On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.–The Scout Oath
A group of cub scouts were reminded Monday at Bolado Park that at the heart of the oath they all take is honoring their parents, teachers, first responders, and the military. At least that’s how a gruff-speaking knight in armor put it prior to demonstrating for the youngsters the lost art of jousting.
Aprilynn Wyatt, cub master for Cub Scout Pack 444, as well as special events coordinator for Benito Day Camp, said the annual event that brought Cub Scouts and knights together has been taking place for the past 31 years. She said 125 boys were attending the week-long event. She said that number was down from last year, but added that they could accommodate 250. She said all the helpers, including some 80 older scouts, 11 through 17 years old, were volunteers. As part of the volunteer program, those scouts were accomplishing required youth leadership skills.
“We have 75 events for the kids to do all week, including archery, knots, leather working, crafts, nature hikes, aquatics, and forestry,” she said. “Every year we have a theme, and this year’s theme is ‘knights, castles and dragons, oh my.’”
Wyatt said the scouts, who range from first through fifth grade, stay all day and go home nights, except for Wednesday when the older scouts, fourth and fifth graders, will stay overnight, along with one attending parent each.
She said the boys are part of the scout council that reaches from Big Sur up to San Jose.
“Everyone in our council is able to come here, but most of our boys are from San Benito County,” she said. “We do have a few coming from Salinas, Prunedale and Gilroy.”
The boys are working toward requirements included in their Cub Scout handbooks and receive credit for all tasks they complete. The reward is a patch for day camp.
“They get to keep their awesome T-shirts, and as they go around to the different events they get a totem pin to put on their hats,” Wyatt said. “At the end of the week everybody has 20 pins.”
The day camp costs $60, but each unit has “campership scholarships” for families that can’t afford the fee.
Wyatt said once the theme had been chosen she called around to see if a knight would be willing to visit the boys.
“I was really fortunate when I called Charlie Andrews just to get some information,” she said. “He volunteered to come out here. He is ten time world champion heavy armor jouster. He’s not being paid anything. In fact, he drove here from Utah and incurred quite a cost to bring his gear and horses for no reimbursement. We did make him a thank you card, though.”
For those who aren’t familiar with Charlie Andrews, he’s a guy who has become famous for donning a suit of armor and chainmail that weighs some 140 pounds, climbs aboard a huge draft horse and charges down a narrow lane against other men of similar size and temperament in a mock battle that can turn deadly at times.
Decked out in 16th Century-style armor, Andrews calls himself “Captain of the Knights of Mayhem.” He is an entertainer who bellows out a challenge to his audiences, especially chatty boys, to “be quiet and pay attention” because he deems what he has to say as important. While some of the boys at Monday’s event might have been a bit too young to get his references to serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, the older boys repeatedly chanted, “USA, USA” as he strode back and forth carrying an American flag.
For a time Andrews had his own TV show on the National Geographic Channel, and has recently taped a show for Netflix and is scheduled to do another for Nickelodeon. He said he has been jousting professionally for 15 years, touring the renaissance fair circuit.
One reason he wanted to come to San Benito County for the scouting event was because he grew up here.
“I used to live out at Willow Springs,” he said. “I grew up around horses. Trained them. My dad was in the San Jose Police Department for 28 years. A kid I went to high school with is your police chief, David Westrick.”
Before becoming a professional jouster, Andrews said he ran a security company in San Jose that specialized in protecting executives. Before that he said he served in the Navy as a Seabee. He said he tried out for the elite SEALs, but didn’t make it through the training. He did, however, say that he served in Somalia and the first Gulf War.
He said through contacts with local horse owners someone approached him when they learned a jousting troop was being formed.
“I rode a little bit and took part in some medieval times-style jousting and later got connected with some guys doing the heavy armor stuff and started training with them,” he said. “My specialty is full armor, heavy contact, which is limited to about 30 guys in the world who do that.”
When it comes to his armor, Andrews pays attention to every detail.
“My armor is 16th Century, patterned after Henry VIII tilting harness,” he said. “Mike’s (his jousting competitor, Mike Gemperle from Turlock) is 14th Century where you strap the shield on to you, whereas mine bolts on.”
He drove all night from his home in Eagle Mountain, Utah for the event. He said all he was asked to do was talk to the boys, but he thought since he was coming home after being gone 12 years he could do more.
“It’s San Benito County and it’s the Boy Scouts of America, and no matter how famous you are it’s more important to remember where you came from and you do need to be a role model and show the kids the right way. And what better way than to demonstrate the knight’s code. It’s a good platform to spread the message of God, family and country. I think it’s an important message and when you can talk to kids and touch lives, that’s what matters to me. It isn’t always about the money. Having that humility and being able to give back is more important than making it rain in a strip club or punching your girlfriend in an elevator.”
Later, he repeated that same sentiment to the boys, who probably didn’t get the connection with the big guy in armor riding the huge horse and carrying the American flag in front of them. They came to see a fight (pretend or not), and chanted eagerly as the two knights grabbed their lances, turned their steads and charged at each other.