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Issue 54 – July 2005

Dear Andy,

I’m a pretty new Scoutmaster, and striving to create structure in the Troop. But I have adult leaders putting their two-cents-worth in, without being willing to step up and ask what they can do to help me out. Secondly, I have one adult leader who’s been going against the grain—All he does is find small problems and bring them up at every Troop meeting. What do I do? (A.J.)

Well, I think the first thing you do is give me a little bit more information here… That way, I may be able to help you better! Like, what positions do these “adult leaders” have (and are they actually registered BSA Adult Volunteers). Like, if they’re ASMs, then they “report” to you and you do have the right and the authority to ask them to remain quiet except when specifically called on. On the other hand, if they’re committee members, they have no business opening their yaps in a Troop meeting at all, unless there’s some special message you’ve asked them to convey to the Scouts. And finally, if they’re not registered at all, then why the heck are YOU and your SPL giving them “air time” at all? And how about that “adult leader” who’s finding “little criticisms” to bring up in a Troop meeting… Who the heck is he talking to? I’m asking, because, except for the Scoutmaster’s Minute, NO ADULT TALKS TO THE TROOP AS A WHOLE—THAT’S THE SENIOR PATROL LEADER’S JOB! You need to tell me some more, here…
OK, Andy, here’s more…

This is a Troop of 33 Scouts. All the adult leaders are registered as ASMs, but they do “committee work.” When I first became Scoutmaster, my goal was to create structure by having a Patrol Leaders’ Council (a new concept in this Troop!), with actual, functioning Patrols (another new concept here!). The Senior Patrol Leader and six of the Patrol Leaders Junior Leader trained, and know about how to conduct a meeting and plan events. But the other adults keep getting in the way. A great example: At our last meeting, the PLC was fine-tuning some summer camp odds n’ ends when one of the PLs asked how they could relay this information to an absent PLC member, and I mentioned that they might consider using the “phone tree” that the PLC has. At that point, one of the ASMs piped up and started criticizing the phone tree system!

I know that one thing some of the adults are not too trilled about is that I’m a younger Scoutmaster—I’m 24. Possibly another thing is that I’m allowing the Scouts to run their own meetings and plan their own camp-outs, whereas the “committee” used to do all that. So, what do I do here?

OK, here’s my “prescription” for you…

– Adult Troop volunteers are EITHER (a) ASMs OR (b) committee members—per their registrations. Not both. They don’t do both jobs. Straighten this out, and half your problems will go away.

– The “chief executive officer” of the Troop’s adults is NOT the Scoutmaster—it’s the Troop Committee Chair, and his or her job is to SUPPORT the Troop’s program, as decided on by the PLC, and delegate the responsibilities among other Troop adults to make this happen. Straighten this out, and the other half of your problems will go away. The ONLY way a Troop’s program is planned and put into action is through discussion and voting by the Patrol Leaders’ Council, which is Chaired by the Senior Patrol Leader. The Scoutmaster acts as advisor/mentor to this group, but absolutely not its leader. Once the PLC has decided on what they want the Troop to be doing for the coming year, the Scoutmaster is, essentially, the messenger—He brings the plan to the Troop committee so that they know where their support will be needed. They do NOT “vote” to approve or disapprove the plan, although they can make suggestions, which the SM thereupon brings back to the PLC for further consideration. BUT, if the PLC wishes to proceed with its original plan, then that’s that!

– Regarding the “leader” who “piped up” about the telephone tree—What was he doing in (or near) this meeting, in the first place? Kick him out, and if that doesn’t work, hold PLC meetings in your home instead of at your Troop meeting site, and DON’T INVITE HIM.

– At age 24, you’re the BEST AGE POSSIBLE to be a Scoutmaster! These other old farts just don’t get it. Ignore them, and get out from under them.

– DO NOT CHANGE WHAT YOU’RE DOING WITH THE PLC! You’ve got it RIGHT, and they’ve been WRONG FOR YEARS!

When I was a young Scoutmaster (yeah, couple of centuries ago!), I carried an extra “Scoutmaster” badge in my pocket. Any adult gave me lip, I took out that badge and said, “You want this job? Take the badge out of my hand and you’ve got it. If not, then—with all due respect—kindly butt out.” No one ever took that badge out of my hand.

Dear Andy,

With my Cub Scout Den at resident camp, we lost campsite inspection points for not having a “Unit Fireguard Chart.” Of course, this is supposed to be supplied by the camp itself, and, by my research, this is done throughout most BSA camps. For us, as it turned out, the camp administrators had no copies of this chart at the time my Den and I checked in, but, later in the week, the “inspector” didn’t want to hear about this, and so the Den lost a few points. But, the real point is, where can this chart (#33691A) be obtained? I’ve checked everywhere and although there are a lot of references to it, no one seems to have a copy of it—not even at the national BSA website. The only place that seems to have it is Scoutstuff.org. (Jeffrey Slater)

Yup, the only place I’ve ever found that has these charts is SCOUTSTUFF. Order just one, and make copies—they’re pretty simple. And, by the way, I admire your reluctance to make a federal case out of this at camp, even though it sure was the camp that messed up.

Hi Andy,

I’m a parent of a Cub Scout and a leader in our Wolf Den. I have some questions and concerns about our Pack’s policy about Den meetings, Pack leadership, and selecting Scout leaders…

First, how often should a den meet? As stated in the book, active Dens should meet weekly—this will keep the Scouts involved in the program and also helps to build a regular routine. I agree! Although this is the ideal situation, it’s not always feasible because of changing lifestyles in this 21st Century. It doesn’t mean we alter the essence of the program; we just try to accommodate some activities like school homework, sports involvement, the increasing of working mothers and the increase of one-parent families, yet at the same time make sure that every Scout benefits from the best possible Scouting program. In our Pack, the Pack meets once a month (1.5 hours), for “Scout Sunday” once a month (1 hour), a Pack outing following the Sunday service once a month (2-3 hours), and weekly Den meetings. Do you think this is to much for Cub Scouts and their families?

Last year, my son’s Den met twice a week, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours per meeting.

I make sure each meeting is outlined according to the monthly theme, and we complete all the achievements required, and the electives, and the parents in my Den were so involved by taking time and work with the Scout out of his book to make sure that each individual Cub receives recognition.

Is Pack leadership a committee decision? In our Pack, the Cubmaster, ACM, and all Den leaders are voting members of the Pack committee. I thought the committee consists of a minimum of three members who aren’t the CM, Assistant, or DLs. I thought we direct leaders are supposed to have our own monthly planning. Are we missing something?

Is the head of the chartered organization the chair of the selection leader team? If not, is it the Cubmaster? I’m confused. Who’s supposed to select qualified adult leaders? (Confused Cub Scout Leader)

Any of you folks ever heard of New Leader Essentials training and Cub Scout Leader training? You and your other Pack volunteers need to consider going – right away! Most of your questions will get answered there, and you’ll all get the same message at the same time! But, if you’ve all been through training for your positions already, then I’m wondering what you heard…and what you either didn’t hear or are forgetting you heard! So, here are some basics for you all…

Dens should meet once a week, to maintain momentum. Less than that and things stall or meetings get too long (maximum 60 minutes—timed!); more than that and it’s unnecessary overkill—you’ll burn out the parents as well as the boys!

Scouts have ALWAYS had homework. Dual-income households where both parents work have been around for decades. Single-parent households are nothing new. Sports and other after-school activities have been around forever. So, I simply don’t buy the baloney that we have to “accommodate” this stuff, when nothing’s new! (When I was a Cub Scout, more than 50 years ago, two of the six Scouts in my Den had after-school jobs, and they still showed up for Den meetings—and our Den Mother was a single-parent, to boot!)

Family involvement in a Cub Scout’s advancement takes place in the boy’s HOME—not at Den meetings. The parent is “Akela.” Simple as that.

Car-pooling for latchkey Scouts makes sense.

If you were meeting twice a week for up to two hours each time, you were WAY beyond where you should have been! Cut it out!

Parents do NOT attend Den meetings, except for one, to provide “two-deep leadership”—a requirement of Youth Protection.

Den meetings are NOT for advancement requirements or “Arrow Points.” You defeat the purpose of the program when you do that.

Pack management. The “chief executive officer” is the Pack Committee Chair. The committee itself is a SUPPORT GROUP, not a “policy group.” The BSA has already established the policies and procedures for running a successful Pack; the Pack committee has no need to waste time and energy on this aspect of Cub Scouting.

The Cubmaster and Den Leaders are NOT members of the committee. They are the primary volunteers that the Pack committee supports. The CM and DLs do not attend committee meetings BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE TO. The CM and DLs meet, once a month, to review the program for the upcoming Pack Meeting. That’s the ONLY reason they meet. They then, through the CM, tell the committee what’s going to happen that month, and where they need background help.

The Chartered Organization (the Pack’s sponsor) is ultimately responsible for the Pack’s adult volunteers and works with the committee and Chair to keep all positions filled. By the way, there’s no such thing as “co-” anything. No “Co-Den Leaders.” No “Co-Cubmasters.” Got it? Again: The CO (sponsor) and committee are responsible for adult leadership. Stay out of their way, and pay attention to your Den and the Cubs in it, and give them the very best Cub Scout experience you know how!

Dear Andy,

I’m wondering…can adults earn awards like snorkeling, mile swim, lifeguard, and other related aquatics stuff? (A.J.)


Adults competent in and on the water can qualify for the BSA Lifeguard Counselor certification. Mile swim, snorkeling, the aquatics merit badges and so forth are for youth. They are no so much “awards” as recognitions for achieving competency levels. You and your Scouts (and your adult leaders, too!) need to think of these this way, otherwise, you’re all aiming at the wrong goal. The goal isn’t to “earn a badge” or “get an award”—it’s to advance, increase, and expand your knowledge, skills, and competencies.

That said, don’t hold back making up some truly fun “awards” for your guys, like “biggest cannonball splash,” “loudest belly-flop,” and the like—These can really add sparkle to your Troop’s summer camp experience!

Hi Andy,

Two of our council’s three camps have been sold. It is indeed a fact that the BSA is getting out of Camping and in to Learning for Life. The sale of irreplaceable Scout camps will only be stopped by the organized blue collar grunt Scoutmasters who actually work with the Scouts. Councils’ Executive Boards country-wide are made up of land developers, lawyers and financial gurus who only see one option when they deal with their summer camps—sell them and make a big pile of money, which they then put into their council’s trust fund to make more money, but these funds are tied to the stock market and we all saw what happened in 2000 to 2005 with the market—It lost 60% of its value! (E.B., Chicago, IL)

From what I’ve observed, the thing that will preserve our irreplaceable Scout camps best is…MONEY!

For years, our councils were land-rich and cash-poor. Eventually, that catches up with you. Then, council’s started merging (actually, they’ve been merging for the past 70 or 80 years—The council I was a Boy Scout in, over fifty years ago, was a “merged” council). When councils merge, they often wind up with more land than they can manage to maintain. My present council is one of these. It has three camps and not enough money to bring even one of them up to contemporary standards, relative to non-Scout competitive camps. How does this happen? Simple. Boy Scout councils have never charged campers enough money to create improvements, much less simply maintain their camps, as I see it. If councils had charged more, your so-called blue-collar Scouters would have been up in arms! Instead, they’re up in arms because councils can’t keep running their camps at a loss. You can’t have it both ways! Simple as that.

Now, I do know there have been some possible mis-uses of camp fees, as when instead of excess revenues being used to upgrade camps, these funds are used to upgrade professionals’ salaries. But, fortunately, these are the exceptions and not the general rule.

Even Philmont, with literally thousands upon thousands of Scouts, Venturers, Cubs and Scouters visiting it and its training center each and every year, and even with a working ranch that generates revenues, and a whole slew of volunteers Scouters who supplement the paid staff, without rental revenues from the Philtower Building, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Philmont wouldn’t have enough money to stay open!

What’s the answer? Raising more money, unfortunately. Unless we support our Friends of Scouting annual campaigns better than we have in the past, we’re going to see more mergers, fewer camps, and fewer opportunities for our youth to enjoy the out-of-doors at reasonable prices.

Hi Andy,

What’s the duration of the anniversary stuff is—Is it strictly calendar year 2005, or does it go thru the usual Roundtable year of 2005-2006? (Alice Retzinger, Assistant Cub Scout Roundtable Commissioner, Golden Empire Council, CA)

The Cub Scout 75th Anniversary continues its celebration until the end of this calendar year.

Dear Andy,

Do Boy Scout Troop Committee chairs or members qualify for any Scouter awards? (Greg Wiatroski, SM, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Yes, there’s a recognition for Troop leaders. It’s called the Boy Scout Leader’s Training Award (and it’s recognized with a solid green “square knot” badge). It requires completion of two years as a registered adult Troop leader, completing both Fast Start and basic training for the position held, plus five of 12 specific performance criteria (e.g., supervise or support a Troop fundraiser, complete Wood Badge training, staff a district or council training event, participate in 5 overnight campouts, etc.). There’s a PROGRESS RECORD for this recognition that you can find on the Internet or obtain from your local council (check their website). Information about Adult Awards.

Hi Andy,

You’ve done such a great job answering questions, so I’ve got another one for you. Can you point me to a specific BSA policy regarding the idea of “mandatory” participation in Troop activities like fundraisers? I’ve looked high and low and haven’t found anything, which may mean that this is purely a matter of Troop policy and there isn’t a national guideline, but knowing the BSA, there seems to be a policy for everything so maybe I just haven’t found this one yet.

I’ve coordinated Scout fundraisers in the past, so I’m well aware of the difficulties in motivating people to participate in yet another fundraiser and the benefits of Scouts learning to pay their own way, but even if BSA policy doesn’t prohibit it, is making participation “mandatory” the way to go? Would this be different if the events are advertised as “mandatory” unless the boy gets permission from the SM not to attend, and/or if it applied to only one or two fundraisers a year (as opposed to 4-6 per year)? This just rubs me the wrong way.

What consequences (other than obvious financial ones) could a Troop reasonably impose on Scouts who don’t participate in all of these fundraisers? Could lack of participation in some (not all) of these “mandatory” events then be used, for example, as evidence of not really showing the Scout spirit or as not being sufficiently active in the Troop, come advancement time? Can a clear threshold be set by the Troop, stating that a Scout must participate in a specified number of fundraisers, or raise a specified amount of money, in order to advance? In my quest to find a clear BSA policy, I did find bylaws for many Troops that specify this.

Maybe it’s just me… Although I’ve done my share of fundraising, I really dislike asking the same people over and over for money. Pretty soon these poor folks will be shutting the door and drawing the curtains when they see us approaching! Andy, what do you think? (Midwest Scouter)

Personally, I have a little problem with “mandatory” when it comes to Scouts. You see, when I was a boy, our town’s Little League Pop Warner league, and other youth organizations had “mandatory attendance” rules, and these forced some of the Scouts in my Troop to drop out, because if they missed just one practice or game or whatever, they were “off the team.” Of course, others quit the team because they were more interested in what the Troop was doing! Many years later, when I became a Scoutmaster, I tried to make Troop meetings and other Troop events so darned interesting and fun that “mandatory” was never an issue—our Scouts wanted to show up, because they knew they’d have fun! Of course, they didn’t know I was practicing Scouting’s “fun-with-a-purpose”!

Fund-raisers and other such events don’t have to be deadly dull! They can be fun, too! Prizes, including Troop-funded camperships, for those who raise the most money/sell the most/etc. go a long way toward encouraging Scouts to show up and accomplish something.

On the other hand, “mandatory” participation by PARENTS is, in fact, some-thing I absolutely do believe in! Troops, like all Scouting units, are volunteer-run, and this means parental involvement and support. Every parent should have a Troop “job,” in my book! Maybe it’s as a driver, maybe as a registered committee member or ASM, maybe as a supporter of our annual fundraiser. But, it WILL be SOMETHING. And, I’m very clear about this at the very beginning, when I tell new parents: “You WILL do something for this Troop (I give them lots of choices), and if you’re not prepared to support this Troop by rolling up your sleeves, perhaps you need to go find another Troop.” Period. No exceptions.

So, the bottom line is this: There is no “BSA policy,” or even a “national guideline.” It’s all up to the Troop itself.

So, here’s my key question: For showing up, are you attempting to do this on a Troop-wide basis? Or are you organizing it on a PATROL basis, and rewarding entire Patrols when all of their members show up? If you’re not operating on a Patrol basis, start doing this right away—It’s not just a “preferred” way to operate, it’s the ONLY way to operate. It’s not a “BSA guideline”—It’s an irreducible essential that makes Scouting unique.

Troops like your own get themselves in participation difficulties when they forget that the basic and most important unit of Boy Scouting is not the Troop; it’s the PATROL! Permanent Patrols, with elected Patrol Leaders and a specified ASM as mentor — That’s the way to go! Do this one thing, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that your participation problems evaporate overnight!

Now, your second question: Fundraising in the neighborhood. When one of my sons was a Cub Scout, he’d circle the block once a year for our Pack’s fundraiser. Some folks would always contribute; others “drew the blinds.” But, even after two years straight of the same “draw the blinds” houses, I still encouraged my son to knock on the door anyway. I told him, “WE can’t ‘sell’ people anything—We can only present them with an opportunity. If they don’t see the opportunity, that’s not your fault–it’s theirs. So, go knock on the door and see if they “get it” this year!” Some still kept the blinds drawn; others finally opened their front doors and actually said, “You just don’t give up, do you, son? Here you go…” Now, in my book, if that ain’t a “life lesson,” God didn’t make little green apples!

Dear Andy,

As a Unit Commissioner, I was asked this question by the parent of a Boy Scout: Can a Scoutmaster take away a rank once it’s earned? Apparently, this Scoutmaster has been using this threat to keep Scouts in line during Troop events. I’ve never heard of this. I think this is an empty threat, and the Scoutmaster should be using other ways to have the Scouts behave themselves. (Mike P., UC, Tidewater Council, VA)

This is not only an empty threat, it’s totally counter to Scouting policy and totally counter to what Scouting stands for. This SM needs to be told, flat out, he’s wrong, and that he needs to stop this nasty practice instantly. For backup, get your hands on the BSA publication, ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES. In there, it states unequivocally that a rank or advancement, once earned, cannot be taken away by anyone. Period. This SM is doing something that is the antithesis of everything Scouting stands for. Shame on him!

Dear Andy,

Age-old question again: A number of our Scouts feel that, when they reach Life rank and have been active for six months, they needn’t attend camping trips anymore and opt for things like part-time jobs, varsity sports, and the like, instead. So, what’s the BSA definition of “active”? (Floyd Forman)

Ahhh, the famous conundrum: “What does ACTIVE mean?” The BSA’s definition of “active” is: active. Nothing further in writing, anywhere. From time to time, various Troops have tried to solve this problem by creating some sort of “rule,” such as “attend XX% of outings/meetings/ etc.” These invariably fail, for two reasons. First, a “one-size-fits-all” rule just doesn’t work. Second, a “rule” such as this imposes a further requirement on a BSA standard requirement and is consequently “illegal” (check the Advancement Policies & Procedures book).

As a former Scoutmaster, and as a Commissioner who has needed to help Troops through this dilemma over many years, I can offer these thoughts…

Each Scout and his situation is unique. The Scout who misses campouts because he’s working to support his family or earn money for college or even to buy a bike or car can hardly be faulted, any more than we can fault the Scout who misses campouts because he’s a member of his school’s or community’s sports team, orchestra, glee or math club. The same applies to Troop meetings. The Scout who must attend CCD or confirmation or Bar Mitzvah meetings that meet on the same night as the Troop can hardly be faulted for following the dictates of his religious institution. Aren’t Scouts in these situations being as “active” as they’re able to be?

So, begin with a fundamental element of Scouting’s teachings: DO YOU BEST. If a Scout is “doing his best” to attend as many meetings and outings as possible, in and amongst his other activities, then isn’t he doing his best to be as “active” as he’s able?

I’ve also sat on nearly 200 Eagle rank boards of review, for Scouts ranging in age from 13 to 18. Across all of these, there’s just one single thing I’ve found all of these young men to have in common: THEY LIVE FULL AND ACTIVE LIVES. I’ve never met an Eagle candidate who was a “Scout nerd”—that is, all he did was Scouts. They’re into everything! Consequently, expecting such a young man to give up other significant parts of his life in order to comply with the rigidly hammered “rules” of some unforgiving Troop flies in the face of what Scouting’s all about.

Remember this: We have one fundamental objective in Scouting: To help young people make ethical decisions in their lives. Does attending each and every meeting or outing accomplish that? Or, does showing the Scout that the Troop can be flexible and understanding of his unique life and situation accomplish that perhaps a little better?

The larger question is this: Does “active” mean merely showing up? Or does it mean DOING STUFF (like teaching new Scouts how to camp and hike, for instance) whenever the Scout can be there? Does “active” mean attending a Troop meeting and then congregating over in a corner of the meeting room and being generally disruptive to the meeting itself? Or does it mean being a leader—as a Patrol Leader, SPL, Troop Guide, etc. To me, “active” means “animated”—as in DOING STUFF. It’s like B-P said, in another context: “Scouting doesn’t teach Scouts how to “be good;” Scouting teaches Scouts how to DO GOOD!” I believe the same principle can be applied to “active.”

Do your best. That’s what Scouting asks. Isn’t that a wonderful life-lesson—DO YOUR BEST. Think it over…

Hi Andy,

Perhaps you can help me… I visit older folks in nursing homes. One of the residents I contact is a 97-year-old Eagle Scout. He was active in Troop 121, somewhere in Buffalo, NY. His name is Peter Kronenthal. He loved Scouting, and now is just sitting around being lonesome in a nursing home. If you can find some information on him, I can do some cheering up! (Don McLeod, Former Scoutmaster, Troop 9, Sullivan Trail Council, NY)

You have an absolutely wonderful opportunity here, not only for this 97 year old Eagle Scout and some young Boy Scouts in the community. Here’s what I mean… Instead of “researching” his background, how about the next time you visit, you bring a few Scouts (in uniform, of course) from a local Troop who’d like to “interview” him and learn what it was like to be a Boy Scout in the 1920’s? They could visit with him after school, or on a weekend, and spend an hour or so with him, asking about earning Eagle in the 1920’s, camping and hiking, “good turns,” and more! Doing this will not only give him the human contact he so much needs but would enrich both the Scouts’ lives and his own. Bring a camera. Have the Scouts prepared to present him with their own Troop’s neckerchief (be sure to bring a slide, so he can actually wear it), and make this a true Scouting “Kodak moment.” Then, send the photos and a write-up of the visit not only to the local newspaper but also to SCOUTING magazine and NESA’s EAGLE LETTER (both published out of the national office, in Irving, TX). And, of course, send it in to your own council service center, for publication in your council’s newsletter. Finally, the Scouts themselves can prepare write-ups of their own and, with a photo or two, deliver presentations on their experience and what they learned at their own Troop meeting.

You’ll need to do a little prep-work, like making sure the Scouts have formulated and written down some questions before the day of the visit, making sure they bring notepaper and pencils with them, and so on. But, I’ll bet this is so enjoyable for all that you’ll do it again, with fresh Scouts each time!

Happy Scouting!!

Andy

Got a question? Send it to me atAskAndyBSA@yahoo.com-be sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!

(July 2005 – Copyright © 2005 Andy McCommish)

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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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