By GWEN OREL
Singing around the campfire.
And this year, an appearance by Stephen Colbert — virtually.
Many of the elements were in place for a Cub Scout campout on May 3.
But this one was different: It was a “camp-in,” the first of its kind since the Scouts were social distancing.
Pack 12, with 135 Cubs, had to cancel its spring family camping trip due to COVID-19.
But the outdoors still calls: Even if camping took place in each Scout’s backyard, it’s still a camping trip.
So Cubmaster Michael Bateman and other leaders figured out a way the Scouts could camp out — at home.
“They were really looking forward to it,” Bateman said. “We thought, ‘We’ve got to continue with the tradition.’”
After a discussion with den and pack leaders, the Cub Scouts went ahead with the camp-in: The Cubs would connect on Zoom, and families would pitch tents in their own backyards.
One of the Scout traditions is a joke line, where each Scout tells a joke around the fire.
This year, the Scouts submitted their jokes on video, and leaders created a joke reel.
That’s how Colbert attended: He submitted a joke to the reel, when asked.
“It just took off,” Bateman said. For the singing, people were mostly muted except the leader, until the end, when everyone joined in.
“You could see kids actually singing onscreen. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked and they loved it,” he said. About 120 people from 45 families participated.
“It created a little bit of normalcy in a very unnormal time. A few people were indoors, but most were outdoors in their backyards, with fires going, or a fire pit, sitting by the fire with a tent in the background.
“One of my neighbors saw me in the street the next day. I said, ‘I hope I didn’t keep you up.’ She said she never heard us but was wondering what all those tents in everybody’s backyards were.”
The camp-in helped to keep the Scouts connected, Bateman said.
“Living in a virtual world is difficult,” he said. “Cub Scouting is so much about getting together and doing activities in person. We’ve lost that.
“But we’ve kept going on Zoom.”
After this June, Bateman will retire as cubmaster, and become Scout Master of Troop 13. Cub Scouts in Pack 12 are children aged 7, in first to fifth grade, when they can cross over to Boy Scouts, which runs through high school.
Today, Scouts can be either boys or girls. (The Girl Scouts are a separate organization; girls the Cubs’ age can be Brownies, while younger girls are Daisies.)
The Boy Scouts also have a fund drive every year. This year, the Scouts could not go door to door to collect dry goods and cans for Toni’s Kitchen. Instead, they sent emails to neighbors with a link.
“Everything was done virtually,” Bateman said. “I get the feeling so many people want to help right now.”
The Scouts raised $5,000 from their emails, which was bolstered by a check for $500 that the Scouts had saved up for a camping trip.
In two weeks, the Scouts will have their Blue and Gold ceremony — when Cubs become Boy Scouts — over Zoom.
Bateman has seen an increase in attendance at den and pack meetings over Zoom. And, he said, moms and dads are more involved than ever.
Parents are helping young Scouts get their cooking badges, for example: “There is a lot of downtime after the kids are done with schoolwork.”
Hayden McAdams, who attends Buzz Aldrin Middle School, said that he liked seeing his pack friends in the camp-in. “The best part was probably near the end, when we were going to sleep in our tents,” he said.
Hayden enjoys his den meetings on Zoom, too. “Every time we switched a topic, we got a background for that. When we did the pledge of allegiance, there was a flag in the background,” he said. When he learned about keeping bears away while backpacking, the leaders put up a picture of a wilderness site.
He has been a Scout for five years, and he’s working to get his Arrow of Light so he can become a Boy Scout.
His father, Patrick McAdams, is den leader for Pack 4. The camp-in did create a sense of community, McAdams said.
Like his son, he has noticed that the Zoom meetings are a success. He recently held one about wilderness survival and first aid. “The kids were great. They were really eager. They paid attention. These are fifth-graders, and they were happy to be in a group together,” he said.
The older boys have Zoom meetings every Monday, Bateman said. The troop has worked on six merit badges online since the shutdown began.
His son, Logan Bateman, 15, is a Life Scout, the rank before Eagle Scout. The Montclair High School freshman has been a Scout for five years.
He’s learned how to build a fire, some survival skills, and some leadership skills.
And while the camp-in was different from a campout, he enjoyed seeing all the kids “bundled up with their dads and moms. I know we’re not right next to each other, but I felt
like we were together, camping in a tent,” he said.
For him, the Zoom calls have made scouting “the same if not better. We have gotten six merit badges done in the past month and a half. When we didn’t have the pandemic, people had sports, or work, or didn’t live as close. Zoom makes it easier to connect.”
He’s working on his Citizenship and the Nation and Citizenship and the World badges. For those, he explained, he must complete worksheets and discuss them, as well as write a letter to his state senator.
And though he hikes and bikes alone, he makes sure to keep his skills fresh by spending time outdoors. “There is so much wildlife in our town,” he said. “I see a lot of tracks.”