by BRANDON KATHMAN
Boy Scouts of America
For most of its tenure as an incorporated city, Brooksville has been home to the youth of Boy Scout Troop 71. Among the great Hernando County institutions, the troop predates most, aside from the oldest churches, the sheriff’s department, and the post office.
This year marks a century since the unit was founded, and its members today want to celebrate their centennial by looking back on decades’ worth of meetings, campouts, and service projects.
In 1920 Hernando County could boast few paved roads, the development that transformed into Spring Hill did not exist, and Bayport was soon to become the beating heart of an illegal moonshine trade. Some County residents could still remember the Civil War. It was in this environment that several families formed the first Scout troop in Brooksville, founding Cub Scout Pack 71 for younger children within the decade, according to the troop’s charter representative.
Unfortunately, the troop’s leaders said many of their records were lost in a flood some years later. As a result, the earliest history of the troop appears to predate living memory. However, troop volunteer Ernie Lane remembers what it was like growing up in 71 under his father’s leadership in the 1970s.
“I joined in 1971 when I turned 11,” Lane said. “My father was Scoutmaster at the time. He would take us to Camp Flaming Arrow in Polk County for summer camp; at the time Sand Hill Scout Reservation was only a dream.”
A healthy combination of adventures and misadventures characterizes all great American childhoods, and Lane recalls many of each from his experiences in the troop. The boys’ expeditions took them across the state of Florida. Lane attested to learning valuable life lessons while in the program, including one especially memorable lesson given by an ill-tempered snake, which he recalled in good humor.
Throughout much of its history, a local Kiwanis Club hosted the unit, and boys met in a “scout hut” behind Brooksville Elementary School. The troop’s charter eventually shifted to the First United Methodist Church of Brooksville, where they currently meet, though Lane said the Kiwanis Club remains a generous sponsor of the units.
Of the boys he came up with, Lane said he has kept in touch with many. He believes that at least a hundred Troop 71 boys have earned the rank of Eagle Scout over the years, and at least half of his peers went on to serve in the armed forces.
“I went on to the military because the Boy Scouts gave me the ground space to go in,” former troop member Lester White said. “I went into the military because I loved the Boy Scouts.”
Other members of the troop have become community and religious leaders. One Scout, Michael Taliferro, even signed with the Washington Redskins in 1984. Taliferro found even greater fame in Hollywood, appearing in such films as Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), Bad Boys (1995), and Life (1999) alongside Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. Taliferro passed away in 2006.
White, now a minister living in Lady Lake, remembered camping with his friend Taliferro as members of the troop in the early 70s, including one infamous trip to the beach.
“Mike brought a whole bunch of sardines,” White said, laughing. “They told us to bring some food for the whole weekend, and the only thing Mike brought was sardines. He brought the honey mustard kind, the hot sauce kind…of course, we ended up having to share our food with him.”
Today, Troop 71 has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to serve local boys. Ernie Lane’s son, Thomas Lane, holds the position of Cub Master for Pack 71 in which his grandson, “T.J.,” is a youth. Ernie Lane volunteers with both the troop and pack as liaison to their church sponsor.
“To me it was a great honor to come back when I was looking to get my grandson in Scouting,” Ernie Lane said. “I’m trying to give him some of my experience.”
The Troop will welcome the latest graduating class of six boys from Pack 71 into their ranks in December. Senior Patrol Leader Brandon Howie, the troop’s elected youth leader, said he looks forward to having new members. At 16 years old, he feels an obligation to look out for the youngest boys as they find their way.
“I feel like it will be a really good experience for them,” Howie said. “Having them come up will be a lot more of a responsibility for me.”
Scoutmaster Keith Growe mused on the meaning of Scouting and the values of its Oath and Law, asserting the Troop is guided by the same unfailing compass today as it was in 1920. Growe said he intends to continue providing a great program and alluded to kayaking treks and a “big summer camp” in 2021.
“If anyone is interested, we are currently recruiting Scouts to join in the adventure,” Growe said.
For Ernie Lane, the units he has watched shape four generations of Lanes have bright futures, and he expects more Lanes will go through the Scouting program in decades to come.
“I’m hoping the troop lasts another hundred years,” Lane said. “Given the track it’s on now, I don’t see why it wouldn’t.”
Former members of Troop 71 are encouraged to contact Scouting’s local district to share their stories, as are those who may be interested in enrolling in Scouting today. The Withlacoochee District office can be reached by calling (352) 459-9375.