Published 12:00 am Friday, October 18, 2013

SALISBURY — Let’s see, Venturing Crew 448 recently hiked and camped in the Birkhead Wilderness, climbed and rappelled off Pilot Mountain and rafted and kayaked the Nantahala River.
Charles Oster, adult advisor for the group, nicknamed the “Black Sheep,” says wild boar hunting could be coming up this winter. He’s serious.
The mention of boar hunting grabs the interest of Michael Polnisch, a 26-year-old advisor, Marine and mentor to the group of young men and women, who can range in age from 13 to 21.
“I need more excitement in my life and being trampled by a pig is more exciting,” Polnisch says.
The way the Black Sheep approach Venturing — an arm of Boy Scouting – is from a high adventure and social events point of view. Oster says within that framework, participants also focus a lot on leadership, citizenship and communication skills.
The Venturing program is probably the best-kept secret of Scouting and definitely the most liberal, given its inclusion of females.
“There’s nothing in the county that tells girls about this,” Oster says. “Even people in the Boy Scouts don’t know what Venturing is.”
Rowan County has some 20 Venturing crews connected to various troops. But most of them are inactive, says Oster, who also serves as Venturing activities chairman of the Central North Carolina Council.
The outside pressures in keeping a sustained Venturing crew are numerous because these young adults naturally age out, go off to college or have commitments to other things such as ROTC, sports, high school and jobs.
Zack Oster, Charles’ son, serves as the senior patrol leader. He says he’s the only Venturing Crew member left from the original group he started with.
But Venturing Crew 448 makes participation easy, and Oster stresses Venturing is open for everybody to “come in and join us.” People attending meetings (held on Wednesday nights) and going on trips often are guests of others.
Social media such as Facebook — the Venturing Crew can be found at — has helped in keeping in contact with everyone about upcoming outings, including the folks in college.
The beauty of Venturing is that crews can join Scout troops or other Venture crews on their outings, or plan their own. Venturers also are allowed to participate in Scout activities, but not all Scouts are allowed in on Venturing stuff.
Some of the outings Venturing Crews, such as 448, are likely to go on include shooting ranges, snow-skiing, canoeing, rafting, climbing, fishing, backpacking, scuba diving and more.
The leadership comes from the crew itself, with male and female adult supervision.
“To me,” Ryan Leonard says, “with Venturing you have more freedom.”
Ryan Leonard, brother Robert Leonard and Mark Becker participate in the Venturing program, while they continue working toward their Eagle awards as part of Troop 448.
Cherokee Leonard (no relation to Robert and Ryan), her brother Demetre Carver and their friend, Freddie Rose, sat in on the Venturing Crew’s meeting this past Wednesday. It was their first.
“The adventures,” Cherokee says as a reason for her interest. “And we don’t have a social life because we’re home-schooled.”
Focus areas of the Venturing program are the outdoors, arts and hobbies, sports, religious life, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and Sea Scouts.
Venturing also is guided by seven leadership methods, including leadership itself, group activities, adult association, recognition, Scouting ideals, high adventure and sports and teaching others.
A bottom line: Venturing often gives participants a chance to do things they haven’t done before.
The progam can be like traditional merit-badge Scouting in that Venturers can obtain three ranks — bronze, gold and silver, and there are numerous other achievement awards.
Oster, nicknamed “Chewy” by the Black Sheep, says the silver rank doesn’t receive the publicity the Eagle Scout Award does, but Scouts and Venturers in the know realize what a strong accomplishment it is.
Venturing Crew 448 member Kayla Tucker achieved a silver rank for her focus on religious life. Sabrinah Hartsell and Robert Anderson also earned silver ranks for 448.
“It definitely draws attention,” Oster says, adding it can be an important addition to any job application.
The Black Sheep do not emphasize the wearing of green-colored shirts associated with Venturing, though the crew members going for rank often like to wear them.
Greer Fallin, a senior at West Rowan High, recently rappelled for the first time down a 75-foot facing of Pilot Mountain. She laughs, remembering how she ended up inverting herself the second time down.
Fallin also had a chance to learn sailing one day on High Rock Lake.
Zack Oster took to whitewater kayaking on the recent trip to the Nantahala River. Robert Leonard likes to describe a recent overnight camping experience in the Uwharries as one of their laid-back, “do-nothing trips,” because they hiked only a short distance in before making camp and just hanging out.
Venturing Crew 448 will be having an open house at the Jack Kepley Scout Building, 900 S. Main St., from 1-5 p.m. Sunday. (See box.)
There’s always a need, too, for adult volunteers, especially young, adventure-seeking women.
Some coming trips on the radar for Venturing Crew 448 are a trip to the shooting range, hunting, caving, camping near and going to the N.C. Zoo and an overnight stay with the sharks at the Ripley’s museum in Myrtle Beach.
“Our crew is basically high adventure and social stuff,” Oster repeats.
They’ll get back to you on the wild boar hunting.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or