything has to be serious all the time,” said John Amos of Pendergrass, one of the scout leaders of Troop 795.

Amos is known for his creative solutions for outdoor cooking. This year featured a smokebox that looked like a small outhouse.

“I grew up doing this kind of stuff for fun, and my parents, and my grandparents, and there’s no reason the boys shouldn’t learn how to do it to,” Amos said. “For us Scouting is part of life. We just enjoy being around these guys and have a lot of fun.”

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