Varsity Scout Program Basics & Resources
Varsity Scout Program History
The Development of Varsity Scouting
©2008 Douglas R. Livingston
Varsity Scouting was the brainchild of Dr. JD Mortensen, a prominent thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon in Salt Lake City, Utah, and an influential member of the Boys Scouts of America [BSA]. He served for 13 years on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Young Men Mutual Improvement Association [YMMIA] General Board and for several years as chairman of its General Scout Committee. He wrote numerous manuals and supplements for the YMMIA. He served on the faculty at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, as Advancement Chairman for the Great Salt Lake Council, and as a Chaplain at four National Jamborees. He was a recipient of the Silver Beaver, Silver Antelope, and Silver Beehive awards for his work in Scouting.
The major sponsors of Scouting in the early 1970’s were the Catholic and Protestant Churches. Dr. Mortensen observed that Scouts belonging to units chartered to these organizations tended to remain in Scouting longer and advance further than did the Scouts in units sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [LDS]. He turned his attention to finding out why.
Dr. Mortensen understood the basis for the close ties that exist between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boys Scouts of America. The Church’s Aaronic Priesthood/Young Men organization used Boy Scouting and Exploring as its “activity arm” in the United States. No other organization has adopted Scouting as the official program for its young men in the same way as the LDS Church.
The concept of Priesthood, its quorums, and youth leadership are an essential part of a young men’s development in the LDS Church. Young men in the LDS Church become eligible to receive the Aaronic Priesthood when they reach the age of 12. After they successfully complete a personal worthiness interview with the Bishop, they are presented to the Ward [local congregation], whereupon the Aaronic Priesthood is conferred upon them.
There are three basic offices within the Aaronic Priesthood: Deacon, Teacher and Priest. Each office is associated with a specific age group. Customarily, Deacons are 12- and 13-year-olds, Teachers are 14- and 15-year-olds, and Priests are 16- and 17-year-olds. Each of the young men in the Ward holding the same office is organized into distinctly separate groups called “quorums”. Each quorum is led by three of its members who have been “called” to preside.
Dr. Mortensen saw that boys were being lost to Scouting around the age of 14. While this was not unusual, he saw that the young man’s Aaronic Priesthood experience was having an effect on his participation in Scouting. The two available Scouting programs, Boy Scouting and Exploring, did not align effectively with the Aaronic Priesthood’s three quorums. This mismatch in organizational structure combined with a predisposition that exists throughout Scouting for boys to leave Scouting about the age of 14. The answer seemed obvious: a third program for 14- and 15-year-old young men had to be created.