Boy Scout Troop 848 of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in South-Central Los Angeles stood out among the rambunctious groups gathered one recent weekend at the Cabrillo Beach Youth Waterfront Sports Center in San Pedro, and not just because it was the only entirely African American troop on the grounds.
The boys, ranging in age from 12 to 15, were polite and well-behaved. They wore dress uniforms for camp events and matching work uniforms the rest of the time, even during the kayak races. From their fastidious tent-keeping to their final lock-step sweep of their campsite for litter, everything was done with discipline and good cheer.
Curious, we called Troop 848 Scouting Coordinator Larry C. Stanback Sr. , 58, a merchandising entrepreneur and father of three, to find out why--and how--he does it.
How long have you been running Troop 848?
About 15 years. I was looking for an outlet for myself in the church, and Bishop [Charles E.] Blake led me to the Boy Scouts, which is one of our church's 80 outreach ministries. I went to one meeting, and the leader at that time was looking for someone to pass the mantle to. So I agreed to help. I'm not sure I ever saw him again.
What did you inherit?
Leadership consisted of him and a bunch of mothers. There were no fathers involved. It was my goal then to bring the fathers in.
We're in a city troop with 60 boys registered, and 80% of those boys are from single-parent households. Most of those parents are mothers. I believe the African American young man is being robbed of role models. Emulating Michael Jordan is not going to do it. For the last eight years, 100% of our active leaders have been men, even in the Cub Scouts [usually predominated by female den leaders].
Other volunteer leaders would love to know how you managed that.
I took the option out of it for parents. And I keep after them. I tell them, "These are your children." I keep stroking their hearts, and once they say yes, they belong to me. I get them trained, get them in uniform and give them power.
Why do you think getting parents involved is such a struggle?
I wish I had an answer to that.
You were a Marine Corps drill instructor, right?
Never been in the service in my life, but I do have five assistant scoutmasters, and a couple of them have a military background.
You must have boys who rebel. How do you handle that?
The scouts discipline each other. In difficult situations, we get in the middle of it, but they know what we expect of them.
What's the key to getting their respect?
If we tell them we're going to do something, we do it. They might not remember anything else, but they always remember if you do what you said you were going to do, good or bad.
Ever just cut them loose and say, "Hey, kids, go nuts?"
Oh, yeah. We acknowledge the fact that these are boys, and boys will be boys. You cannot stop that from happening. It's just knowing when to let it happen, and to put enough guidelines on it.
But you're convinced these boys need the discipline you offer?
I believe that to be successful, a man needs a certain amount of discipline in his life. The best time to give them that is when they're young and impressionable. I want them to take this with them wherever they go.
Any chance you might run for president of the United States next time around?
No. This is my mission. My ministry's with these kids.
The Boy Scout law, ranked in order of preference by Larry C. Stanback Sr.