After 15 years as Scoutmaster for Troop 199 in Fishers, Bryan Spellman is stepping back from that role. But he and his good friend Ed Ratts, who has been assistant Scoutmaster and also is retiring, plan to remain involved on a smaller scale because Scouting is just too much fun to give up completely.
Spellman said he became involved in Scouts at a young age when he joined Cub Scouts as a kid back in New York City, where he grew up. He eventually earned his Eagle Scout designation.
“Fast forward a lot, and my son becomes of age and he joins Cub Scouts, and as soon as he joins Cub Scouts, I become an adult leader,” Spellman said. “Then we moved … to Indianapolis in 2003, and in 2004, my son joined Troop 199.”
Spellman became assistant Scoutmaster, and then in 2009 became the Troop 199 Scoutmaster and has helped numerous Scouts since then on their journey toward adulthood.
“Developing those relationships with those Scouts and watching a 10-year-old kid become an 18-year-old young man, and seeing that development and being able to, in some small part, be a part of it,” was his favorite part of being Scoutmaster, he said. “I saw when they were 10 and 11, these goofy, awkward kids. and then watched them take over the troop and watched them develop those skills and see them build friends and have struggles and overcome those struggles and find a love of nature or mathematics or whatever they wanted to do and then off they go to college or off they go to trade school or off they go to work. And just watching them do it. That has been the best part of Scouting.”
Ratts had a different journey to becoming a Scout leader. He said he was in Cub Scouts as a kid but dropped out because the adult leaders in his troop weren’t very involved.
“It’s a great program — fantastic program,” he said. “I obviously believe in the program wholeheartedly and I didn’t want my boys to suffer that same fate, which is primarily the reason why I got into leadership and Scouting in the first place.”
Ratts got involved as an adult Scout leader when his oldest son, now 28, joined Cub Scouts. He stayed on as a leader long after his kids left the program, but now, he said, it’s time to make a change. “Retiring” might not be the right word, though. He said “stepping back” is more accurate.
“I’ll still go to the meetings, I still plan on camping with the troop whenever I can,” he said. “I’ve got over 300 nights camping with them over the years, so I’ve done a lot of camping with them and really enjoy that part. But just stepping back from my duties a little bit and for the first time not really having a responsibility in the troop, which has been nice.”
Spellman said he, too, plans to remain involved.
“Ed and I have been doing it for a very long time together and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him,” he said. “We’ve talked about it and, yeah, we’re going to be able to enjoy it without the pressures of responsibility.”
The troop is Scout-led, which means the Scouts do much of the planning and take on a lot of responsibilities. But, Spellman said, at the end of the day, when 70 Scouts go into the woods, there’s one person who has to make sure all 70 come back out safely, and for 15 years that one person has been him.
Spellman and Ratts agreed that Scouting is a great way for kids to learn leadership skills.
“Scouting is, in my opinion, just the greatest youth organization, period,” Spellman said. “It allows them to be themselves, learn a lot of good life skills, learn outdoor skills and an appreciation for nature and learn leadership skills. It’s not teachers running the show or coaches running the show or parents running the show — it’s Scouts running the show. They’re leading it, they’re running it and that’s how I run the troop. It’s a Scout-led troop. They make the decisions, they plan and organize the troop meetings, they decide where we go camping.”
There’s a lot of administrative work involved, though, which he said was akin to a second full-time job. Spellman’s wife, Beth, also recently stepped back from her role as the troop’s treasurer, which she’s done for the past 17 years. Spellman said their conversations and activities have revolved around Scouts for many years, and now he and his wife will have more time for other pursuits, like traveling or completing house projects.
But Scouting will remain an important part of his life.
“The marriage to my wife, the birth of my son and Scoutmaster for this troop for 15 years — (are) probably the top-three things that I’ve ever done,” Spellman said.
A convocation of Eagles
Troop 199 in Fishers has a great track record for producing Eagle Scouts.
Retiring Scoutmaster Bryan Spellman and Assistant Scoutmaster Ed Ratts’ sons all were Eagle Scouts and were among the 152 Scouts who achieved that level during Spellman’s 15 years leading the troop.
“We’ve had 208 total (in 30 years),” Spellman said. “Since I’ve been Scoutmaster, I’ve had 152 Eagle Scouts. We averaged about 10 a year.”
Along with guiding those young Scouts on their journey, Spellman said one of his biggest accomplishments as Troop 199 Scoutmaster was successfully organizing a trip to Mount Rushmore in 2017, complete with hiking in the Badlands, visiting Crazy Horse Memorial and seeing Devil’s Tower.
“It took us like two years to plan that trip,” he said. “We moved 120 scouts and adults from Fishers, Indiana, to the Black Hills of South Dakota.”
And then, of course, Spellman and Ratts are gratified by the relationships they built with each other and countless Scouts over the years.