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Issue 17 – September 2003

Hi Andy,

I was a Boy Scout, and earned my Eagle a bunch of years ago. Now, my older son’s Boy Scout age, and joined a Troop this past Spring. But he’s not happy in the Troop. The Scoutmaster acts more like “the world’s oldest Patrol Leader” than anything else. There are no “real” Patrols except when they go to summer camp and the Scoutmaster assigns the boys to tents and then appoints a “tent leader.” He’s in charge of everything, and resists any parent (like me!) who tries to help out. And, he “decides” when a Scout is “ready” to advance in rank, and then doesn’t give (like it’s the SM’s “gift” to the Scout and not like something the Scout’s earned!) the Scout the rank until the Troop’s once-a-year court of honor. My son wants to drop out of Scouts, and I really can’t blame him. But I’m thinking that maybe if I got on the Troop committee, I might be able to work from the inside to try to get things running better. What’s the best way to convince this Scoutmaster there are better ways to run a Troop? By the way, he’s been Scoutmaster for a long time and won’t go to training because, he says, “What can ‘they’ teach me that I haven’t done in 20 years?!” Thanks, Dave B., Scout parent.

Well, Dave, I have some pretty bad news for you – You just can’t change anything “from the inside.” It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. It would be an absolute exercise in frustration – with a potential for great animosity – for you to try. The tough thing is that the only way to “fix” what’s obviously a situation that bears almost no resemblance to what Scouting’s supposed to be delivering is to somehow figure out a way to become in charge of the Troop (for instance, as Troop Committee Chair) and then rally enough other parents around you to be able to throw this rascal out! That’s right – that misguided Scoutmaster – the “world’s oldest Patrol Leader” is exactly right! – has got to go! And it won’t be gracefully! He’ll make a stink, I’m sure. And not a few other parents will be afraid to “rock the boat.” So, you’ll have to have some side conversations with perhaps some other dads to see if there’s even a chance to get rid of this guy in the face of a 20-year “reign.” If you don’t think this can be done, then I’ve got to suggest to you that engaging in an exercise in potential futility will not make life happy for you or – more important – for your son. If this is the case, then in order for your son (and maybe some other boys, also) to get the kind of true Scouting experience he deserves, you may need to either find another Troop in the area, where things are more in line with “True North,” or, you might want to consider starting up a new Troop. Remember this: Your son hasn’t “married” this Troop – he can move to another one anytime he wants. But, before you do anything, track down whoever your Troop’s Unit Commissioner is, and have a quiet conversation about the situation – Commissioners are there to help.

Dear Andy,

At summer camp, a 14 year old Scout managed to nearly slice off his thumb while whittling. He’s OK after a more than one hour surgical procedure, but now his Scoutmaster wants to hold back his final Scoutmaster’s Conference and Board of Review for Eagle (the Scout has everything else completed), because he thinks the boy should wait till he’s more mature before making Eagle. What do you think? Barry E, Unit Commissioner, Atlantic Coast Council.

Sounds like you need some support for your District Advancement Committee, Barry, because that Scoutmaster’s totally out of line. In the first place, he ain’t the “judge,” and in the second place, if the Scout’s completed all the requirements, he’s entitled to his Scoutmaster’s Conference and Board of Review. Hold him back because he “made a mistake”? Wow, what a concept! Like, we adults never make mistakes…yeah, right! I make ‘em all the time – what about you!? One of the key underlying principles of Scouting is that “it’s where a boy can make mistakes in a safe place.” That’s how we humans learn. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that every Scout cut himself in order to learn woods tools safety. But, that’s what a Totin’ Chip is for – not a rank advancement!

Hi Andy,

As Unit Commissioner of a small Troop with minimum adult membership, can I serve as a member of a Scout’s Board of Review up through Life Scout? Jack Boeldt, UC, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Great to see a Commissioner helping his units, Jack! So, first, let’s take a brief look at who can sit on boards of review. For all ranks, and for Eagle palms, the board is comprised of between three and six (no more-no less) registered members of the Troop Committee. For Eagle rank, the numbers remain the same, but the composition changes. For Eagle, depending on how your council operates, the composition becomes simply adults who understand the importance of Scouting and the Eagle rank, and includes just one registered representative of the council and/or district. Of course, a Scoutmaster or ASM cannot be a board member at any level, but the SM (or ASM in the SM’s absence) can sit in as an observer (only) and has no vote. So, where does this leave you? Clearly, it suggests that, unless the board is for the rank of Eagle, a Commissioner can’t “substitute” for a Troop Committeeperson. Actually, that’s a good thing, because, as Commissioner, you want to help this Troop help itself, and not “rescue” them! Let’s look at some numbers for a moment…To stay chartered, a Troop has to have five Scouts, one SM, and three on the Troop Committee. Three is all that’s needed, so if all three committee people show up, the Troop can hold boards of review. If they can’t get three at the same time, then they need to recruit and register a fourth committee member, so they have a “back-up” for themselves. And this is your job as Commissioner — To help them get the “critical mass” that they need, so they can be self-sufficient. Of course, you can always sit in yourself, as a non-voting observer/mentor (at least for a little while, till they get the hang of it). And a cautionary note here — Somtimes, Troops register their adults as ASMs instead of Committee Members (I don’t know why they do this, but some do!) and then they’ll tell you that “Well, although they’re registered that way, they really do double-duty in committee functions.” Don’t buy it! How they’re registered is what counts, and ASMs can’t sit on boards as if they’re somehow, now, committee members! So, resist the well-intentioned urge to rescue them and help them achieve success with your guidance, encouragement, and insights.

As a personal aside, when I’m sitting on Eagle boards, as a district advancement committee member, I always encourage Troops to include a brand-new Dad or Mom on the board, so thay they get to see what “the top of the mountain” looks like!

Dear Andy,

I’d like to re-look at the question about the adult with the Eagle palms. It was stated that he earned Eagle and bronze, gold, and silver palms. You stated that it would take a total of 51 merit badges to earn these. That would be correct to wear all at once, but he’d be able to earn each of those palms separately. If he had 37 merit badges he’d only be able to wear the silver palm, and not the others. So, it’s possible to have earned these, but he must wear them correctly. I wanted to set this straight because you said he was living a mistake. If in fact he’s wearing all at once then it’s a mistake, but the question didn’t state that he was wearing them all—it asked is it possible to have earned these. The answer would be yes it is. Just wanted to clarify. If I’m wrong please let me know. Thanks! Rob Lord, District Commissioner, Clinton Valley Council, Michigan.

Rob, your math is right on the money, and so is your thinking! I don’t know what the guy’s actually wearing – the Scout didn’t say – and if he’s wearing just the silver palm, then he’s got it right, too. But, when somebody says he’s earned multiple palms, then I’d expect the number of merit badges over Eagle to add up to the palms claimed, and that’s were this sort of falls apart. But, hey, as Commissioners, we’re not really gonna tell him, are we? Nope…We’re going to keep him active and involved and “forgive” his little error as just that – a little error I the grand scheme of things!

And Rob writes back…

Hey Andy,

You’re right—We Commissioners don’t go around critiquing uniforms: If they have one, I’m happy. Although when we do training we cover uniforms and hope they get the idea. By the way, I really enjoy reading “Ask Andy.” Yours in Scouting, Rob Lord.

Thanks for your follow-up, Rob! I’m really glad you enjoy “Ask Andy” and I hope you’ll pass the word to others – the more readers, and the more questions, the better and more interesting this little column gets!

Dear Andy,

We’re the grandparents of a 14 year old former Scout, and we found your column while wandering around the Web. Here’s a question for you – Todd (our grandson) loved Scouts but is also a terrific baseball player. When his Little League team made him the starting pitcher, he had to practice a whole lot, and dropped out of Scouts a couple of years ago. But now his team has a new coach and that coach put his own son in as starting pitcher, and “demoted” Todd to “relief.” His own parents and others, too, are furious, because Todd’s the obvious better pitcher (and all-around player, too). Now, Todd wants to quit the team, and he’s out of Scouts, too, so he’s really feeling pretty bummed about the whole thing. Any thoughts? Jim and Donna M., Exton, Pennsylvania.

I’m happy that you have such a talented grandson, and the best news is that no boy is ever “out” of Scouts in any permanent way. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…let’s back up for a moment. Little League’s a great program and organization, but – like any organization – it can have it’s “problem children” from time to time. The present coach sure sounds like he may be the current problem child. But, who knows? Next year, there may be a different coach, and things’ll get back to where they ought to be. In the meanwhile, I’d encourage your grandson to stay on the team, even if he’s (just) the “relief pitcher.” All of us have to learn, one way or the other, that things don’t always go as we want them to, and that we need to find ways to cope with all sorts of folks – even those who don’t recognize our talents, or “play favorites”! To quit now may be in the category of “life-mistake” and I’m hoping Todd will rise above the moment and play his very best for his teammates despite his legitimate discouragement. Bottom line: Todd needs to decide whether he’s playing on the team, or FOR the team! Now, here’s some good news about Scouting – All Todd has to do is SHOW UP! That’s right. Show up. Register again. Re-join the Troop. No remorse. No “forgiveness” required – there’s nothing to forgive. No apologies needed. Just sign up and get going again! One of the great things about the Boy Scouts is flexibility. The Troop’s there for Todd and his friends, and even if other activities take them away for a while, they can always pick right up where they left off. And here’s some more good news – At age 14, Todd’s old enough to join a Venturing Crew, which is a new program for older youth that often does a lot more “high adventure” type stuff than many Boy Scout Troops, and Todd may want to check this option out, too!

Dear Andy,

Our son earned his Arrow of Light, graduated from his Cub Scout Pack and joined the Troop that’s also sponsored by his school. But he really doesn’t like Boy Scouts, and we’re not too thrilled, either. The Troop didn’t go to summer camp, and doesn’t have Patrols, like his Boy Scout Handbook talks about, and the boy leaders in the Troop are all appointed by the Troop’s committee and just take orders from the Scoutmaster instead of doing any leading for themselves (I was a Boy Scout myself, and this is nothing like the Troop I was in!). Our son wants to drop out of Scouts, and right now we can’t blame him. His friends from the Pack feel pretty much the same way, and their parents do, too. Before this happens, is there anything we can do to encourage him to stay in the Troop? Jim and Nancy K., Roanoke, Virginia.

This sounds like a Troop that’s pretty much corrupted the Scouting program into something else entirely, and it’s pretty obvious that there are too many problems for one family (or even several!) to try to fix – that’s a job for your district’s commissioner staff! So, what to do? Simple: Find another Troop in your town that your son and his friend do like, and then transfer over to it. There’s nothing that says a boy has to join the Troop that the Pack feeds into, or even the one at his school! Check out your church – does it sponsor a Troop? Or another school – maybe they have a Troop. Or, call your local council service center and ask about all of the Troops in your town, and visit all of them – when you find the one that your son seems to like, just join up! (Be sure to have the new Troop use a “registration transfer” form, so you son gets credit for his tenure in the former Troop.) Go for it!

Dear Andy,

Our Cub Scout Pack has a dues “package” that includes BSA registration and insurance, and Pack and Den activities, but doesn’t include BOYS LIFE magazine. They tell us that it’s really not important to get that – it’s just a way for the BSA to make money on the boys. We’re not so sure. What do you think? Don B., new Cub Scout parent, Nashua, New Hampshire.

Well, Don, let me start out by telling you that, among my personal Scouting “memorabilia” are all of my own BOYS LIFE magazines – every one of them – from when I was a Scout, and they’re now more than 50 years old! At $9.00 a year – that’s 75 cents an issue, including mailing it directly to your son – there’s no better bargain ever put on paper! And it’s filled with great stuff – inspirational stories, news about national Scouting events like Jamborees, cartoons and comics, Bible stories, “how-to” articles, true stories of heroism and resourcefulness, short stories of action and adventure and much, much more – Everything, in fact, that boys want to read about! Tell you more – My wife’s a middle school teacher, and one of the things I do every year is pay for her school’s library to have a BOYS LIFE subscription – which they value highly (I get a “thank you” letter from the librarian every year I’ve done this!). So, even if the Pack doesn’t automatically include this (which is a huge mistake on their part, in my opinion), pay the nine bucks extra, and make sure your son gets BOYS LIFE! You won’t regret it!

Dear Andy,

My son (I’m a single-parent dad) just joined a Cub Scout Pack last week, and when we went to their first Pack meeting, I noticed that the boys and their leaders seemed to be “Cub Scouts from the waist up.” Just shirts and a few neckerchiefs. No caps. Pants were jeans, “baggies,” and all sorts of weird stuff. Bill Junior’s new Den Leader told me the shirt’s all they wear because money’s tight and full uniforms are too expensive to buy just for Cub meetings. I thought Scouts were uniformed pretty much from head to toe. Is this common? Bill W., Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Well, Bill, I’m looking at a BSA catalog right now, and the cost for Cub Scout blue pants, a belt, and a cap adds up to about $48. Then I checked out the cost of a pair of boys brand-name jeans, a belt, and a baseball cap, all from a major national retailer, and came up with this total price: $38. So, that’s a $10 difference. If all of this stuff lasts one year before a boy grows out of them, that difference boils down to 3 cents a day. Wow! And, by the way, the biggest difference is in the blue Cub Scout pants versus the jeans – a difference of about $5 or $6, depending on what you buy. But, the Cub Scout pants can definitely be worn just about anywhere, so they’re not “just for Cub Scout meetings.” However, before you go out and buy this stuff, you need to remember that your son will want to “fit in” – this is real important at his age, and for the next bunch of years. So, while the leaders’ “argument” against uniforming is sort of what some folks call what’s left behind in the corral after the ponies are let out, don’t force your son to wear stuff that’s going to make him look “different” from the other boys. Instead, check out the quality of the program the Pack is delivering by reading your son’s Wolf Book. (Often, Scouting units that are lax in one area are lax in others, too, and may not be delivering what they should be doing.) If the program is weak, then you might want to look for another Pack for your son (and maybe his friends, too).

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question or problem? Got an idea that will help others? Send an email to AskAndyBSA@yahoo.com – be sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!

(September 2003)

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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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