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1st Annual Montana Merit Badge University for the Boy Scouts

Glenn McKinnon


Pottery, horsemanship, roller skating, scuba diving, wood carving.

These were just a few of the 30 classes offered at the first-ever Boy Scout Merit Badge University in Montana, hosted by Carroll College, Saturday.

Some scouts will earn merit badges. Others might pick up a lifelong passion.

For others, it could open the door to college and a career.

For five scouts in wood carving, it was a chance to not only play with sharp knives, but create something fun and useful.

Hatchet-shaped neckerchief slides were the order of the day.

The scouts took pieces of basswood in one thickly gloved hand and a scalpel-sharp carving knife in the other and sent woodchips flying.

“It just sounded like fun, said 12-year old Montana City scout James Romney.

“Wood carving is a thing of beauty,” added 11-year-old Dylan Marks of Helena. “Wood can be made into beautiful things, so when I saw this class I thought I should try it.”

“It’s really fun and it’s going to be my new hobby,” said Patterson Pitman, 12, of East Helena. “I like knives, but I never really carved anything.”

“I thought it would be fun to create something besides chips,” said Adam Mays, 11, of Helena. “I’ve always liked whittling, but I never made anything.”

“That’s the difference between whittling and wood carving,” said teacher Steve McCann, who has been a scout for 35 years.

“Wood carving is a lifelong thing,” said McCann. “You can do it when you’re hiking and camping. When I worked at Asarco and traveled a lot, that’s when I took it up. I could carry it with me.”

Some scouts have found their careers while earning merit badges, he told the boys. “The classic story is Steven Spielberg, who took a photo class as a scout and went on to become a movie producer. I know of kids who’ve done a plumbing or electricity merit badge and became plumbers or electricians. That’s what it’s all about.”

Scouting classes are also about teaching basic skills like cooking, which several of the woodcarvers were signed up for. While others opted for music or horsemanship.

For some, Saturday’s class offered a chance to dive into an activity they can’t do in their hometown.

John Klein, a 12-year-old from Havre, was scuba diving in the Carroll pool with seven other scouts.

Two master divers, one of them Glenn McKinnon, owner of Helena Scuba, were joined by three scuba-diving Carroll College students helping out.

Among the things they taught was safety, said Carroll student and diver Sabrina Harding. They also showed them equipment — the BCD (buoyancy control device), tanks, inflator and deflator and Octopus, some basic hand signals for communicating underwater, how to find their regulator if it comes loose and how to clear their masks from fogging.

It’s an introduction to basic diving skills, she said. None of the scouts had ever done scuba diving; a few had snorkeled.

“It’s great. It’s very addictive,” said Harding. Diving has taken her to such places as Australia’s Barrier Reef to tag sharks, the Caribbean, New Zealand, California and a number of aquariums.

Klein loved it. “I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I like it a lot. It feels like snorkeling but it’s a lot more complicated.”

The idea for the merit badge university was cooked up over a Boy Scout campfire this past summer, when Carroll College President and Eagle Scout Tom Evans shared the idea with Chris Laity, a fellow Boy Scout assistant leader for Helena Troop 214.

Evans, who moved here from Texas, was familiar with the University of Texas at Austin’s Merit Badge University.

Laity, local scout leaders and Carroll faculty and students ran with the idea. This first Merit Badge University drew 140 scouts from across Montana, and they expect the number to double next year.

“A merit badge is a first glimpse into what these skills or careers are about,” said Laity, lead organizer of Saturday’s event.

One outcome organizers are working for is to get more boys into college.

Currently in colleges across the country, the student gender balance is 60 percent female and 40 percent male, which is also the case at Carroll.

The Merit Badge University gets Boy Scouts on a college campus, Laity said. With college students as teachers, it makes the whole experience less scary.

“I’m really excited about it,” Laity said. “It’s the first time we’ve done it, and we got great support from Carroll College and from the scouting organization.”

“We’re really happy,” said Evans, who was also teaching scouting classes on Saturday.

They were hoping for 70 scouts the first year, he said, and double that number showed up.

When Evans sent out an email about Merit Badge University, faculty, staff and students signed up in droves, he said. At least 40 Carroll students were signed up as scout leaders, said Laity.

Contest with PADI

 View I_Hrt_Pro_Cntst300x250.jpg in slide show   View I_Hrt_Pro_Cntst_header_660.jpg in slide show

PADI is currently running a Why My Instructor is the BEST contest: Both the instructor and nominating diver can win a prize. We’re choosing three winners, and submissions are due by the end of the month.


·         We’re also looking for divers to tell us how diving transformed their lives. The best video testimonials will be featured in a global PADI ad campaign: This campaign runs through the end of the summer.



Yesterday was a great day for sharks and rays.  3 of the hammerheads, some of the mantas, the saw shark, and a few others were put on the endangered list.  CITES – an organization in the protection of sea life, put on their list these animals.  You can go to and see the list and the article.  It can take many years to get animals listed, so this is great news.  Shark finning and the taking of gill rakers on the rays is huge in certain parts of the world.  These animals are taken alive, fins cut off and the animal thrown back into the ocean – yes alive – only to drown.  Please go in and sign the petition so that more of the sharks and rays can get protected.  73,000,000 million sharks are killed each year for just the fins, So lets make a difference, and as Project Aware says “Extinction is not an option”.  We, here at Helena Scuba, with every certification we do, donate $10 and have committed to being 100%Aware.  Please help in the fight to protect them so that our kids, and grandkids and us too get a chance to see these incredible animals.Image

Swimmers Ear solutions.

Seems like there are a lot of people out there that have problems getting water in there ears.  Here is the receipe for making your own drying agent.   This is taken from an article in  Alert Diver (Divers Alert Network).  If you have any questions on diving with some health issues you can call DAN and get information or go to their website, there is a ton of articles talking about almost any health problem you may have.

“Home brew” to prevent ear infection, as many of our members wrote in to share with us. White wine vinegar is 4-6 percent acetic acid, and if it’s mixed with an equal amount of isopropyl alcohol, it would probably work fine. Using undiluted vinegar may make the solution too acidic and cause irritation. Using less alcohol may be wise if you find that the 50:50 mix provides too much drying – this can make your ear canal sore after several days of use.

In principle, just diluting the acetic acid 50:50 with water might work since it appears that the acidic pH is more important than the drying effect of the alcohol. Adding propylene glycol or other moisturizers would seem either to be a waste of time in a home-brew, or it might produce undesirable effects according to Dr. Jones’ observations.

Could lemon juice, which contains citric acid instead of acetic acid, be used instead if vinegar, as some members advised? In principle, if a solution was mixed to a pH of 3.0 it might, but whether other substances in lemon juice might promote bacterial growth I cannot say. For home brew I’d stick to what works – vinegar and isopropyl alcohol.

No matter what solution you use, remember its effectiveness is drastically reduced unless it remains in the ear canal a full five minutes. Another caution: the above solutions are for use in the otherwise normal ear with an intact eardrum. If there is any hint that the eardrum may be torn, do not use these solutions as they may cause damage to middle ear structures. And if any solution causes irritation, stop using it.

(c) July/August 1999 Alert Diver

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Sharks get a bad rap.

You know when I started diving I was like a lot of other people, scared to see a shark, heck I did not get off our boat at the lake because there were just fish in there.  When we went to Roatan the first time, they had a dive that you could go and swim with them.  I signed up and off we went on this adventure that I knew would probably be a bad thing.  We did a roll off the boat (which I did not like either) and the first thing we saw below us was sharks, not just one but many.  We made our way down the descent line and to the front of the coral head.  Of course Glen wanted me in the front and I said no way and went to the back so if that shark was gonna bite anyone, it wasn’t me.  As the sharks came close, they became these incredible animals that I wanted to swim with.  As we were told in our briefing, we would be able to do that, so now I was so excited that the dive was at that part, and we left our safe spot next to the coral head and began our swim with them.  I was completely overtaken with the beauty and strength of these animals that I didn’t know that all the people that were on that dive even existed.  Our time swimming with them was over so we headed back to our spot on the coral head and watched as the gave them some food.  I was completely mesmerized by them and in fact I thought that everyone had left and that I was the only person left and was wondering how I was going to get to the boat, or even back to our hotel.  I forced myself to look to both sides of me only to realize that no one had left, everyone was still there.  I was totally in tune with these incredible animals that I lost all time and place of reality.  When the dive was nearing the end we were allowed to go and look for some shark teeth.  Some of us found some, what a great dive and introduction to sharks.  Since this time, I always look forward to seeing a shark, big or small.  They are always a thrill to see.Image


Yap & Palau

We are just back from Yap & Palau.  What a great place to dive if you want to see some big stuff like sharks, napoleon wrasse, tuna, manta rays, dolphins and the occasional pilot whale.  We were fortunate enough to see the melonhead pilot whale in a pod of about 200 of them.  We were told that they don’t come there very often and that we were very lucky, but what a site seeing them..There are also many wrecks from WWII that one can see.  We saw the Helmet Wreck a Japanese depth charger ship.  On that wreck we saw a crocodile fish – very unusual looking and a juvenile spade fish along with helmets, depth charge containers and sake bottles.  If you have not been to either of these islands, you should put it on your list of “want to dive”.  You won’t be disappointed.