Varsity Scouts (1984-present)

In 1984, National created a new program for older boys called Varsity Scouts.  Varsity Scouts would be for boys 14-17 who would be organized into Varsity Scout Teams.  Many in scouting have be confused by this program with its use of sports terminology, leading many to think it nothing more then sports oriented form of scouting.  This lack of clear purpose in the minds of many scouters has limited this program.  It is also unclear whether the program is intended as a progression level for boys, with them being in Boy Scout Troops from 11 through 13, then joining a Varsity Scout Team at 14 and later joining an Explorer Post (now Venturing Crew).  Or is the program meant to attract boys who for whatever reason had never been Boy Scouts? Or is it both?

Some additional information may be found at the BSA web site's Varsity Scout page.

NEW in Varsity Scouts:
We are seeing a revitalization of Varsity Scouts.  A new edition of the Varsity Scout Guidebook (#34827A) has been released in the first part of 2001.  The 3 volume set of Varsity Team Program Features (#34837, 34838, 34839) booklets has also been released.  These replace the old Game Plan booklets and Venture/Varsity activity booklets.  A new Varsity Scout award, the Denali Award, has also been created.  See below for more on this new award.  It appears from the new Varsity Scout Guidebook that Varsity Scout Huddles are now called Roundtables.

Operation On-Target, the National Varsity Scouting event (see below for more info) was held in July in 2003.  Plan now for 2004.  Check out the On-Target website here.

Varsity Scouts: The Experimental Years
Before Varsity Scouts became an official program in 1984, it went through almost 10 years of experimentation.  During this time, the program was limited to boys 14 & 15.

The programs started off in Area 2 of the Western Region.  Alva Greene, the Area President, noticed a drop in enrollment of 14-15 year olds in 1974.  He then tasked a commitee to look into this. From 1975-77, this committee worked on adapting the basic scouting program to the needs and interests of the 14- and 15-year old.  Out of this the full Varsity Scout program was developed.

Next was the first experimental phase, or "pre-pilot" phase in 1978 and 1979, again limited to the 9 councils in Area 2 of the Western Region. During this phase, the first handbooks were published, and the first uniforms and other insignia were produced .  A primitive version of the Varsity Scout Letter was also produced.

Then in the second experimental phase or National pilot phase, in 1980, its use was expanded to 28 councils around the country, most likely to make sure of its broader use. Slightly revised versions of the guidebooks were produced, as well as a slightly different uniform shirt. A new Varsity Scout Letter was produced, and apparently silk-screened office patches as well.

The idea behind this work was to create a more challenging scouting program that would appeal to older boys, much like the older Explorer Scout program of the 40s did.  The use of sports team terminology was to make the program more appealing to older boys would had never been involved in scouting, and might not be interested in joining a program with younger boys. During this experimental period, the members were not allowed to wear the BSA field uniform, instead wearing their own uniform consisting of a beige collared sports shirts with dark brown shorts or slacks.  Also, manuals from this period  indicate that the program was only for boys 14-15, and when they turned 16 they were to join an Explorer Post.  This period of the program is not well known.  If anyone has more info about literature, insignia and the like from this period, it would be appreciated.

Experimental Period II Varsity Scout Uniform shirt

Varsity Scout Program
The Varsity Scout program is much like the Boy Scout program.  However, it has five fields of emphasis: Advancement, High Adventure/Sports, Personal Development, Service, and Special Programs/Events.  Each team has a youth member called a program manager in charge of each area.  While not explicitly sports oriented, Varsity Scout Teams can and do participate in sporting events, but they don't have to be.

While the program is basically similar to Boy Scout troops, its focus on more advanced programming in the areas of outdoors and sports would lead to them using some additional literature from the Boy Scout program.  As Varsity Scouts would earn the same advancement awards as Boy Scouts, they would use those same materials.  However, in some areas they would be separate.  For instance, instead of the adult leaders participating in Boy Scout leader Roundtables, they would participate in Varsity Scout Huddles, so that they can focus on the more unique features of the Varsity Scout program.  Varsity Scout Leaders have a separate training program then Boy Scout Leaders.  There were also a few Varsity Scout Wood Badge courses.

Varsity Scout Pledge (in use from 1977 to 1989?, brought back in 2001)
As a Varsity Scout I, will:
Live by the Scout Oath (Promise), Law, motto, and slogan;
Honor the dignity and worth of all persons; Promote the cause of freedom; and
Do my best to be a good team member.

Varsity Scout Uniform
During the Experimental years of the program, Varsity Scouts were not allowed to wear the BSA field uniform, instead wearing their own uniform consisting of a beige collared sports shirt with dark brown shorts or slacks.  See above for a picture of the shirt.

Today, Varsity Scouts wear the same tan BSA field uniform, but they wear orange shoulder loops and have their own office insignia.  They got their own colored backing for service stars: brown (orange is for Tiger Cubs). Instead of the red Boy Scout jacket, they wear an orange jacket, which was available in both nylan and polin.  It appeared that this had been dropped from the 2000 BSA catalog, but the 2001 restored it, so perhaps the photo was an error.  A Varsity Scout hat was also available for awhile.  In 1989, with the introduction of the Boy Scout activity uniform and shorts, a tan polo shirt with a red fleur-de-lis and the word "Varsity" was introduced.  In 1995, Varsity Scouts would gain the use of wearing the "Varsity" shirt strip on their uniform which had previously been used only for the in-troop Varsity program.

Varsity Scout stripVarsity Scout Orange Jacket, nylonVarsity Scout activity shirtVarsity Scout shoulder loops

Varsity Scout Advancement Program
For the most part, Varsity Scouts use the same advancement program of Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle Scout as Boy Scouts.  However, they have the addition of the Varsity Scout Letter, which is similar to the Varsity letters in school.  This letter could be earned by both Varsity Scouts and Varsity Scout Leaders with specific requirements for each, and could be earned more then once.  Up to three bars are added below to indicate additional letters earned.  This letter is worn on the orange jacket, and a pin for their Boy Scout advancement could be worn on the lower part of it.  There are atleast 2 version of the letter and bars.  A more primitive version of them was produced for the experimental program, the later official period had nice looking insignia.  Later on, the embroidered bars were dropped, to be replaced by a metal bar, which was itself dropped.  In 2001, the metal bar has been brought back.

In 1989, with the addition of the Venture/Varsity program in Boy Scout Troops, the letter was redesigned into the Venture/Varsity Letter, and a variety of activity pins were added.  These pins were for various sports and high adventure activities.  The letter and pins could be earned by Varsity Scouts and members of Venture/Varsity programs in troops.  The smaller letter could be worn on the bottom of the merit badge sash or on the right breast of a jacket.  The requirements for the Venture/Varsity Letter were simplified.  Now the letter (and pins) would be earned over a period of time to accomplish an ultimate adventure or season of sports, usually three months, along with active participation at meetings.
In 2001, a new award, the Denali Award, has been created for Varsity Scouts.  More information is in the new Varsity Scout Guidebook.  These are the requirements.  The requirements are very similiar to the original Varsity Scout Letter requirements.  The award itself is a medal. The name comes from the native Eskimo word for Mount McKinley.  At 20,320 feet, McKinley is North America's highest mountain and the crown of the 600-mile-long Alaska Range. The indigenous Athabascan people dubbed the massif "Denali", or the "Great One.".  From base to summit, the mountain's vertical relief is greater than that of Mount Everest.  McKinley is located within Denali National Park, a park larger than the state of Massachusetts, at over 6 million acres.  Yes, this is a bad scan of the medal.  The scan is from a brochure on the new stuff in Varsity Scouting.  Hopefully I can get a better one soon.  As far as I know, there are no plans to create a knot for this award.
Varsity Scout Letter and Bars (1980-89)
Varsity Scout Letter, 1984-89 Varsity Scout Letter bars, version 1Varsity Scout Letter bars, version 2

Venture/Varsity Letter (1989-present)
Venture/Varsity Letter, 1989-presentmetal Venture/Varsity letter bar
Venture/Varsity Activity pins (1989-present)
Backpacking Basketball Bowling Canoe Camping
Caving cross-country Skiing Cycling Discovering Adventure
Fishing Freestyle Biking Frontiersman Mechanics
Orienteering Rock Climbing & Rappelling Roller Hockey Shooting Sports
Snow Camping Soccer Softball Survival
Swimming Tennis Triathlon Volleyball
Waterskiing Whitewater Canoeing

Varsity Scout Unit Organization
Varsity Scout units are called Teams.  They are basically organized like Boy Scout Troops, but with different terms for several offices.  A unique office in Varsity Scouts is the program manager, which is a youth officer in charge of one of the five Varsity Scout program areas.

Office patches were redesigned in 1989 along with the redesign of Boy Scout office patches.

In addition to these patches shown, apparently during the second experimental stage of the program in the early 80s, there were silk screened patches produced.  This is a little strange, as during this period, the Teams could not wear BSA uniforms.  Were there exceptions to this rule?  And where were they to be worn?

For collectors, I have also included the Varsity Scout Huddle office patches.  A VS Huddle is the equivalent of the Boy Scout Roundtable.  They have changed them over the years.
Varsity Scout-Boy Scout comparison
Boy Scout Varsity Scout
Troop Team
Scoutmaster Coach
Senior Patrol Leader Captain
Patrol Squad
Patrol Leader Squad Leader
Minimum age- 11 Minimum age- 14
Red shoulder loops Orange shoulder loops

Varsity Scout Team Office Insignia (1984-89)

Varsity Scout Team Office Insignia (1989-present)
Squad Leader, NO PICTURE

Varsity Scout Huddle Office Insignia (1986-present)
Varsity Huddle Commissioner (1986-89; 1995-present), VS-45 [VHC2] Varsity Huddle Staff, (1986-89; 1997-present), VS-47, [VHS1]
VS-46 Varsity Huddle Commissioner, tan twill with tenderfoot (1989-95) [VHC1] Varsity Huddle Staff, (1989-95), VS-48, [VHS2] Varsity Huddle Staff (1995-96), VS-49, VHS3

During the experimental years of 1980-84, a patch stating "Trained for Leadership" was produced.  Does anyone have any documentation on what this patch was for and how long it was used?

Operation On-Target
The closest to a National Varsity Scout event is Operation On-Target, held on the third weekend in July.  This event has been run every year since the mid-1980s.  Its goal is to have Varsity Scout Teams from across the country climb mountain peaks (or buildings), and from there use mirrors to signal each other. They will also talk to each other with ham radios or cell phones, creating a link between them and other teams that are participating.   Part of this is to set records of long-distance signaling by linking up from Border to Border, and from the Pacific to Denver.  There is a website devoted to this program at  The Great Salt Lake Council published an activity booklet on this, and this has been included in the new Varsity Team Program Features Book, v2.

There were two basic manuals for Varsity Scouting: the Varsity Scout Handbook and the Varsity Scout Leader Guidebook.

The Varsity Scout Handbook went through at least 2 editions.  The first was used during the experimental phases, and went through about 3 or 4 printings.  The second edition was introduced when the program went official.  Am aware of at least two printings.  At some point, I believe in around 1989/90, the handbook was dropped, and Varsity Scouts would just use the Boy Scout Handbook starting with the tenth edition in 1990.

The Varsity Scout Leader Guidebook should be thought of as a supplement to the Scoutmaster's Handbook, as it is in no way its equal.  It is heavy on Varsity Scouting specific information, but has nothing on basic scoutcraft/scouting information.  Am aware of four editions.  The two were was used during the experimental phase and was called the Varsity Scouting Leader's Guidebook, and during the official program phase has gone through apparently two further editions.

A revised Varsity Scout Leader Guidebook has been released, now called the Varsity Scout Guidebook.  It is aimed at both Varsity Scouts and their leaders. It also has the requirements for the new Denali Award.

For each of the 26 activity pins there was a pamphlet for it, similar to the merit badge pamphlets.  These were allowed to drop out of print in 1999 and 2000, and have been replaced by the new Varsity Team Program Features booklets..

Other literature includes the Varsity Scout Game Plan, three pamphlets that have program features that complement the activity pamphlets.  These also have been dropped in favor of the new, three volume Varsity Team Program Features series.

Varsity Scout Huddles would get their own literature, the same as Boy Scout Roundtables.

For most other literature, Varsity Scout Teams share the same items with Boy Scout Troops.
Varsity Scout Literature
Varsity Scout Handbook
1st Edition   (Experimental program phase) 
 1st    1978, Jan   #7810       10000   158pg
 2nd   1979 
 3rd   1980, June  #7825  158pg (Experimental program phase II)
2nd Edition   (Official program phase) 
 1st   1984   #7825A      160pg
 2nd   1985   #7825A
Varsity Scout Handbook, 1st edition, 1 & 2nd printingVarsity Scout Handbook, 1st edition, 3rd printingVarsity Scout Handbook, 2nd edition
Varsity Scout Leader Guidebook
1st Edition   (Experimental program phase I) 
 1st   1978, Jan    #7811    5000 
2nd Edition (Experimental program phase II)
 1st   1980   #7826      257pg
3nd Edition   (Official program phase)
 1st   1984  #7826A    254pg
 2nd  1985
4rd Edition 
 1st    1991  #34826     182pg
 2nd   1996  #34827     180pg
 3rd    1997   #34827 
Varsity Scout Leader Guidebook, 1st & 2nd editionVarsity Scout Leader Guidebook, 3rd editionVarsity Scout Leader Guidebook, 4th edition
Varsity Scout Guidebook (#34827A)
 1st edition    2000   137pg


Varsity Scout Guidebook (#34827A)
26 activity pamphlets
Basketball, #3450; Bowling, #3467; Cross-Country Skiing, #33463; Roller Hockey, #33462; Shooting Sports, #3457; Soccer, #3453; Softball, #3452; Swimming, #3473; Tennis, #3455; Triathlon, #3456; Volleyball, #3451; Water skiing, #3478; Backpacking, #33484; Canoe-Camping, #33468; Caving, #33446; Cycling, #3437; Discovering Adventure, #33472; Fishing, #3438; Freestyle Biking, #3447; Frontiersman, #33448; Mechanics, #3449; Orienteering, #33439; Rock Climbing, #33469; Snow Camping, #3440; Survival, #3441/#33483; Whitewater, #3465.
Operation "On-Targer", published by Great Salt Lake Council, BSA.
Varsity Scout Program Notebooks
  1984 (shown)
  1985 (shown)
  1986 (shown)
  other exist??


Varsity Scout Leader Program Notebook, 1984-85Varsity Scout Leader Program Notebook, 1985-86Varsity Scout Leader Program Notebook, 1986-87
Varsity Scout Game Plan
   V1  #34849/#7849    19??/1998 54pg
   V2  #33433 /#3433
   V3  #33505/#3505    1991/??  34pg


Varsity Scout Game Plan, V 1Varsity Scout Game Plan v2Varsity Scout Game Plan, V 3
Varsity Scout Program Features
   V1  #34837    2001, 177pg
   V2  #34838    2001, 214pg
   V3  #34839    2001, 167pg


Varsity Scout Leader Huddle
  Planning Guide  #7829/#34829 c1989
  Supplement I    #35503   c1990
  Supplement II  #33459/#3504  c1991



Updated: 11/26/2003mrb