The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

2013 Boy Scout Jamboree

July 23, 2013

Jamboree medical staff say fitness requirements helped

THE SUMMIT — “All the great activities are out there,” said Paul Lauer, a Scout leader from the Pittsburgh area, gesturing to the hills around Summit Center. “They’re a couple of miles away, and you have to hoof it.”

At this point, Scouts and volunteers are well aware of the increased physical challenges of a Jamboree in the hills — long walks, elevation changes and muggy heat.

And while physical fitness requirements like a Body Mass Index (BMI) standard have received some negative attention in national media, medical staff say they’ve cut down on illnesses and injuries at the most physically strenuous Jamboree to date.

The previous Jamboree site at Fort A.P. Hill in central Virginia was flat and circled by roads. Activities were divided up into areas near camp sites, so Scouts only had to walk a short distance to participate. And buses saved them from longer walks.

It’s a 45-minute walk from Brody Waggoner’s base camp to Summit Stadium, and even longer to high-adventure activities. He and his contingent carefully study maps to find the shortest path possible.

“It’s a real break from most of the kids I know who sit inside literally all day and play their games. It’s such a shock to them to get out here, but it’s a good shock,” said the Scout from Minong, Wis.

Lauer worked up reference cards for his Scouts that list walking times to various activities, for planning purposes. The longer walks often mean kids can participate in fewer activities.

It’s been an adjustment, but the kids have adapted, he said. “It’s a bigger challenge, but the reward that’s out there — the activities — are unbelievable.”

The next Jamboree should be easier, says Lauer, because the Scouting community will know what to expect and how to prepare.

The Boy Scouts of America published physical requirements before Jamboree registration even began.

The event’s chief medical officer, Dr. Glen Ault, was a part of the group that designed the rules. He says they were prompted by long distances and elevation changes.

For years, the BSA has had physical standards in place for high-adventure activities, but never before for the Jamboree.

Every single staff member and participant submitted an electronic health record, which was reviewed and screened by volunteer medical staff.

The national media picked up on the BMI standard —”The Boy Scouts’ Ban on Fat Kids,” read one headline — but that was just one piece of the screening, which included everything from heart disease to diabetes to tobacco use.

“There’s been a lot of focus that this was discriminatory against overweight people,” says Scott Strenger, chief medical officer for one of the base camps and a climbing area. “But it wasn’t, isn’t and never has been about the BMI. It’s always been about safety.”

“Every youth that we screen-ed met the requirements. We didn’t turn any youth away,” says Ault.

Jake Bolgrihn, a Scout from Wisconsin, shed 10 pounds to go to the Jamboree.

He acknowledges that the rules have the potential to hurt the feelings of overweight people, but says in the end his efforts made his Jamboree experience more fun and that he intends to keep up his fitness regimen after the event is over.

Though the requirements came down to safety, they also fit neatly into a national push to address childhood obesity.

“The goal, really, is to promote a healthy lifestyle for a child,” says Ault.

Some leaders had a harder time with the requirements. One adult volunteer lost 75 pounds to attend the Jamboree, says the event’s deputy medical officer, John Lee.

“He told me, ‘I lost a Scout,’” said Lee.

Ron Dorn, a Scouting leader from Madison, Wis., thinks the requirements make sense, but he also knows they cost the event some volunteers.

“People were saying they weren’t going to sign up because they can’t meet the BMI requirements,” he said.

One measure of the Scout oath, however, is “to keep myself physically strong.” A more strenuous and mountainous Jamboree may well ensure that the oath is followed more closely in the future.

Ault believes setting physical standards has paid off.

“It’s a straw poll, but I personally think we’re seeing less injury and illness here than we did at Fort A.P. Hill, and I would hope that a part of that may be that we screened and counseled folks,” said Ault.

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2013 Boy Scout Jamboree