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Classes to make a scout out of you.

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School-learning is fine. But if I had been a Boy Scout, I would have had the chance to acquire all those wonderful merit badges, each one representing some sturdy all-American skill that I know I'm going to need someday.

Luckily, Memphis provides many opportunities to get educated in a variety of activities that would make any self-respecting Boy or Girl Scout proud. From camping to rock climbing and ceramics to wilderness first aid, organizations around Memphis can help broaden your horizons, although you'll have to provide your own badges.

At Outdoors, Inc. on North Germantown Parkway, Thursday-evening classes on the rock-climbing wall provide a chance for students and employees to exercise and unwind. "This is more of a workout than I get doing anything else," says Brian O'Connor, a first-time student from Cordova. "I like it because it is just as much exercise as lifting weights, but it is also a real mental challenge figuring out how to get up the wall."

The class covers everything from climbing to knot-tying. The teacher, Josh Cook, is a 10-year veteran of climbing who can't keep a smile off his face when he discusses the sport.

The 20-foot wall has dozens of different routes marked out with colored tape, ranging from beginner to advanced. "Even on this little wall you probably have a couple months worth of routes," says Cook. Once you've taken a class, you can pay $5 anytime to come in and use the wall. Cook says he hopes to start leading climbing expeditions with his students.

Memphians looking for something a little less strenuous can check out the early-morning class at Clayworks. "I've had a lot of these students for three years," says Patricia Schwarz, the owner and instructor at Clayworks. Schwarz has taught pottery classes both privately through the studio and through the University of Memphis Continuing Education program before it was cut.

Barbara Potter is a longtime student and a marketing advisor at FedEx. "It's just such a nice mix of relaxation, creativity, and camaraderie," says Potter. Students chat and laugh as they work clay on spinning wheels. "I have a lot of students from the corporate world and the health-care industry, from high-stress jobs," says Schwarz. "This is where you come to get away from the real world."

While you're relaxing, you are also learning to make something beautiful. Schwarz says throwing pottery is a definite skill, one that can take a long time to master. Still, with practice she believes anyone can learn. And even if you don't, it can still be fun. "Some days the clay decides what I'm making," Potter says.

If you crave the great outdoors, you might consider taking a backpacking or car-camping class taught by the Chickasaw Sierra Club. Not only do they arrange for hikes, but according to Judith Hamilton, the club's outings chair, they have a lot they can teach you. "We tell all the attendees of our classes to bring the one thing they can't camp without. You get everything from a sleeping bag to a bottle of wine."

The backpacking and car-camping classes are both geared to give urban explorers some solid advice on how to prepare for their trips. "We tell people what to bring and, just as importantly, what not to bring," says Hamilton. Experienced backpackers and campers from the Sierra Club teach the classes and give advice on everything from what type of pack to wear to how best to equip your car for a family outing while also stressing the importance of respecting the environment.

SOLO is an organization dedicated to wilderness medicine, outdoor leadership, and rescue. They teach a two-day course on how to deal with a variety of injuries in isolated conditions -- everything from treating cuts and burns to splinting broken bones and even what to do if someone's struck by lightning.

So even if you've never done more than buy a box of Girl Scout cookies, you still have a chance to learn and play in the great outdoors. With all these great classes it won't be long before you're qualified to lead some scouts of your own.

Rock Climbing at Outdoors, Inc. -- 755-2271

Pottery at Clayworks -- 722-2164

Backpacking and Car Camping with the Sierra Club -- 324-7757

Wilderness First Aid -- 615-943-6877

ben@memphisflyer.com 

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