As it prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday this weekend, Troop 351 seems poised to continue its excellence and achievement moving forward.
Preparing to kick off its next 100 years, the troop — the oldest of San Marino’s handful of Boy Scout units — plans to uphold its reputation of emphasizing the high-adventure aspect of scouting, and is well on its way to launching its inaugural girls’ troop to join the boys on those outdoor exploits. The troop’s emphasis on adventure — the weekend campouts, the daring rock climbing, the mountainous trailblazing and even the surfing — and its accommodation of members’ extracurricular activities have helped draw a particular crew of young men to the group throughout its years.
“Certainly one of my goals is to continue that,” Scoutmaster Andy Rooke said in an interview. “It’s certainly been a priority to convince the boys that as they plan their activities that they have at least one outdoor activity a month. They have pretty much embraced that.”
Rooke, who has lived in San Marino for around 15 years, took over as Scoutmaster just prior to summer 2018 and in that time has already enjoyed watching his Scouts blossom into young leaders. Among them is 14-year-old son, Tristan, who is a patrol leader in the troop of around 35 boys. Rooke inherited an outfit that had reignited the outdoorsy passions of scouting, and that is a testament to his Scouts’ accomplishments, he said.
“You see a difference in boys when you come back from an extended camping activity, so we’re certainly looking to maintain some high-adventure options for them and increase the number of options,” he said.
Rooke’s predecessor, John Waldron, joined the Troop 351 family in 2000 in search of a local chapter that could accommodate his sons’ participation in sports and marching band. (Their original troop’s meeting day, Thursday, conflicted with that objective, Waldron explained.) The Waldrons were ultimately connected to Troop 351 by way of Sts. Felicitas and Perpetua Church, where many of their fellow parishioners also scouted.
“We needed something that would fit with the program,” Waldron said in a recent interview. “Troop 351’s schedule supported that. At that time, around 90% of the boys in Troop 351 were also in sports. One of the strengths of that troop over the other troops in the area for many years was the fact that we catered to the student athlete who wanted to become an Eagle Scout and wanted to go camping and hiking. The outdoors stuff is really important there.
“Troop 351 had a legacy going back years and years of ‘the outing,’ of camping out, going to the desert, hiking the desert, so on and so forth,” Waldron added. “We were looking for something like that. When I joined, the troop was trying to bring that back, so I was able to lend my mountaineering and backpacking experience to that.”
The troop’s senior patrol leader, Ikenna Ogbogu, explained that it was this reputation that drew him to join this organization.
“It was a hard decision because many of my other friends were going to [a different] troop,” Ogbogu, 15, said. “I really wanted to take Boy Scouts to the next level and really hone my skills to the next level. Troop 351 had that history.”
Waldron, now a commissioner for the Rose Bowl District of Boy Scout troops, also lent his aeronautical engineering background to the group, helping to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming to Troop 351 alongside the rejuvenated outdoors activities. He also introduced surfing as an outdoors activity, even creating an unofficial surfing merit badge just for the fun of it.
As the troop’s Scoutmaster from 2011-18, Waldron said he observed the downward trend of scouting involvement reverse itself, particularly as the usefulness of scouting skills in a wide variety of career paths became more obvious. He attributed this to a return to the outdoorsy roots of the institution.
“I see that starting to reverse now, in that the high-adventure program is coming back and the rank of Eagle Scout is highly regarded in terms of career path,” Waldron said.
Troop 351 recently voted unanimously to create a girls’ branch and has every intention of supporting it as it develops and grows.
“It’s certainly evolutionary rather than revolutionary in some respects,” Rooke said. “Scouting has matured over the last few years with its inclusive practices. I’m encouraged to see that development within our own community and having the opportunity to extend this experience to girls and boys as we look to recruit the next generation of men and women.”
Waldron said Troop 351 was well positioned to transition into the directive to integrate girls’ troops, because it already includes mothers and sisters in a variety of the outdoors activities, like camps or hikes.
“This is an easy segue for us, because we involved our moms and sisters in the past,” he said. “The moms would go on hikes and be very active. We had a couple of family camping trips, everything that was meant for the moms and wives and sisters to come along.”
Ogbogu said “we’ve been all for” the introduction of the girls’ troop and he planned to work closely with its senior patrol leader when that time came.
“As a boys’ troop, we’re really going to work to make sure they get to that level of performing as a troop well, but we have to make sure they do it on their own, because the path of a successful troop is always forged by those making the journey,” he said.
Echoed Rooke: “The expectation is that the boys in the troop — certainly the older boys — will be able to help them move forward. Although the two troops will be distinct and separate, I envision a certain amount of mentoring across the groups.”
Moving forward, it’s believed that the troop and its scouts will dedicate themselves more to ecological and environmental causes in terms of Eagle Scout projects, outreach and monthly activities.
“Over the next couple of years, that’s what our projects are going to reflect on,” Ogbogu said. “Our troop now is working toward participating with organizations working to reduce pollution in ocean waters. We’re all very passionate about the environment and understand there have been an increasing number of pollutants and trash entering the oceans. We see it every time we do a beach campout. We’re trying to plan more campouts that are centered on pollution awareness and cleaning things up.”
Said Waldron: “With the concern about the environment, I think the involvement with conservation and environmental concerns within scouting is going to add to growth of the program. It’s one way the kids can get involved in active conservation, in conservation projects, and be part of the fix, the repair of the environment. That’s a very positive trend.”
“They are currently discussing some projects they might adopt over and beyond the usual projects,” Rooke added. “One thing that we have done is a certain number of conservation projects as well as the service projects around the community. I do think that’s something we’ll see more of.”