By Sam Prickett
It’s been a half-century of scouting for Mountain Brook’s Boy Scout Troop 320, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary later this month.
For Frank Tynes, the troop’s current scoutmaster, the milestone is an opportunity to appreciate the past while remaining firmly focused on the present.
“For those that are currently in the troop, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to those who built it for us,” Tynes said. “But to me, it’s also about the fact that scouting is a time-tested program that helps 11-year-old boys grow into 17-year-old men of good character. We think we’ve had a good track record of doing that, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it.”
Troop 320 since it was established has been in a hut behind Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church, which has also served as the troop’s sponsor since both the church and the troop were founded in 1969. The hut originally was constructed as a youth building for the church, Tynes said, “but once the scouts got going, it just made sense for us to use it.”
“A lot of scout troops struggle with not messing up someone’s Sunday school classroom, as you can imagine a bunch of 11- to 17-year old boys might do,” he added, laughing. “It’s been a fantastic location. It’s like a little park back there for us, and it comes alive every Monday night.” That’s when the troop has its weekly meeting.
But, Tynes stressed, “The learning that takes place in this program doesn’t really take place in our scout hut. There are merit badge books, there is an element of book learning to it, but the real learning of the program takes place in the outdoors. The real learning takes place by the boys actually doing things.”
The troop goes camping once a month. Its August trip took scouts to Mentone, where they camped out, cooked their own meals and went kayaking, zip-lining and horseback riding.
“It’s amazing the number of places you can go and the things you can do within one, two, maybe three hours of Birmingham,” Tynes said. “We go to these places, whether it’s the Pinhoti Trail on Mount Cheaha or going up to Tennessee along the Cumberland Plateau … . It’s my favorite aspect of the program because they learn by doing. With rare exceptions, we don’t allow cell phones on our campouts. As I like to tell them, we are going to have a real adventure instead of a simulated adventure.”
Calling All Alumni
For the 50th anniversary, Tynes hopes to include alumni in celebrations, but he said Boy Scout Troops don’t typically have a strong alumni base.
“We’re certainly reaching out to them,” he said. “For the most part, you’re dealing with teenagers … . When they leave us is the same time that they’re leaving their nest at home. So it’s not the case on a daily basis that we see scouts who were in our troop years ago. Many times, we don’t see them until they come back with their own children.”
That’s somewhat true of Tynes himself; he became an Eagle Scout at age 16 as part of Mountain Brook’s Troop 86, which is headquartered at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. When his son Wilson joined Troop 320 in 2013, Tynes got involved with scouting again, serving as assistant scoutmaster before succeeding Russell Byrne as scoutmaster in 2014.
Tynes points to another former scoutmaster, Walter Rush, whose longstanding support of the troop has been renewed, in part, because of another generation.
“I don’t think there’s any question that he was our longest-serving scoutmaster, having served for 12 years as scoutmaster and 11 years before that as assistant scoutmaster,” Tynes said. “Now, Mr. Rush’s grandson is now a second-year scout in our troop. So, we see him even more often than we used to, and I think that’s pretty neat.”
But while Rush’s level of dedication might not be shared among all alumni, Tynes said he hopes some will come out for the troop’s anniversary event on Aug. 25.
“We want them to come back,” he said. “We’re going to celebrate this. We’ve dug up all sorts of pictures that we’ve had tucked away in closets and nooks and crannies in the scout hut. We want (alumni) to come back and look through these things, recognize them and tell us about some of the things they did.”
Being in the Boy Scouts, Tynes said, can become a lifelong source of pride.
“Last year, we had a boy scout who was part of a large group of boys who became Eagle Scouts,” he said. “And his grandfathers were there. … Both of them showed up wearing their merit badge sashes. … To be in your 80s, think of how many times you’d have the opportunity to throw stuff away, to throw clutter away. They never did.”
What inspires that lifelong dedication? Tynes has a few ideas.
“The long-term benefits of the program are not necessarily obvious to the boy while he’s (involved),” he said. “And they don’t need to be … . But you’re taking care of yourself in a way that you haven’t had to do before. In most cases, these boys come to us at age 11, and up until that point most everything that they need has been done for them. Their food has been provided, their shelter, every little thing you can think of has been provided for them. That’s what we parents do. But Boy Scouts helps the boy have to start doing things on his own. That’s a big difference.
“It’s not our only job just to produce Eagle Scouts,” he said. “Our job is to do the best job with the boys we have as long as we have them. Whether they choose to go all the way through the program or not, we think they all get something out of it.”
Troop 320’s 50th anniversary party and open house will be Sunday, 4-7 p.m. at the scout hut. Alumni, scouts and their families are invited to attend but are requested to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.