Putting their skills to the test

Klondike Derby brings together Scouts from White Horse District

Haddonfield Troop 64 Scouts give their sled a shake before the start of the Klondike Derby.

On Jan. 28, with a scattering of snow flurries falling from a slate gray sky, more than 200 Boy Scouts and Webelo Scouts from the White Horse District converged on Pine Hill Scout Reservation. They were there to test their Scouting prowess, to see how well they could work a compass, work a knot and, most importantly, work together.

They were there for the Klondike Derby.

“The Klondike Derby provides the Scouts an opportunity to test their skills against Scouts from all over the region,” Cherry Hill Troop 166 Scoutmaster Glenn Welsh said. “The competitive nature of the Klondike Derby adds an extra dimension and forces the Scouts to work together under pressure.”

Equipped with handmade wooden sleds laden with supplies, decorative team flags and boisterous chants, the 26 teams hailing from 18 Boy Scout Troops and one Cub Scout Pack took on nine challenges across the reservation, from orienteering to wilderness survival.

This was the second year Sicklerville’s Troop 132 Scoutmaster Bill Genes ran the Klondike Derby, and he called the event a “huge success.”

Scout Daniel Cohen adjusts his compass for the orienteering challenge as fellow Cherry Hill Troop 70 Scouts Ronin Karnofsky, left, and Dylan Anderson follow along.

“The Klondike tradition is important as it provides the youth an opportunity to challenge themselves on a number of the skills they’ve learned. It also provides a real-world team-building experience that is critical to the success of the sled as well as later in life,” Genes said. “And most importantly, it’s fun! As Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, once described it — it’s ‘fun with a purpose.’”

According to the Boy Scouts of America’s “Scouting” magazine, the first Klondike Derby was held in 1949. While it’s not known when the event made its way south, many of the 75 adult volunteers at this year’s derby agreed it’s been a longstanding South Jersey tradition.

Mike McCormick knows the local Klondike Derby has been held for at least 23 years. McCormick has been the Berlin Troop 48 Scoutmaster since 2009, but his history with the troop far predates his leadership role. He joined Troop 48 as a Scout himself in 1993.

Members of Cherry Hill Troop 70 make their way through the woods on the Pine Hill Scout Reservation.

“I remember hauling the sled around with my friends through the cold at Pine Hill Scout Reservation back in 1994,” McCormick said. “We took the events pretty seriously, as we wanted to win, and I can remember the excitement when we had to do first aid, compass skills or try to start a match by hitting it with a hatchet. That was the hardest test I’ve ever seen — no one got it!”

He said this year’s derby had a number of new challenges and events, making the Scouts think on their feet, and the entire event — from planning to participation — was a positive experience.

“This year’s Klondike went really well. Every patrol I saw come through a station did a great job of working together,” McCormick said. “I think the biggest takeaway for the Scouts was the importance of working together. Each of our patrols that participated did a much better job with their Scout skills than last year, but it was their teamwork that made the difference between where they finished last year and their improved finishes this year.”

One of the Troop 48 patrols did better than just improving over last year’s score. The team of 15-year-olds John Walker and Magnus Pascu and Steven Chiasson, 17, won the derby. The trio was an uncommon team — typically each sled has six to eight Scouts.

Berlin Troop 48 trio, from left, Steven Chiasson, John Walker and Magnus Pascu plan their strategy in a teamwork challenge. The team won the Klondike Derby.

“Although only having three in the patrol, they work very well together,” Paul Pascu of Troop 48 said. “(Troop 48) had a good day.”

Ronan Carthy has been with Haddonfield’s Troop 64 for about four years. The troop has participated in the Klondike Derby for a number of years, but this was the first the Scouts camped overnight.

“The Scouts really look forward to the Klondike each year,” Carthy said. “It’s the one event that lets them use all the skills — fire starting, first aid, orienteering, wilderness survival, etc. — that they’ve learned over the years.”

He said the event is a reflection of the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.”

“The importance of teamwork and being prepared,” Carthy said, “are the two biggest takeaways from the experience.”

Cherry Hill Troop 70 Scoutmaster Ron Lewis noted teamwork, communication, leadership and reinforcement of skills as important components of the Klondike Derby — in addition, of course, to having fun.

“Klondike Derbys have been held by Scouts for decades. Scouts from my troop look forward to the Klondike Derby every year to have fun, to see friends from other troops in friendly competition, and to try to earn bragging rights for winning,” said Lewis, who has been with Troop 70 for 10 years. “Having the boys participate in an event where they see other Scouts also helps reinforce the brotherhood of Scouting.”

Cherry Hill Troop 252 Committee Chair Lee Girer said, from an adult perspective, seeing Scouts from 12 to 17 years old work together as a team is gratifying and shows efforts at teaching good citizenship and teamwork are working.

“I personally find it fascinating that high school junior and seniors work as a team with sixth and seventh graders, as well as with the other members of the troop. Under what other conditions would these diverse age groups have the opportunity to interact, let alone work together as a team?” Girer asked. “Additionally, our troop integrated into their team three Webelos Scouts (9- and 10-year-old Cub Scouts) who were joining us just for the day. The adult leaders were very proud of this accomplishment.”

While he admitted it’s more fun with snow on the ground, Cherry Hill Troop 70 Scout Piercson Sheehan, 16, said the event was still a good time. Fellow Scout Daniel Morgan, 16, agreed.

“Overall, it’s fun,” Daniel said. “We learn a ton of basics and how to survive in the winter months.”

Vince Teti, with Berlin Troop 48, also noted the event is a test of Scouting skills. The 14-year-old ran courses for a couple of years before participating. This was his third year competing in the derby.

“I keep saying I’m going to stop because it’s too cold,” Vince said. He paused and smiled. “But I keep coming back. It’s too fun.”

Cherry Hill Troop 252 Scouts, from left, Ryan Cherfane, Isaiah Ashlock, Julian Dappolone (front), Aidan Folcher, Eric Slim, Nikolas Vasiliadis, Jacob Bornyasz, Matthew Douglass (front) and Andrew Souza stand with their sled before they begin their orienteering challenge.

Fun seemed to be the recurring theme at this year’s Klondike Derby, and it was evident on the Scouts’ faces as they mushed through the woods from one challenge to the next. And even though each team competed on its own, there was an overall sense of camaraderie around Pine Hill Scout Reservation throughout the day.

“The other great thing,” McCormick said, “is the Scouts getting to experience the brotherhood of Scouting by interacting with 24 other Scout patrols from all over the country. Scouting isn’t something that we do in isolation, so it’s important for them to see other Scouts at work.”

Below, Cherry Hill Troop 166 takes a breather as they wait for their score. Clockwise from left: Jimmy Martin with his service dog Mercy, Assistant Scoutmaster Jeff Martin, Charlie Shelton, Stephen Welsh, Sean Welsh, Nick Kassekert, Scoutmaster Glenn Welsh, James MacCarthy, Joshua Smithson and Jonathan McLaughlin.

If you’re a boy ages 11 to 17 and are interested in joining the Boy Scouts, visitwww.beascout.org and enter your zip code to find a local troop.