Spring is finally here, and with it comes all sorts of outdoor activity. Driving home from work I pass by several churches, schools and city parks. At one church Friday afternoon, the middle school baseball team was having their practice. The city park was set up for soccer, and there were boys and girls from kindergarten on up playing in contests and at practices. Baseball diamonds were filled with all manner of games from tee-ball to fast pitch. A lacrosse game was underway at the high school as well.
I couldn’t help but notice that every one of these teams was in a uniform of some sort, whether it was their game uniforms, practice t-shirts or warmups. Each team wore the same color and style and it served to identify the team and the individual players on it. The coaches had the same team garb on as well.
Some players like their uniforms so much, they wear them even when they’re not playing. Later on, as I was in our neighborhood coffeehouse, in walked a dad with his two sons for some postgame refreshment. The boys were decked out in their soccer uniforms, right down to the cleats. Must have been a good game – their shiny shoes were all muddy from the turf.
I spotted a similarly-attired young man earlier this week at a Cub Scout pack meeting where I was doing a presentation for Friends of Scouting. There he was, in uniform – but the wrong uniform for the event! He had come from a soccer game and didn’t take the time to change into the uniform for his next activity.
We do have uniforms, right? And for the most part, the Scouts wear them. But you rarely see one in uniform at the grocery store, coffee shop or ice cream stand, and when it is, it’s usually a Cub Scout. And we often see boys coming to play the game of Scouting wearing not their Scout uniform, but the uniform of a different team.
Sometimes it seems like we’ve dispensed with that method of Scouting. The Scouts of the troop I’m with take great liberties with their uniforms. Troop meetings don’t look like Scout meetings unless you look closely. Our norm for troop meetings has been the activity shirt for so many years that I’m about the only one who remembers them wearing uniforms to troop meetings. And even though there’s an activity t-shirt on, it’s often hidden by a jacket, hoodie or other outerwear. It’s impossible for the casual observer to tell what sort of group it is, who is in charge, who the patrol leaders are or even who is in which patrol. It’s even confusing to some of the Scouts who aren’t aware who the senior patrol leader is. All that information would be readily visible if the Scouts were in uniform.
We do try to set expectations. Our Scoutmaster has urged the senior leadership to be in uniform, and sometimes they are, particularly after elections so they can show off their new position insignia. They know to be in uniform for Scoutmaster conferences and boards of review, for quarterly courts of honor, and on the way to and from campouts. Indeed, troop meetings can be active events where an activity shirt is certainly appropriate, so we’ve indulged the Scouts by not being too heavy-handed when it comes to uniforming. The jury is out as to whether this helps boost participation, but it certainly has some effect.
Sports teams, on the other hand, aren’t quite so flexible. On game day, a coach wouldn’t be too happy if some of the players showed up in their practice t-shirts, or hit the field wearing a jacket over their uniforms. A player making a quick transition from a troop or pack meeting to a soccer game would never think of wearing his Scout uniform on the field, but we regularly see our Scouts arriving at meetings wearing their sports gear.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Scouts would cherish their uniforms as much as members of sports teams do? After all, they serve the same function: to identify the wearer with an activity that they enjoy and are a part of, but also as an individual with their own personal attributes, whether it’s a patrol patch or a roster number.
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