|NJ State Police Camporee - The Star Ledger|
Today's Boy Scouts
learn to be
prepared for life's
Rappelling, rafting and
are the 3 R's of
Sunday, October 07, 2007
BY ALLISON STEELE
They came, khaki-clad and with patches ironed carefully onto their shirts, to climb down buildings, watch a SWAT team in action and fire "guns" with a police training simulator.
Others had their fingerprints taken, peeked inside armored cars and posed for pictures with Black Hawk helicopters.
Clearly, this wasn't your grandfather's Scouting camp out.
As thousands of Boy Scouts descended on the New Jersey National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt yesterday for the state's annual two-day Camporee, there wasn't a lanyard in sight.
Instead, the offerings included demonstrations with machine guns and staged crime-stopping maneuvers complete with canine units -- activities to appeal to the most extreme Scouts.
"It's pretty awesome," said 11-year-old Tyler Hepp yesterday, a member of Boy Scout Troop 150, based in Sparta, after he took his turn rappelling down the side of a two-story building on a zip-line. "There's a lot of cool stuff we're going to do later."
In the three years since the Boy Scouts of America and the New Jersey State Police first joined forces to hold a weekend campout and convention for the state's Scouts, the gathering has grown increasingly popular. This year's event was the largest such gathering, said State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones.
Attendance has rocketed from about 6,300 in 2004 to almost 10,000 this year, a surge that Scout leaders attribute to the fact that event organizers know their audience and have made sure to offer activities that will keep the Scouts coming back.
"Scouting is different than it once was," said Simon Saba, an assistant leader for Tyler's troop. "Kids are really into doing things outdoors. We do mountain biking now; we do skiing now. We go white-water rafting. It's not making lanyards and whittling anymore."
Indeed, dozens of Scouts lined up yesterday to earn merit badges in fingerprinting, scanning images of the pads of their fingers into a machine and learning how to distinguish different patterns. A mid-morning re-enactment of a bank robbery featured a chase and takedown of the "robber," using armored cars and tracking dogs.
The day's most popular activity offered Scouts the chance to test out a firearms-training simulator, a floor-to-screen video game and fake gun that troopers use to test reaction time of new recruits.
"We've been waiting all morning!" said Mark Alpaugh, 11, a member of Hazlet's Troop 136, who with his fellow Scouts was poised to take a turn at the simulator. "We think it's gonna be worth it, though."
Brian Kutko, an assistant leader for Alpaugh's troop, said Scouting has remained popular because it has evolved with the times.
"There are so many more opportunities offered now," he said. "My son wouldn't have lasted if we couldn't keep bringing him things he would be interested in."
Once Scouts are hooked on the thrill-seeking aspect of Scouting, leaders weave in lessons about leadership and community service, Saba said.
The events were scheduled to continue through the day, and most Scouts also planned to camp overnight in the sea of colorful tents erected on the base's field.
Tyler, who stood with fellow troop members Tim Puglio, 11, and Jon Kalman, 13, said some of the best fun happens at night. Tim said he and his friends typically stay up until 2 a.m., playing pranks on their pals and scarfing snacks.
"Some people think Scouting is lame," Tyler said.
"But look at us," said Jon, who was watching his fellow Scouts take their turns rappelling. "We're going to firearms training. Is that lame? We can run down buildings. Can you run down buildings?"
"We go whitewater rafting," Tyler added. "What do you do for fun? Play on the computer?"
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