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Members of Cobb County, Ga., Explorer Post 33 (far left) move an 85-pound dummy through the Last Resort obstacle course. Later, the Cardboard Box Regatta is less serious but equally competitive. Eric Pickett (bottom middle, left) and Greg Terry from Pensacola, Fla., Post 420 add all-important duct tape to their boat. Chris Pruden (bottom right, front) and Alex Porter of Loganville, Ga., Crew 6820 paddle valiantly. And Murrells Inlet, S.C., Crew 396 Venturers Michael Larkin (top right, front) and Jeremy Green take an unexpected swim. Meanwhile, staffer Daryll Victorio (top middle) endorses Winterfest’s official Twitter hashtag.

In a fire, the final life that

needs saving is a firefighter’s. That oſten means escaping through wires, walls and a maze of burning wood — all with almost no visibility. The Black Box simulates

that scenario. Fire Explorers put on full gear, including an oxygen tank, and flip their flame-resistant balaclava back- ward so they can’t see. Then they enter the Black

Box, a mystery enclosed in a 5-by-15-foot container. Nobody but the Advisors who designed the box knows what’s inside. It could be a tangle of wires and ropes, or it could be a wooden maze. This year it’s a maze,

requiring tight 90-degree turns a human body isn’t designed to make. It’s tough even if you aren’t blinded and wearing 50 pounds of gear. The evil genius behind this torturous teaching

device? Matt Asbell, a fire- fighter from Dalton, Ga. “They have no clue what

it is until they get inside,” he says. “We’ve not let anybody get to know it. And they’ve loved it every year.” As someone who’s been

into and out of dozens of burning buildings, Asbell knows the importance of training. “Every fire is dif- ferent, but this is as close to the real thing as it gets,” he says. “It gives each and every person the idea of what the job is like. I call it an appren- ticeship program.” The next apprentice is

Bailey Ledbetter, a 17-year-old Explorer from Post 2060 of Helena, Ala. She ducks inside and winds her body through the maze, squeezing through 16-inch-wide spaces meant to simulate the gap between studs in a wall. She keeps pushing through and emerges about a

minute later. She busts the exit open and rips off her helmet. “It was a lot more chaotic

than I was expecting,” an out- of-breath Bailey says. “You’re running into everything.” Bailey makes it through

just fine, but if she had gotten stuck, the top of the Black Box can be removed, and help is just a few feet away. (Actually, at a gathering of police and fire professionals, help is always just a few feet away.) Asbell says Winterfest’s

competitions work because of that ability for Explorers and Venturers to fail gracefully and try again and again. Or as he puts it, “It’s a

good way for them to test the waters without having to tread in them.”

THE CLOSING CELEBRATION — complete with beach balls and the T-shirt gun that orga- nizers dub the “best $50 we ever spent” — is intentionally adult-free. Yes, you’ll find event

chairman Sorrels and others standing along the sides and in the back of the convention hall, some even tapping their feet along to the pop music.


INSIDE A FANCY-LOOKING conference room, you’ll find the Southern Region’s youth Venturing leaders. The conference tables are arranged in a large rectangle, but the chairs are empty. Turns out, the Venturers have crawled under the tables and into the enclosed space inside the rectangle.

In this makeshift fort, they sit cross-legged and discuss serious issues facing Venturing in 2014 and beyond. Topics include finding adult leaders: “Parents are there for Cub Scouts, parents are there for Boy Scouts,

but they disappear for Venturing.” And improving relationships with unit commissioners: “My commissioner will be all for [a new idea] when we talk to them, but they never visit or follow through.” The roundtable shows a beyond-their-years understanding of the Scouting program and its volunteer and

professional structure at all levels. And the dedication demonstrated by youth like Southern Region President Maddie Culwell is impressive. She’s even willing to give up sleep to help her fellow Venturing leaders. “I am in college, and my sleeping patterns are not regular, so call me anytime,” she says. “Even if it’s 3 a.m.,

it’s fine. “You know how when teenagers are bored they pull out their phone and get on Facebook? Me, I’m bored and I see if I have any texts or emails from my area presidents.”

But both masters of cer-

emonies are youth members. “I do not want an adult

touching a microphone the entire weekend,” Sorrels says. “You’ll see only youth talking and emceeing at these events.” Tom French, another

Winterfest organizer, looks out on the crowd at the closing ceremony. The teens had fun, nobody got hurt and another successful Winterfest is in the books. “It’s crazy. It’s amazing

what a bunch of volunteers can do,” he says. “You can’t explain this at a roundtable. You have to see it.” ¿

Chapel Hill, N.C., Venturer Jason Byrley of Crew 505 has one goal: Escape the V-Squeeze. Speaking of goals, Southern Region Venturing President Maddie Culwell (bottom left) shares hers for the movement at a roundtable with fel- low Venturing youth leaders, including Zachary Muldrow, an area president.

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