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Issue 14 – June 2003

Andy’s “Scout Trivia” Question: A boy can become a Boy Scout 3 ways: Be age 11, finish 5th grade, or _________? (Send your answer to me at and I’ll publish it next month!)

Last month, we had a Safe Swim Defense/Safety Afloat Quiz. A sharp Scouter picked up on one of my points and corrected me (I’ll take 20 lashes with a wet lanyard!). Read on…

Dear Andy,

In your response to Question 9 of your May 2003 test, you stated that, “A Scout non-swimmer can be in a canoe, but ONLY when there’s an adult swimmer in it, too!” The Guide to Safe Scouting stipulates: “A person who has not been classified as a ‘swimmer’ may ride as a passenger in a rowboat or motorboat with an adult ‘swimmer,’ or in a canoe, raft, or sailboat with an adult certified as a lifeguard or a lifesaver by a recognized agency.” Thanks for your column, I really enjoy it! (Jim Burns, Training Committee, Twin Rivers District-Heart of America Council, Ottawa, Kansas)

You did your “homework,” Jim, and you’re exactly right! Here’s the background… When I first wrote this quiz, my original “answer” was correct, and I used it for my May column without re-checking (20 lashes for that!). Then, I was asked to teach Safe Swim Defense/Safety Afloat to a group of Scouters here in my Council, so I checked the Guide you’re referring to (just to make sure I was up-to-date). That’s when I discovered the change, too! Time enough to change my instruction, but the column had already been published! Thanks to your sharp eyes, we’ll fix that for ALL readers! Thanks for reading, and “keeping me honest”!

And here we go with new questions…

Dear Andy,

I’m an Assistant District Commissioner in a district that has no clue as how to use commissioner service as it should be. The past two District Commissioners have been quite “politically correct” in everything they do, as in “don’t rock the boat.” Their common excuse is that there aren’t enough Unit Commissioners to do the job, and we take what we can get. When anyone tries to make things better (several have tried), it’s almost like these DC’s hinder the process. Our District Executive and District Director both have commented that they’re not happy with the performance of the DC, but they continue to let him bobble along. Our District’s two other ADC’s agree with me that something needs to be done, but we don’t know what to do. We want to help units, but we’re really frustrated. (J.S., ADC, Richmond, VA)

Let’s start with some basics…District Commissioners aren’t elected —they’re appointed by your District Chair, agreed to and endorsed by your District Executive. This means that the two people you and your ADC friends need to speak with are these two folks—your chair and your DE. They should help solve this problem, possibly by “retiring” the current DC at the end of your council’s “Scouting year.” Now, let’s take a look at what you and the other ADC’s can actually accomplish. First, remember that the DC is an administrative position that has little if anything to do directly with unit service. That’s the job of the Unit Commissioners in your district, and it’s really up to the ADC’s like you to find, recruit and train (O-J-T-style) new unit commissioners to serve the units you’re responsible for. So, you might want to consider focusing on the units and not “upwards” to the DC. Do your jobs well and you help the units, and, since you have a relatively “non-interfering” DC, you should be able to pretty much provide service as you see fit (and that you’ve learned about by attending commissioner training conferences or colleges!). In other words, do your primary job first and you probably won’t have to worry about a “PC-DC”!

Dear Andy,

We have some Scouts in our Council who earned Sports Merit Badge a while back as a “required” badge, but some time in 1999 this was removed as a required merit badge. When was the cutoff date to use Sports as a required merit badge? (B.B., Advancement Chair, Flint, MI)

Good question! I’m going to answer this one sort of indirectly… To my knowledge (and this is after about a dozen years of active service on advancement committees—and still going strong) the requirements that are “in force,” if you will, at the time the rank advancement occurs prevail. There’s no “grandfathering.” So, while Sports MB (as a “required”) might have qualified a Scout for, let’s say, Star rank, a couple of years ago, if he’s going for Life rank right now and the 2003 requirements don’t include that MB any longer, then two things happen… First, he absolutely keeps his prior rank (and Merit Badge, too, of course), because, once earned, no badge is ever “taken away” from a Scout! The second thing that happens is that the Scout will now use Sports in the “optional Merit Badge” category for his next rank advancement.

Dear Andy,

What’s “NESA” and should I join it? (K.T., SM, Highland Lakes, NJ)

I’m assuming you’re asking because you’re an Eagle Scout (NESA stands for National Eagle Scout Association). NESA membership is open to any Eagle Scout, of any age. In many councils, NESA members provide additional services to their council, often running Eagle recognition events, or doing special “Good Turns.” There’s a NESA “page” in the National BSA Web site – check it out and decide for yourself!

Dear Andy,

What’s the intent of the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby? I see so many disappointed boys and hear parents giving self esteem pep talks after this event, I’m really curious to the purpose. (G. H. Iowa City, Iowa)

Good question, and you seem pretty open-minded about it, so here goes… The Cub Scout program is all about strengthening the relationship between the Cub Scout and his parents, and about is about doing things (not just passive observation). The most important thing that happens when it’s Pinewood Derby time is that the boy and his dad (or alternate adult male role model) get to do something special together—build a Pinewood Derby car! What happens after that is just “details.” But, these details can be important, too. Packs sensitive to boys’ natural competitive spirit as well as their feelings make sure that there’s more than just a single “race” and a single winner. There are winning cars at the Den level as well as the Pack level, and not just for speed — there are winners for design, like “coolest,” “funniest,” “most colorful,” “most radical design,” and on and on. No, this won’t necessarily make every Cub Scout’s car a “winner,” and that’s really OK, because it encourages higher achievement “next year.” But, there should definitely be lots of winners. Now, there’s a theory “out there” that says “everybody should ‘win’ something,” but you have to understand boys’ motivations—if “everybody” gets a ribbon or prize, boys don’t see this as “everyone wins;” they see it (though they may not tell you this in so many words) as “there are NO real winners.” Every boy wants HIS car to be the fastest, and so long as the track is objective and fair, every boy can see the simple fact that some cars are faster than others. That’s just a fact. Boys CAN live with that! And “self esteem pep talks” aren’t really necessary, because they often are more about the parent than the boy. And now a little secret: I still have my own Pinewood Derby car, that I made when I was a Cub Scout (I won’t tell you exactly how old it is, except this hint: It’s probably older than YOU!). I haven’t saved it all this time because it was a winner (it never won a single race!) – I saved it because I remember how I BUILT IT WITH MY DAD.

Hi Andy,

I’m looking for a “how to” conduct the Thorns and Roses reflection activity that’s often used at Philmont. Can you help? (T.S., Trek Leader)

I sure can help! Here’s what a fellow Scouter –Dave Wortendyke, ASM of Troop 78 in Boulder, Colorado – Longs Peak Council — has to say about the value of “Thorns and Roses,” and how to do it…

“While many Scout Troops/Venture Groups either attend National High Adventure Bases, or conduct their own long-term adventures, and almost all Scouts have a fantastic time on the trips, once in a while a dark cloud can occur to spoil the trip for one or more of the participants. The dark cloud is typically a personality problem or clash between two or more scouts and/or scout and leader. If there is potential for this to happen, we must have “bomb-proof” techniques for prevention. A cure on the trail is much harder than the prevention. Over the years at Philmont, they have experimented with training and programs to help the adult advisors insure that the crews will have a super time, become a smoothly functioning crew, and everyone go home happy and enriched. The “Thorns” are the bad experiences that happen daily, and the “Roses” are the good experiences.

“The best way for a crew to become a friendly, help-each-other, team is for everyone to learn about each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and these will become evident and exposed through open discussions and communications on a regular basis during the trip. The Philmont Trail Crew Guide Book states:

“The Thorns and Roses program is an excellent way to have each person learn about the others. Each evening or night after dinner and before everyone retires for the night, make sure the entire crew debriefs the days events. During the session it is important to always end the day positively. If there are any problems within the group this is an opportunity to bring them out at this time. Make it known from the start that this time is neutral time. Be creative; ask thought-provoking questions, this is the time when questions about anything can be answered. It is essential that everyone work out his problems here. Otherwise tensions may emerge the next day on the trail. Make this serious and take this time serious from the start. Encourage meaningful dialog.

“Keep in mind that your crew consists of several different personalities. We want everyone to learn and grow. At times it may be hard getting people to talk at all. Be tactful; lead your discussions if you need to at first. Never belittle anyone or everyone.”

“To conduct a “Thorns & Roses,” the entire group should sit in a circle facing each other, with no one in the background. Adult advisors should spread out in the circle, and not bunch together. This will be each persons opportunity to vent their frustrations, and they will be allowed to speak freely and uninterrupted. The emphasis should be to balance any bad with some good. After each person presents his “thorn” (if any) and “rose”, he may also present a “rose bud”. The “bud” is a goal, thought, or desire of the individual of something that he would like to accomplish. It could for the next day, anytime during the trip, or long term, and one that he feels like sharing with the others. Examples could be to catch his first trout on his new pole tomorrow, or earn Star by the next Court of Honor, etc. One of the leaders (boy crew leader or adult) starts the Thorns and Roses discussion, and each person gets a chance as the turn passes around the circle. This is not a gripe session, and you only go around the circle once. The Philmont Chaplain said you always close on a positive note and may follow this session with a SM minute or spiritual thought. It seems that sometimes there might have to be a short group interaction/plan after the once around thoughts, (or even following an individual’s contribution) in order to be sure the “air” is cleared, and the discussion is indeed positive. Our crew of Boulder and SW Florida scouts used this almost every night at Philmont (August ’98) with our diverse crew of individuals who barely knew one another at the start of the trip. We had a great time, and no real problems. I suspect we could have had some problems if we had not had the open discussions daily.

“Having been on adventures with middle school and high school scouts for over 30 years, I have seen first hand or heard from other crew advisors three specific types of problems that develop on one week to two week trips. They are:

  1. The others single out an individual youth as a “goat” of the crew.
  2. Two separate factions develop in the crew, which splits the team.
  3. An advisor tries to assume the role of a dictatorial leader and takes the boy leader’s job.

“Your job as a Trained Scout Leader is to prevent any of these problems from developing. An ounce of prevention is worth more than pound of cure. Here are my suggestions for building a great team:

  1. Use Thorns and Roses daily. (It may be advisable for the adults to meet separately before the crew gets together to air their thoughts to each other privately.)
  2. Avoid a one-boy tent, and never have more than 3 scouts per tent. Two scouts are ideal. Rotate boy tent partners daily. Have them work out a rotation in which each scout is with every other scout. Let them sleep with their buddy the first night. Normally sleep adults together (and separate from scouts, even parent-son).
  3. Involve the group in other discussions, perhaps before the Thorns & Roses, such as-
    • Why are you here, really?
    • What have you learned so far?
    • Who wants to go to college & why? (What’s the real purpose of higher education?)
    • Who wants to be an Eagle Scout and why?
    • What really is an Eagle Scout?
    • What is a team? Define: coach, captain, & player’s jobs.
    • What is a leader, explain?
    • Is your only limit your imagination?
    • What’s all the fuss about organic food, additives, & nutritional supplements? (Are we what we eat? Junk food = ?)
    • Who are you, and why are you here on earth?
    • Etc… and many more.
  4. Train the scouts in skills, and leadership, then back off and let them do it!
  5. Remember that adventure trips are not another Summer Camp “school”, they are for FUN!”

Dear Andy,

After retiring from the world of employment, two years ago I returned to Scouting. I had been away for 20 years. I’m serving as a Unit Commissioner. At our last Roundtable, the program was a martial arts expert. After the program, I found that martial arts – except judo and aikido – are not authorized BSA activities (p. 39 of Troop Committee Guidebook). Why are some not authorized? I don’t know anything about any of them. (J.B., UC)

Why are some martial arts OK and others verboten? I have to make some guesses here, based on observing my younger son’s activities — he did Karate (NOT through Scouting) as a young boy, but picked up Aikido a few years ago and now holds a “belt” — that’s how I got to see what Aikido practitioners actually do. So, here’s my guess: With Aikido (and I’ll guess, Judo, also) there are no striking or hitting movements. Nothing like the chopping, kicking, punching, and so forth that we’re all so familiar with from movies and Tv (including Saturday morning cartoons!). Checking further, in the Guide To Safe Scouting, boxing isn’t authorized, either, but Tai Chi (another non-striking martial art) is also OK.

Dear Andy,

It’s clear that a Scoutmaster isn’t a voting member of the troop committee. But what about an ASM – Can an ASM serve as a voting committee member? (J.B., UC)

Good question, and it’s sure to make a “parlor lawyer” out of me, but here goes — It’s all based on the registered position. If someone’s registered as a committee member (“MC” on the Adult Application), then he or she gets to vote as a member of the unit’s committee. If, on the other hand, he or she is registered as an SM or ASM, then there’s no vote, because they’re NOT a committee member. “Yeah, but I do two jobs in my unit, and one of them’s committee member, so I should vote,” is an argument I heard a lot in my Unit Commissioner days. But Scouting teaches, among other important things, to “play by the rules,” and one of the “rules” is you vote or don’t based on your registered position, and that’s that!

Now, that legal stuff said, my “parlor lawyer brain” clicks OFF and my “Commissioner brain” clicks ON, and I start asking, “Why is voting or not so important? Is someone trying to ‘muscle’ something past a bunch of parents?” The SM presents the unit’s program to the committee and the committee either approves it or asks for modifications, and that’s about it. UNLESS, for instance, somebody’s trying to “vote” somebody else off the committee, or vote a Scoutmaster “in” or “out,” or some other nonsense like that. So, as Unit Commissioner, be on the lookout for political wheelin’ ‘n dealin’ when you get questions about “voting.”

And that’s the last Q&A till I get back from Philmont… Ahhh, I can see the silver on the sage already!


Happy Scouting!



Have a question or problem? Got an idea that will help others? Send an email to (Include your town and state, please)



(June 2003)


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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