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Issue 62 – November 2005

Dear Andy,

I’m a brand new reader of yours and, as I’ve been browsing through back issues, I’ve loved your responses. I’ve bookmarked your column as must-read. But I’m concerned about something. While responding about a Christian, home-schooled Troop, you said, “Finally, if the unit in question persists with its discriminatory practices, this must be brought to the attention of the Scout Executive of the council immediately, because it is subject to immediate corrective action, up to and including revoking of the unit charter. And, don’t for one minute think these renegades don’t know it!” To me, this is right on the money. But, in another column (Mid-August 2005), in responding to the Webelos Den Leader with a parent problem, you didn’t make any statement like that. I agree with the advice you gave her (although I didn’t like the brush-off to Girl Scouts), but nowhere did you say, “If an ACM touched your son’s rear-end in a sexual manner, this must be brought to the attention of the Scout Executive of the council immediately, because it is subject to immediate corrective action, up to and including revoking of the unit charter.” So, according to you, religious home-schoolers are “discriminatory renegades”, but two abuse victims (the WDL and her own son) should brush it off, join a Boy Scout Troop young (he probably wouldn’t have crossed over until February 2006, at least) and just move on with their lives? I took Youth Protection Training about four years ago, and foremost in my memory of that course was that if anything were to ever to happen to a boy, telling the Scout Executive was what was to be immediately done. Silly of me, perhaps, but I’m thinking that the result of telling is that something would be done! Why would a man like this be allowed to stay in Scouting? Even if he weren’t a registered leader, I’d expect him to be asked to resign from the Pack, not be allowed in the room at Pack meetings, and so on. If he touched one boy, he’s surely touched others. I’m not a home-schooler, or a victim of sexual abuse, harassment or anything. Just a Scouter in her seventh year with the program who thought that YPT had taught me what I needed to know. Does reporting sexual (or other) abuse to the Scout Executive (or whomever it’s supposed to be reported to) cause certain actions to be taken? Or are the “I guess you should file a police report” or the “these things are hard to prove” responses the usual ones? I always felt that if somehow something happened to one of the boys, the council would be there for him. I feel like I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me with this one! Lisa, ACM, Theodore Roosevelt Council, NY)

This may surprise you: I agree with every one of your points, except one (which I’ll address in just a moment). Here’s crux of the main problem: The male parent we’re talking about here is just that–a parent; not a registered member of the BSA (although the Pack may have listed him in their “PackMaster” software, even though he’s not a registered BSA volunteer member). Consequently, the BSA (local council or otherwise) is pretty powerless. The organization that isn’t entirely powerless, however, is the local police department, and that wise Scout Executive’s advice was correct. If the police department doesn’t want to deal with it, or advises the person that it’s possibly an exercise in futility to pursue it, there’s hardly much that anyone in Scouting can do at that point.

In this regard we need to remember that this woman WDL did not “immediately report” the man’s advances to herself; instead, she tolerated this in front of her Den for some extended period of time (this is what prompted me to discuss modeling). The “immediacy” only came about with regard to her son.

Now, the point I don’t agree with: You suggested that I gave this parent a “brush-off to Girl Scouts.” Look again carefully at what I said: “It’s now time for you to concentrate on your daughter.” I don’t see a “brush off” here; I don’t even see a reference to Girl Scouts.

Here are some more points to consider…

Any boy who has earned the Arrow of Light is immediately eligible to join a Boy Scout Troop.

The Scout Executive was not described as saying, “I guess…” He is described as stating succinctly that this should be reported to the police.

As for the police advising the woman that “these things are hard to prove,” that’s not an inaccurate statement but it should not be assumed that it’s a way to dissuade anyone from proceeding further. I interpreted it to be a “reality check.”

Finally, remember that courts can and do issue restraining orders for issues like this, and perhaps that’s what that WDL needed to do. Her problem, it seems to me, was that she tolerated it for some period of time, which she shouldn’t have done. Inappropriate behavior needs to be rejected by the leader on the spot the first time and every time.

Thanks for becoming a new reader!

NetCommish comment: All leaders and parents can and should take youth protection training at On the question of abuse, I would strongly recommend reading BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting, Part I – Youth Protection & Adult Leadership at

An additional strategy in the cases like that discussed above is to ask an additional parent to attend meetings to help avert more problems.

The Chartering Organization may also be able to assist by making clear to the parent what behavior is acceptable. While not of immediate help, the Chartering Organization may also decide not to renew the membership of the Scout whose parent is a problem.

Dear Andy,

I’m a Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner, and during our Roundtable discussion on new Scouts, one of our Scoutmasters brought up a problem. One of his Scouts is deathly afraid of going into the water and swimming, possibly due to a near drowning experience when he was younger. The Troop has tried, adults and youth, everything to convince him to try. At summer camp, the youth staff offered to give him lessons on their own time, but he refused. From what the Scoutmaster said, this Scout does well on his other skills and he enjoys Scouting, but this is holding him back from advancing in the foundation ranks. Someone brought up the idea that this might be considered a disability and, like other disabilities, alternatives can be substituted. Any thoughts on how we can help him? (Art Wong, BSRTC)

There are several approaches and points of view that can be taken here. Which one is most appropriate will be based on additional information that needs to be obtained…

In the first place, the BSA does provide for the development of alternative rank requirements, in the event of a Scout having a *permanent* physical or mental disability. Refer to the book, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (any edition) for a further description of the process to be followed in this situation.

That said, “advancement” is merely one of the eight methods of Scouting, and a young man can enjoy and ultimately be transformed by no less than seven-eighths of the Scouting program even if he never advances beyond the rank of Tenderfoot. In other words, “advancement” is not a *goal* of Scouting — Citizenship and character development are the major goals!

I also notice that the Scoutmaster you refer to was apparently merely guessing as to the reason for this Scout’s reluctance to learn to swim. While his guess might be correct, we shouldn’t be operating on the basis of guesses and conjectures here. What happened to the Scoutmaster’s Conference? By now, this Scoutmaster should know precisely what the underlying problem is. It seems apparent that he hasn’t spoken with this Scout’s parents, either. In a situation such as you’re described, this is absolutely in order, as well. In other words, this Scoutmaster hasn’t done enough “homework” yet.

For some more thoughts on advancement, with a little anecdote about swimming, in particular, read my Mid-June 2005 column.

In my own Scouting travels, and certainly since I started writing this column, I’ve encountered folks who, the minute they think a requirement’s too difficult for a boy to overcome, want to change the requirement rather than challenge the boy and help him find a way to overcome and succeed. This is unfortunate. Scouting is designed to be challenging. If it weren’t, every boy would be an Eagle, and as a consequence ranks — all the ranks — would become meaningless. The problem, largely, is with the adults; not the youth in their charge. To back up what I’ve just said — that it’s an adult and not a youth problem — I’ll give you an interesting case in point that’s not Scouting related…

At a school that one of my own kids attended, there was an annual competition that involved creativity and construction. Prize ribbons were awarded by grade level — First place, second, third and honorable mention. The students competed arduously for these, year after year. In a school with a K-8 enrollment of about 600, virtually every student entered this competition, even though there would be a maximum of only 36 actual “winners.” Well, one year, the parents got together and decided amongst themselves that the “self-esteem” of the 560 or so “non-winners” was being “damaged” by this competition, and so the announced that every entry would receive a “winner” ribbon and that all judging, per se, would be dropped, so as to be “fair to all.” Want to guess what the result was? Yup, you guessed it: Entries dropped instantly from nearly 600 to less than 50. And no amount of parental “encouragement,” additional calls for entries, and so forth could increase that number. The only entries, in fact, came mostly from new kindergarteners, who didn’t know any better. Why did these students walk away from this event? Simple: They wanted the competition, the challenge, the risk, and taking it away turned the event into mush by eliminating the very element that attracted these students to participate in the first place!

Scouting advancement is very similar: Take away the challenge and what’s left is nothing more than boring “make-work.” Asked why he decided to conquer Mount Everest, Edmund Hillary replied, “Because it’s there.” Nuff sed.

Dear Andy,

Is it required for a unit to file a tour permit to participate in a local town Christmas parade? (Owen Searcy, Pack 897, Flint River Council, GA)

Council policies on this can vary, so this is a question best answered by your own council’s service center folks, or your District Executive.

Dear Andy,

I’ve never been really clear on some of these so I wanted to ask but I’m not really sure how to ask this, since it sort of intertwines with itself, so I’ll just ask all of them sort of together…

When is a Cub considered the next rank, or able to earn the next rank, and when are Cubs considered in the next-ranked Den? What I mean is, usually the Dens are divided up by what rank they’re working on or have earned in that year: Tigers are 1st graders, Wolves are 2nd, and so on. So at what time can a Tiger start working on Wolf requirements? Or a Wolf on Bear requirements? And, can a Wolf without a Bobcat pin yet, still work on requirements for Wolf? Are there age or achievement requirements that allow Cubs to advance to the next rank, or is it simply based on them completing a school grade? I’m asking because we’re trying to make sure we’re doing it correctly when we only consider the Cub eligible for the next rank when he’s completed the grade he’s in. I know this sort of loops around, but I hope you can understand what I’m trying to ask. (Charles Wickersham)

Yes, I think I understand, and you’ve asked darned good questions. Here’s how it works…

The BOBCAT pin is the very first thing earned by ANY boy joining the Pack, EXCEPT FOR TIGER CUBS. Boys who join a Wolf den, Bear Den, or Webelos Den first earn the Bobcat pin before they start working on anything else. This gets the “basics” taken care of.

The ranks in Cub Scouting (including Tiger and Webelos) are all AGE-APPROPRIATE and GRADE-SPECIFIC. Tigers are 1st graders until they graduate to 2nd grade, so they do NOT work on Wolf until September of their 2nd grade. Wolves work ONLY on Wolf requirements and then Wolf Arrow Points until completion of their 2nd grade year. Then, as 3rd graders in September, they begin work on Bear requirements and Bear Arrow Points. Bears do NOT start working on Webelos Activity Badges/Pins until they are 4th graders.

Of course, they can work on Sports or Academics belt loops at any time (the requirements change by age-group, you’ll notice), and these can be fun Den activities.

But there’s more…

TIGER requirements are done largely in Den meetings, with each Tiger Cub’s parent or guardian.

Both WOLF and BEAR requirements and Arrow Points are designed to be DONE AT HOME – WITH THE CUB SCOUT’S PARENT OR GUARDIAN. They’re 99% NOT done in Den meetings, and Den Leaders undermine the program when they use Den meetings to work on rank or Arrow Point requirements!

WEBELOS requirements ARE done largely in Den meetings, because this is a transitional program that prepares these boys for being BOY SCOUTS, in a TROOP.

Dear Andy,

We have a situation in our Troop where we’re happy with our current Scoutmaster and we also have a highly trained Assistant Scoutmaster, who would like to serve as SM when it’s his “turn.” It seems fair to let another qualified Scouter have a turn at the SM position, particularly while his own son is still in the Troop. We’ve never put a time limit on the SM position, but we’re thinking it may be a good idea, because without a time limit, it feels like we have to dismiss one to give another the chance. What do you think? (Roger Cahoon, Atlanta Area Council, Hightower Trail District, GA)

You haven’t told me how long the present SM has held that position, or whether he, himself, still has a son in the Troop. Both of these areas can affect how one treats your question. But, let’s see if I can’t give it a shot, anyway…

As you all already know, there’s no “magic number” for a Scoutmaster’s tenure. I’ve known some who’ve held this position for 20 or more years, and others whose Troop rotates Scoutmasters in and out every single year. Barring information I don’t know about, my own personal feeling is that three years, maybe four, is about right. This allows for the classic “first year-figure out the job; second year-do the job; third year-make it better.” Beyond this, history begins to repeat itself and the SM and the Troop run the risk of “calcification” setting in. New blood keeps things moving and vital. So, if there’s a trained and eager ASM ready to step up to the plate, I’d sure like to see that happen! I’m saying this based on the assumption that the SM himself trained his ASM — which is always the best way to do it! — and that being the case, the SM should be prepared for his charge to suit up and go for it!

Final thought: This doesn’t have to be some sort of formal “rule” from now on — This should be a most positive “changing of the guard.”

Hi Andy,

I’m relatively new to Cub Scouting – a year and a half, so far. I started out as a Tiger Den Leader and I’m now a Wolf Den Leader and also the Pack’s Secretary. Here are my questions: What can our Pack do to recognize Wolves and Bears while they’re earning these ranks? The Committee has voted to present the progress-to-ranks beads in the Den; therefore, unless they work on a belt loop there is no recognition at Pack meetings. We’re currently working on several badges and Arrow Points while on the way to the actual ranks, but these also take time to earn. Also, over the last several years, the Committee has chosen to bring in guest speakers for all Pack meetings, so the boys don’t display their work, and there’s no recognition for them, their families, or anyone else. Is this approach common other Packs? (Carol Morales)

I’m thrilled that you give your Cubs their beads in Den meetings — Quick recognition is an important part of the Cub Scout advancement process. And, taking it one step further, there’s not a thing wrong with calling your Cubs up to the front at a Pack meeting and announcing their names and the “progress toward ranks” beads that they’ve earned since their last Pack meeting. But (and this is a big BUT) Arrow Points are earned only after the rank itself is earned! I’m also picking up from you that you’re devoting time in your Den meetings to advancement stuff. NOPE! That’s not what Den meetings are for! In fact, take another look in your CUB SCOUT LEADERS BOOK… None of the “Seven Parts of a Den Meeting” has to do with advancement, in either the Wolf year or the Bear year. Advancement in those years is between PARENT-AND-CUB SCOUT, and absolutely, definitely, assuredly NOT between Den Leaders and Cubs. And that’s not my “opinion.” That’s how the program, as set out by the BSA for the past 75 years, works! If you or other Den Leaders are working on rank advancement stuff, CUT IT OUT, because you’re undermining the program!

For your second question, Nope: “guest speakers” are definitely NOT a part of Pack meetings! Your committee needs to bone up on Cub Scout basics. The whole idea of Pack meetings is for the boys to show off their stuff. If you turn them into merely an “audience,” you’re undermining one of the key fundamentals of the Cub Scouting program. Your committee folks need to get themselves re-trained! Or at least read the darned book! Pack meetings are all about the BOYS — and their DENS — and their PARENTS!

Dear Andy,

You said, in one of your recent columns, that “’Square knot’ badges are reserved for adults (age 18+) only and are never, ever worn in addition to the oval (Eagle) badge.” I’d submit that Scouts who have earned the Religious Award or have been presented an Honor Award as a Cub or WEBELOS Scout are entitled to wear the knot(s) for these awards while in Boy Scouts. Have I been misinterpreting this grayish area all this time? (Dave Loomis, Portsmouth, NH)

I probably did say that, in response to someone who thought an Eagle Scout under age 18 wears both. I should have specified that this applies to rank square knots only. If a youth member of the BSA — Tiger/Cub/Webelos Scout, Boy Scout, or Venturer (including Sea Scout) has earned a religious award or received a Meritorious or Honor Award, of course their corresponding square knots can and should be worn. However, it is definitely accurate that one doesn’t wear both the Eagle Scout oval badge on the pocket and the square knot above it, Scout or Scouter, regardless. And, a Boy Scout doesn’t wear the square knot for Arrow of Light–he wears the AoL badge itself at the bottom of his left pocket, under his Boy Scout rank badge. Does this make that “grey area” a little smaller?

Just the other day, a visitor to the websites expressed concern about the new First Class requirement that involves the Scout asking a friend to participate in a Scouting activity with his Troop. He was concerned, among other aspects, with the possible impact of this requirement on an already large Troop – so large, apparently, that it’s turning down boys who want to be Boy Scouts, ostensibly because of the size of the Troop’s meeting place! The NetCommish, Mike Bowman, responded to this concern, and I believe it’s worth sharing. Here’s what Mike had to say:

“Well, I guess this all in how you look at the new requirement. We can probably agree that it means that the BSA would like to increase membership, and figures that the best way to do this is for young people to invite their friends to attend an outing or event that’s fun, and this is probably true. It isn’t new though. It’s new as part of the requirements for First Class, of course, but it’s always been part of the Scouting recognition program. As far back as forty years ago or more, a Cub or Scout could receive a RECRUITER badge for inviting friends to participate in Scouting!

“This outreach concept isn’t unique to Scouting. Many youth groups other than the Boy Scouts have been doing this for years! Adult civic organizations do the same. Rotary Clubs are certainly one of these. As a youth, I can well remember the pastor of our church challenging each of us to invite a friend to fellowship.

“Why do kids join Scouting? Sure, some do it because their parents insist, but most join because they hear about fun stuff and want to have the same fun. Well and good if they’ve been Cub Scouts and have heard about Boy Scouting that way, but what about other kids who don’t hear about Scouting or the fun that’s there for them? How do we give them an invitation? Who do they listen to best? Why, other kids their own age!

“Now, does this mean that your own Scouts have to brow-beat or badger a friend? Of course not! It’s more like a friend saying, ‘Hey we’re going on a really cool canoe trip up on Dark Shadow Lake, where it’s really kinda spooky at night…Wanna come?’ Scouts who are already having a lot of fun and doing the kinds of things that are fun to share with a friend ought to be able to do this in their own language just about as casually as asking a pal to join game of pick-up basketball after school. And it’s probably pretty good for both the Scout and his pal! If his pal comes along, chances are both will have some fun, maybe get up to some mischief, and just maybe they’ll want to do it again. If the Troop truly has an interesting, challenging, and fun outdoor program, the rest of the story’s a slam-dunk.

“But, this whole concept is going to be a real challenge for the Troop that’s just sloppin’ along… If your Scouts’ buddies are coming along, word’s gonna hit the street pretty fast! So, start asking yourselves right now: Is your Troop’s program fun and exciting? Do your Scouts spend most of their time doing fun things that challenge them or do they spend more time on things that are routine and boring (like Troop meetings that look more like somebody’s ‘business meeting,’ with more announcements and roll-calls than games? Are your Patrols really operating as Patrols? Are your youth leaders leading, or taking orders?

“Mostly, I think we want to look at this whole thing as a “come along with us and try some of the fun” opportunity. As leaders, we know that Scouting’s methods help to develop character, citizenship and fitness. Spreading those growth areas to more boys has to be good for the neighborhood, community, and our country.”

Mike said it, but I’ll sure “second” it!

Keep on keepin’ on!


Got a question? Send it to me at – (Please include your Council name and home state)

(November 2005 – Copyright © 2005 Andy McCommish)


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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