Scott Sorrels, BSA’s National Commissioner, discusses the organization’s next steps

Photo by Randy Piland

The COVID-19 pandemic was tough on Scouting units, especially Cub Scouts (if you find virtual meetings frustrating to sit through, imagine how your 7- or 8-year-old feels!). As we transition into a post-pandemic era, what is a solution for returning to normalcy? Start a Cub Scout pack. Even better, start a Tiger den.

That was Scott Sorrels’s advice during the BSA’s recent National Annual Meeting. Sorrels is entering his second year as the organization’s national commissioner. His primary duty, as he puts it, is being the chief morale officer. And American families’ morale, including that of youth, took a major hit during this past year. Isolation, breaks in routine and missing beloved activities and events concocted an unwelcome recipe for anxiety and depression to take hold.

That’s where Scouting can help.

“I sense a level of anxiousness and enthusiasm as we’re coming out of this unusual period in our history,” Sorrels says. “Scouting can be an ideal structure for the American family to get on its feet again.”

More important than ever

For more than 110 years, the Boy Scouts of America has helped change the lives of millions of young men and women, teaching the values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.

The organization continues that mission, and those in the program know the life-changing opportunities Scouting provides both youth and adult leaders. One challenge, though, is meeting the needs of today’s families, addressing busy schedules, cost prohibitions and different priorities in diverse communities.

“We need to be creative and flexible in how we make Scouting available,” Sorrels says. “That includes how we embrace families.”

It’s an ongoing conversation that will call on the voices from everyone. That includes Scouts, too.

Sorrels served as the co-chair for the World Scout Jamboree, held at the 2019 Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. For that event, which hosted more than 40,000 Scouts from around the globe, adult leadership recruited a team of Scouts, nicknamed the “Dream Team,” to provide input and help execute what they wanted out of the jamboree.

“A group of adults can sit around without talking to the youth they’re trying to serve, and they’re not going to be able to deliver a successful program that the youth are going to respond to,” he says. “We need to listen to the young people we’re trying to serve.”

That’s why he highlighted a couple of youth-written letters in his NAM presentation. One, penned by a Scout named Jack, requested that his pack to meet again — the unit had not had a meeting in nearly a year.

A recent Harvard study on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic found that two-thirds of the study group, which consisted of youth ages 7 to 15, showed clinically significant signs of anxiety and depression. However, research shows that those troubling effects can be reversed through positive experiences and challenges, structured routines, exercise and less screen time.

Sounds like Scouting can be an answer, just as it has been for more than a century.

“We do a very good job of talking about the passion and the experience of Scouting within the Scouting family,” Sorrels says. “Something we’re working very hard on is communicating the value of the experience to non-Scout families.”

Photo by Chuck Eaton

A Bronze Wolf

Sorrels has been in Scouting for 55 years. He is an Eagle Scout, and was a national youth officer in Exploring. As an adult, he has served as a unit leader, council president, area president, deputy commissioner, and in 2020, was named the 12th National Commissioner of the BSA.

“Scouting defines so much of my life,” he says.

As National Commissioner, a role first held by one of the BSA’s founders, Daniel Carter Beard, Sorrels sees his role as supporting local Scouting.

“I think of myself as being the guardian for our front-line volunteers who are out there serving America’s youth in units or working in district committees or council advancement committees — Scouting happens locally,” he says. “My fundamental job is to try to do everything we can to partner with them, to collaborate with them and to make them successful. If we do that, we’ll serve more youth and preserve the mission of Scouting, which at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing we’re doing right now.”

For his service to Scouting both in America and internationally, the World Scout Committee bestowed the Bronze Wolf award on him last year. He received the medal this year during NAM.

The Bronze Wolf is a rare award; only 377 have been given since the first in 1935. Only 39 Americans have received it, the latest being Rabbi Peter Hyman this year. Another Bronze Wolf recipient is another member of the current BSA National Key 3, the National Chair, Dan Ownby. The very first recipient? Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

Baden-Powell would present a British award, the Silver Wolf, to Scouters from any country who had done outstanding work supporting the Scouting Movement. The International Committee (now the World Scout Committee) took over that duty.

The award, which is the highest in the Scout Movement, depicts a bronze wolf, worn around the neck with a green ribbon with yellow edging. Bronze was chosen, instead of gold or silver, because of its simplicity to underline the spirit of the Movement.

Sorrels was awarded the Bronze Wolf award after serving as the co-chair for the World Scout Jamboree.

“I’m eternally grateful for the role we played to introduce Scouting to the world,” he says.

The path ahead

The leadership is in place for the BSA to step up post-pandemic and post-bankruptcy to fulfill the needs of American families. Teamwork will be needed for the next step.

“Our volunteers have to reach out and embrace and partner with their professionals,” Sorrels says. “We’ve got to build a collaborative team like we never have before. We’re going to have fewer professionals, and that means that we as volunteers will step up even more to help move us forward.”

In the end, parents, unit leaders, council executives, national staff — we all have the same goal: to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes.

“It has to support the local councils because that’s where Scouting is delivered,” Sorrels says. “We’ve got to deliver the resources they need to be successful.”

About Michael Freeman 270 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.