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Issue 63 – Mid-November 2005

I love readers with sharp eyes! Read on…

Dear Andy,

I need to help you out a little with some information you gave a Cub Scouter in your November column. Charles asked you about the timing of when a Cub Scout begins to work on his next rank. You indicated that this occurs in September when he begins the new program year. Actually, it’s in May/June, when he completes his school grade. I refer you to the BSA document, “The Cub Scout Cycle” (No.13-027A). This document is included in every year’s edition of Program Helps, and in the Cub Scout Leader Book. So, a Tiger finishing first grade begins working on Wolf requirements in June of that year, and has the whole summer to be a Wolf Cub Scout. You’ll find that BSA Cub Camps treat boys who have completed a grade as advancing to the next level for purposes of grouping, etc. You’ll also find that, for purposes of record- keeping, ScoutNet advances a Cub to the next level on June 1 of every year. And just to add insult to injury 😉 , I’m afraid you’ve really dated yourself by referring to the Bobcat “pin”—The Bobcat award changed from being a pin to a cloth badge in 1972. That’s more than 30 years ago! Hope this helps you (and Charles). Thanks for your column. I make a point of reading it regularly and I’ve learned a lot from you. (Jamie Dunn, Pack Trainer, Viking Council, MN)

Dear Andy,

I love your column and read it every month. Usually I’d say you’re right on the money. Just a couple of clarification points about your response this time regarding Cub rank advancements…

About those belt loops and pins, you said, “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.” Please note the requirements for the loops and pins do not change by age group; they’re the same for every rank. Of course, Webelos Scouts may fulfill those requirements in more sophisticated ways than Tiger Cub-aged boys, but the requirements themselves don’t change.

You mention that Cubs graduate to the next rank upon completing the appropriate school year and that they may then begin work on the next rank come September. I’d agree with the first part (they have to finish the school year before starting the next rank) but I’ve seen a different interpretation of the second part (waiting until September). In my area, most Packs allow the boys to begin working on the next rank immediately on the end of the current school year. They count summer activities like day camp or resident camp toward the “new” rank. The way I read the handbooks, I don’t see any problem with this—would you agree? Keep up the good work, Andy, I’m looking forward to the next column already. (Lisa L., Great Sauk Trail Council)

Both Jamie and Lisa are absolutely right! The Cub Scouting ranks effectively change with the end of the current school year’s grade, and work toward the next rank can begin then. However, some Packs (not theirs, and this is good news!) go “dark” in the summer and so September is often the actual start toward the next rank. Also, some Packs do still use the Bobcat pins (No.00041), even though they’re technically for parents to wear, as an “immediate recognition” item that can be pinned on at the Pack ceremony (the cloth badges get sewn on later), and so that’s the word I used (Yup, I did date myself. When I earned my Bobcat pin, Cub Scouting was only a few decades old; not 75!) As for belt loop requirements, yes, these can be completed “in more sophisticated ways” as the boy ages, and I like how Lisa put it—Better than the way I did!

Dear Andy, I’ve been reading your column for two years and enjoy it immensely. You’re doing a great job of expanding the knowledge that all of us Scouters can use. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! Now, here’s my question: An Assistant Scoutmaster from a nearby troop contacted me this week with a concern about too much parent involvement in their program. They have several Scouts in the Troop with learning issues, and they believe the parents are doing more of the work on merit badges and rank advancements than the Scouts. Worse, this kind of parent “involvement” is starting to spill over to other parents whose sons don’t have learning challenges! The Troop Committee would like to address the issue, and is looking for some advice before proceeding. Whaddya think, Andy? (Kortney Jendro, DC, Crow River District, Viking Council, Minneapolis, MN)

The BSA, of course, provides for the development of alternative rank requirements in the event that a Scout has a “permanent physical or mental disability,” and this can certainly include learning disabilities if confirmed by a physician. A Troop’s leaders and parents may refer to the book, BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS (any edition) for a further description of the process to be followed in this situation.

However, nowhere does the BSA state, suggest, or imply that a parent may take an active, hands-on role in completing a Scout’s rank or merit badge requirements for him. This would be tantamount to undermining the purpose, methods, and aims of the Scouting advancement program.

That said, I’m truly wondering about the veracity of the tale you were told. Let’s first let’s review the four steps to advancement: The Scout learns, a Scout is tested, the Scout is reviewed, the Scout is recognized. The Scout learns often by being coached, taught, or mentored by another. This can be a member of his Patrol or other Scout in the Troop, his Scoutmaster or an ASM, a Troop Committee member with knowledge of the skill, or even a parent. Yes, a parent, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a parent teaching a Scout son how to do something. However, when it comes to the second step—the Scout is tested—one would rightly assume that this is done by a member of the Troop (adult or youth) and so at this point there’s no way a parent can “do” a requirement for a Scout. Same with merit badges…It would be the very unusual merit badge counselor who would accept the work of someone other than the Scout himself!

Now, on the outside chance that a parent is actually signing off on requirements in the Scout’s HANDBOOK, it simply needs to be pointed out to the Scout and his parent that the initial blocks on pages 438 through 449 specifically stipulate a leader’s initials; not a parent’s.

Taking it one step further, if some parent-dominated requirement should somehow slip through the cracks, even in the HANDBOOK, this is what the Scoutmaster’s Conference and the Board of Review are for. These are the places when untoward requirement completions can be identified and rectified, and these should be used this way in the face of the problem described. Just remember that a Scout never “fails” a conference or review; instead, the meeting is simply tabled until proper completion of all requirements has occurred.

So here’s my final thought: If there really is a problem, are we dealing with a “parent problem” here, or are we really dealing with a Troop that doesn’t know or carry out the four steps of advancement?

Dear Andy,

I’ve been searching to find out how to go about getting a checking account for our district’s training committee (or any committee) and want to know what the regulations would be for that. Any help would be great. (Gwen Fontenot, District Activities Chair, Tunica District, Istrouma Council, Baton Rouge, LA)

This question’s a good one, and it’s best directed to your own District Executive, who will in turn consult with your council’s chief financial officer. In most councils, their accounting system can accommodate what you need. They’ll create a chart of accounts number for your committee. Then, all checks written to the committee will have that number on the check’s “memo” line, even though the payee might be “XXX Council-BSA.” This gets the incoming funds in the right bucket. Then, when a payment needs to be made, you simply ask the person who cuts checks to do so. This is the cleanest way to do this, and avoids any possibility of rumors about “secret district funds.”

Dear Andy,

I’ve been a Unit Commissioner and ADC for a number of years. Of late, I’m running dry with motivating folks to join the Commissioner ranks. In fact, my District is having this problem overall. In the recruiting effort, I’ve heard probably every excuse that can be made as to why folks can’t commit. It appears that formerly active volunteers at the unit level just don’t want to get involved anymore. To be an effective Commissioner, one must have a passion for Scouting, and these kinds of folks are rare to find right now. What are your secrets, or those you hear from, on how to attract new blood into the Commissioner corps? This is an issue I’m seeing as a harder and harder one to conquer as time rolls on, and your advice would be most welcome. Cheers, P. F.

“Just like children often have godparents, folks who are there for them in difficult situations or just to let them know that somebody really cares about them, Scouting units need godparents, too. You’ve been involved with this unit for quite some time, and know the volunteers there pretty well. Heck, you’re all ‘Scouting friends’! I’d like you to think about the idea of you being their godparent, even though you don’t have a son in the unit anymore, folks there respect you, and you could do them a really important service as their godparent. Can we talk some more about this idea, let’s say, next week?”

“Howja like to be a COMMISSIONER!” Doesn’t work. In-your-face, hard-sell, arm-twisting, “time for payback,” and stuff like that has never worked. Turns ‘em off and scares ‘em away, in fact!

District-level volunteers all have some Scouting experience. A passion for Scouting? Maybe a few, but don’t hold your breath. Ahhh, but a passion for helping—That’s a different story! They all have some amount of motivation to help others, or they’d never have signed on at the unit level in the first place. The key is to give these good folks a way to redirect their energies and efforts, and the District is the place!

Your present Commissioner staff needs to work closely with your District Chair and Vice-Chair for Nominations, because not everyone’s cut out for unit service and some may find a good fit for themselves chairing or being a member of a district’s committee, such as camping or activities or training or revenue development. But you can always start with unit service as the door-opener, and just keep the conversation going if that’s not a good fit.

“Being this unit’s godfather gives you great schedule flexibility. You visit with them twice a month—one unit meeting and one committee meeting—but you don’t necessarily stay for the entire meeting. And you also come to a district service team meeting and your district’s roundtable once a month. That’s it. No weekends, no meetings longer than 90 minutes, and no meetings in the summer. If your schedule means you have to miss a meeting or two, no harm-no foul. This is the most schedule- and family-friendly job in Scouting. And, there’s a good training program that goes along with it, to take the mystery out of it. If you like what I’m saying, our service team is meeting next XXX night, so how about coming along and meeting some of the other folks who are enjoying this? By the way, do you have a uniform…?”

That’s it. You’ve presented the opportunity (You can tell ‘em the “title” later). If they don’t bite, ask them what they do like doing in Scouting and ask: “If there were a volunteer job available that allowed you to do more of that, would you be interested?” The answer should be affirmative. So then you introduce them to the VC-Nominations! That’s it. Job done. Move on.

Now before somebody starts shouting about how you can’t be a Commissioner for the unit you came out of, because you’re going to “show favoritism” or some other nonsense like that, let me tell you right now that you absolutely want your Commissioners to be advocates of and champions for the units the directly serve, or else there’s no point to the whole Commissioner concept. Period.

Finally, whether for Commissioner staff or the District Committee itself, stay away from anyone who currently holds the position of Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Den Leader (any level), Coach, Advisor, or Skipper.

Go it? Now go get ‘em! Use a net filled with honey; not a barbed hook!

NetCommish Note: We have just the thing for you! Please have a look at where you’ll find a training segment on recruiting new commissioners. The steps we have outlined are based on experience across many Councils and work!

Dear Andy,

Has a video been made for purchase of the 2005 National Jamboree? (Sandy Hill, Old North State Council, Summerfield, NC)

When the Jamboree videos (maybe DVDs this year?) are ready, they’re usually advertised in SCOUTING Magazine. Keep an eye out!

NetCommish Note: While you are waiting for the official videos to go on sale, there is a Jambo video clip available online at some of the Council Contingent websites. For example, at you’ll find a great five minute video that can be used to share the sizzle of a National Jamboree. You can also go to and click on Multimedia to see official video highlights from the 2005 National Jamboree.

Dear Andy,

As a Roundtable Commissioner, I get asked same strange question, but there was one that I really didn’t know how to answer. We were talking about Cub Scouting’s 75th Anniversary, and someone asked about the history behind the red vest that Cub Scouts wear. Can you help on this one? (T.J. Shuff, CSRTC, Goose Creek District, National Capital Area Council, VA)

NetCommish Note: Very early in Scouting, Scouts started the custom of sewing patches onto their favorite camping blanket as a way of showing all the events that they had attended. In these days most Scouts rolled up a blanket as part of their camping kit and used it for sleeping or draped around their shoulders on a cool evening around the campfire. This was way before sleeping bags were widely used. Such a blanket might also hang a wall in a boy’s room and be a trophy blanket for friends to see. With the advent of sleeping bags this practice fell out of favor, though you’ll still find a Scout or Scouter here and there with a patch blanket. By the 1950’s and 1960’s Scouts started sewing patches on the traditional red jacket, but the jacket was expensive and not every Scout could obtain one. And boys soon grew out of them. Some Scouts in local areas experimented with a red vest of the same color. The idea spread and was especially attractive to younger Scouts in the Cub Scout Program. Eventually, BSA picked up on the idea and made it official for Scouting. Since the 1960’s the Red Vest have been a popular feature of Scouting.

Dear Andy,

I’m a single dad looking to save money by sewing a red patch vest for my Webelos Scout son. Any idea where I can get a pattern? (Jackson Mason, Seattle, WA)

A single Dad taking the time for Scouting with your son? My hat’s off to you! Those vests cost about $12, and that’s probably a little pricey for a couple of pieces of felt, in my book, too. But…if other Webelos Scouts in your son’s Den are wearing them, then you’ll need to be sensitive to your son’s feelings (maybe more than your wallet). Start by borrowing another boy’s vest, and make the pattern directly from that. But don’t return the vest yet. Go to a fabric store and see if you can find exactly the same kind of material—not only color, but weight and “hand-feel,” If you find it, buy what you need and you’re almost done. But, if you can’t find a perfect or near-perfect match, don’t buy the material; buy the BSA vest instead, even if it hurts the wallet a little bit. I’m saying this because boys of your son’s age are darned observant and pretty sensitive. “My Dad made it” may not be as important to your son as fitting in with the other Scouts in his Den. Take this into account as you investigate and make your decision.

NetCommish Note: Don’t forget to look on eBay for “experienced” patch vests in new condition. Right now there is a large youth patch vest with a current bid of $1.99 (11/21/2005-2333 EST). Red vests are frequently available with prices ranging from $2 to $10.

Keep on keepin’ on!


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

(Mid-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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