by Joe Bollig
MARYSVILLE — There are plenty of those who choose to follow the beaten path.
But there are others, like Buster Schmitz, who choose to blaze a new trail. The member of St. Gregory Parish in Marysville chose to become part of Trail Life USA, a rapidly growing Christian adventure, character and leadership program for young men.
His unit, TLUSA KS-0007, is notable for two firsts: It was the first Trail Life USA troop formed in Kansas, and it is the first (and so far only) Catholic- sponsored TLUSA troop in the state.
Trail Life USA was born out of the membership policy controversy that roiled the Boy Scouts of America in 2013.
Proposed changes troubled many within the BSA community, including Schmitz, who had joined the Marysville BSA Troop 180 in 2003 and became a Scoutmaster in 2004. His oldest son, Jacob, had become an Eagle Scout.
When Schmitz learned that an alternative to the BSA was being formed, he attended the new organization’s inaugural convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in September 2013.
He liked what he saw — especially the new organization’s explicit interdenominational Christian character.
Schmitz, five assistant Scoutmasters, the troop treasurer and six boys from the Marysville BSA troop opted to blaze the new TLUSA trail.
They secured sponsorship from the St. Gregory Parish Knights of Columbus Council 1777 and launched the troop this past Jan. 1. They also helped found a sibling unit, American Heritage Girls Troop KS-0007.
All members of TLUSA are called “trailmen,” but participate in four program categories defined by age — Woodland Trail: grades K-5, Navigators: grades 6 to 8, Adventurers: grades 9 to 12, and Guidon: ages 18 to 25. Each program category has different ranks.
Although the Marysville troop is Catholic-sponsored, all boys are welcome to become members regardless of religion, race, national origin or socioeconomic status.
Adult members must sign a statement of Christian faith that is Trinitarian in nature. Although Schmitz (the troop master) and Tyler Lyhane (Woodlands trail guide) are Catholic, Kevin Throm (Woodlands ranger) and Allen Perry (Woodlands trail guide) belong to the Berean Church.
Schmitz’s son Tristan aged out in August after earning his Freedom Award and is applying to become an adult leader. His son Samuel is in the Woodland Trail program.
The Marysville TLUSA troop has been busy, accumulating 25 nights of camping in nine months, excluding a two-week high adventure trip to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Canada.
Four youths and two leaders went to Canada.
The troop holds meetings every Wednesday and conducts monthly campouts. They plan a Fall Rendezvous Oct. 17-19 at Alcove Springs, and troops from Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri will participate.
The troop has also done community service projects including a food drive, community recycling, storm cleanup and construction of a 60-foot fishing bridge.
Additionally, the boys can work on rank advancement, learn skills and earn proficiency badges.
When Schmitz and others first formed the troop, they hoped to have 12 members. Nine months later, there are 50 youth members, and it doesn’t look like the growth will stop. Clearly, people want a youth adventure program with a stronger faith focus.
“We have opening and closing prayer,” said Schmitz. “Trail Life USA is in the process of creating religious awards. The Catholic versions are not yet fully developed.”
Marysville’s KS-0007 will soon launch two programs. One is Band of Brothers, a peer accountability program for high school-level trailmen that incorporates Bible study and mentoring. The other is Manhood Journey, a biblically based father-son mentoring/discipleship program for grades 6 to 8.
Schmitz believes TLUSA troops will be formed in other communities.
“We’ve got people coming from four different communities 10 miles or farther from Marysville,” said Schmitz. “We’ll probably continue to grow. But if we keep picking up boys from different towns around us, some will get enough [members] to branch off and start their own troops.”