NorCal Jamboree turned out to be the biggest gathering of Scouts in the history of California and the second largest celebration anywhere in the United States during this Centennial year. More than 20,000 Scouts and their friends turned up at the Alameda Fairgrounds to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of a youth program that William D. Boyce brought to America in 1910. Almost 8,500 people set up their tents on the green fields at the edge of the Fairgrounds property and walked a mile each way to participate in the festivities.
There was an enormous number of things for everyone to do and see. Activities like Fly Fishing, Astronomy, Wood Carving, Archery, Himalayan Monkey Bridges, Disability Awareness Challenges, Slacklining, Geo Caching, Scuba Diving, Orienteering, and a lot more. According to visiting Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca, there was so much that if a Scout were to spend only three minutes at each activity, he would need 10 hours to see and do everything – not counting the time it took him to walk from one booth to the next. Plus there were the funnel cakes, ice cream cones, red slurpees, sausage sandwiches and garlic fries that made this a unique experience for boys more used to camping in a wilderness area and cooking food over a camp stove. (Adults were able to sneak out to Starbucks across the street to stay caffeinated enough to keep up with their units.)
The Scouting Museum had thousands of Scout artifacts on display, and judging from the long lines, Scouts couldn’t get enough of it. Scouting’s founders: Lord Baden-Powell, Daniel Beard, Ernest Seton, William D. Boyce, and James E. West were well-represented by knowledgeable and captivating “actors” who interacted with the crowds and provided impromptu history lessons when they were not signing autographs or posing for pictures with Cub Scouts and their parents. The theme of Jamboree was “A Portal Through Time” which commemorates the significant contributions made by countless men and women who built Scouting to its current level of success. (More than 110 million American men have been Boy Scouts and today there are 28 million Scouts spread across 120 countries in the World Brotherhood of Scouting.)
Scouts packed the racetrack grandstands on Saturday night to experience the live Arena Show, with a huge overflow crowd diverted to the amphitheatre where they watched on huge video screens. The program was opened by an American Legion Honor Guard who led thousands of Scouts in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem while Scouting’s founders, boys in vintage Scout uniforms, and representatives from all branches of modern Scouting watched from the stage. Then a band from Travis Air Force base opened with a high-energy set of classic rock music and was followed by gifted Break Dancers, Rappers, Choral Singers, Female Contortionists and Acrobats on a giant swing that towered 50 feet above the stage. The audience loved it.
The evening ended with moving introduction of Steve Bechtel, who has been awarded the Silver Buffalo for his significant contributions to Scouting at the national level. (The Silver Buffalo is Scouting’s highest honor.) Eagle Scout Bechtel, who is sometimes called the Billionaire Boy Scout, attributes much of his success to his experience as a Scout. Last year, he donated $50 million (the largest donation ever given to Scouting) to establish the new Summit High Adventure Camp in West Virginia. Watch a Video of Steve Bechtel talking about Scouting. His message is simple – Scouting builds character and teaches leadership.
For many Jamboree visitors, the end of the show meant finding their cars and driving home. For the lucky ones who got to camp, there was a long walk back to their tents on tired legs and sore feet. In the morning, we would break camp and go home; but for now, in the peaceful minutes after the Scouts have crawled sleepily into their bags, there was some time to ponder the first hundred years and contemplate our small role in launching Scouting’s second century.