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Issue 65 – Mid-December 2005

This column is read by upwards of 30,000 Scouters, parents, and Scouts each month, across 157 councils (that’s nearly half of all councils in the BSA!) in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and overseas, too! Would YOU be willing to tell just five of your Scouting friends about this column and the website where it can be found? The more readers, the more questions to keep me on my toes, and the more we all get to learn new stuff! Thanks for reading—and writing—and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Dear Andy,

I was told by one of my son’s Webelos Scout leaders that in order to earn the Sportsman activity badge he must be on a recognized team—for example, a Little League baseball team—to earn the Team Sports belt loop for baseball. But then I read the requirements, which say that the Scout must “play a game.” Does this mean it can be a bunch of Cub or Webelos Scouts playing each other with the appropriate number for each team, following the rules, etc., or does this mean that they have to be a part of a recognized Little League or other organized team? (Pam Olsen, Central Point, Oregon)

For even more information about the Sportsman Activity Badge, and in fact ALL Cub Scout and Webelos Scout advancement requirements, go to

and get everything you’ll ever need on the subject—just click on Cub Scout Advancement and you’re there! When you read the actual requirements for that activity badge, you’ll quickly see that playing on a “recognized team, for example…Little League” is NOT required at all! It absolutely means that a group of Cub Scouts can play the game—In fact, that’s how it’s done, in Packs that get it right! It’s important for you to know that the BSA has a fundamental principle and an actual policy that says no one—not a person, Den, Pack, Troop, District, or Council—can ever change a requirement in any way. So, if you’re hearing stuff like, “Well, in this Pack…” don’t you believe it! Run, don’t walk, to Pack that gets it right!

Dear Andy,

What’s the minimum age requirement for a Unit Commissioner, and do you know where I can find this in writing? I’m asking because my Council doesn’t know, and so I just want to be able to show them in writing. A guy from another Council told me it‘s age 18 for Unit Commissioner, and he’s a District Commissioner himself, but I just want to make sure. (Roderick McDaniel, Nashville, TN)

Almost adult volunteer positions in Scouting are based on age 21 or more (including Unit Commissioner). The five exceptions, which can be age 18, are: Assistant Scoutmaster, Assistant Cubmaster, Assistant Den Leader, Assistant Webelos Den Leader, and Assistant Varsity Scout Coach. If you need to show anyone this in writing, it’s right on page 2 of the BSA ADULT VOLUNTEER APPLICATION.

Hi Andy,

I’ve been reading your column avidly while looking for an opportunity as a unit Commissioner. Great column! I’m an Eagle Scout with grown children and I’m looking for a volunteer Scouting opportunity. In order to find the right fit I decided to attend several District meetings (Scout Roundtable , Commissioners meeting, and Distinct Committee meeting) to talk to different parents and Scouters in the area. Is it appropriate for me to wear my adult Scouter’s uniform to meetings like these even though I’m not registered with the Council yet? Also, I was recently given the Eagle Scout Mentor pin by a new Eagle Scout, and I’m wondering if it can be worn on the uniform. (Payson Stone Adams III, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

Thanks for being a loyal reader! I’m delighted to learn of your interest in being a Scouting volunteer—Scouting needs good people like you, especially ones who “do their homework” before jumping in the water! As soon as you’re duly registered, start wearing your uniform, if you’ve taken on a uniformed position—these positions certainly include Commissioners, at any level, but rarely include District Committee positions. Take your cues on uniform or not from what you see others doing. But, be sure your uniform’s complete and correct—including patches and their placement! But, as you’ve probably guessed and you’re using me to double-check, you’d be correct in not wearing a uniform until you’re actually registered. About that Eagle Scout Mentor pin, for which congratulations are definitely in order, this is a “civilian wear” item and not part of the actual Scouter’s uniform. As for your own Eagle, you’ll be wearing the adult “square knot” badge; not the oval one that’s meant for Boy Scout uniforms.

Dear Andy,

The requirement for the Cub Scout Outdoor Activity Award state that all ranks attend Cub Scout day camp or Cub Scout/Webelos Scout resident camp. Here’s my question: Will a Council-sponsored Cub family camp count? (My Council just had a two-night Fall Encampment, with many activities.) Please let me know, because many Cubs have done all the requirements, if this family camp counts, but these same Cubs haven’t attended day or resident camp. (Steven Carter, DL, Pack 240, Los Angeles Area Council, CA)

Wow! What a hair-splitter! I think your best bet is to ask your District or Council Advancement Chair how they’re handling this. You see, a “family camp” is just that—The Cub is with his family, and they happen to be out-of-doors. At a day or resident camp, on the other hand, the Cub is NOT with his family—He’s with other Cubs and under the guidance (and protection) of a staff of non-relatives. These two are quite different from one another, not in the sense of activities offered, but in terms of interpersonal dynamics. I see the two as quite different from one another—different enough so that, if I were making the decision, I wouldn’t be agreeing that they’re interchangeable. I think that that’s what the BSA had in mind when they stipulated a specific type of outdoor experience as a rank/award requirement. In fact, if you review the requirements again, you’ll notice that day/resident camp experiences are a separate requirement from those that may be done with one’s “Den, Pack, or family.” As for the underlying reason for this separation, I’ll bet it’s directly related to the goal of preparing Cub Scouts to become Boy Scouts!

Hi Andy,

I’ve always held that video games for Scouts were against Scouting policy, and have preferred to lead the Scouts more towards activities with emphasis around leadership training and learning Scout skills. Now, I’m being challenged by our current Senior Patrol Leader, as well as another Scout Leader, who both feel that playing video games is OK for Scouts on campouts and “lock-ins.” I’ve searched in vain for some resource material or a documented BSA regulation that would back up my opinion on this, with no luck. Can you help me out? (Bill Hodges, ASM [and District Vice-Chair: Program), Hightower Trail District, Atlanta Area Council, GA)

There’s no specific, policy-based BSA restriction on videogames that I’ve ever seen, but I sure haven’t seen everything! I agree with you that videogames can be counterproductive to what Scouting’s all about—How do we “keep the ‘outing’ in Scouting” when all our young men want to do is sit on their behinds and exercise their thumbs! Videogames are also very “solo” activities—It’s pretty tough to build teamwork and cooperation when every Scout has his eyes glazed over looking at some tiny screen! However, there might be a solution… A while back, a Troop leader wrote to me about a unique approach to this dilemma in his own Troop that the Scouts themselves—the Patrol Leaders Council, in fact!—came up with: A once-a-year “electronic campout.” In this Troop, one weekend campout in the year permitted any sort of electronic device the Scouts wanted to bring, BUT they had to qualify to attend by also attending a specific percentage of all Troop meetings and a specific percentage of all “non-electronic” Troop outings. This strikes me as a pretty reasonable accord between traditional and “electronic age” Scouting!

Dear Andy,

My son just participated in his Pack’s Raingutter Regatta and was given a patch that has “Raingutter Regatta” on it. Where does this patch go on the uniform, or is it supposed to go on the red vest? Also, we’ll be getting the Cub Scout 75th Anniversary Patch—What are its standards for wearing? (Jack Sperling, Hamilton, GA)

Patches like the Raingutter Regatta can be sewn in the “temporary patch” position—that is, centered on the right shirt pocket of your son’s uniform. If there’s already a patch there, and your son would prefer to have this one rather than the one that’s already sewn on, and if you’re willing to do a little sewing, it can be put there and the one that’s there now goes on his red patch vest. Otherwise, the Raingutter Regatta patch goes straight to the vest. The same rule applies to the Cub Scout 75th Anniversary patch: Temporary position or vest.

Dear Andy,

Can I purchase a Boy Scout uniform online anywhere? (Rynette Vall)

Go to and knock yourself out!

Dear Andy,

In our Troop, we recently had several Scouts who completed all the requirements for two of the lower ranks at the same time: Tenderfoot and Second Class, or Second Class and First Class. Is there any BSA policy preventing one Scoutmaster’s Conference and one Board of Review for both ranks? Also, is there any rule that says a Scout can’t have his Scoutmaster’s Conference and BOR on the same day? Can you point me to a resource that can put this question to rest? (Scott Compton, Troop 2, Downingtown, PA)

Two good questions, and I’m going to take them in reverse order…

No, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen in BSA writing that would prevent a Scout from having multiple SM Conferences and/or Boards of Review on the same date. Now, let’s tie that to your other question…

Scoutmaster Conferences and Boards of Review are rank-specific. In every place requirements are listed, from the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK to the BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book, there are designated lines for initials and/or signatures for each separate rank. That noted, good sense would tell us that while such conferences and reviews should be rank-specific, there’s no reason why they cannot be consecutive. In a review, for instance, after approving a Scout for advancement to, let’s say, Second Class rank, there’s no reason why the chair of that review can’t then say, “Now that you’re a Second Class Scout, let’s review your work toward First Class!”

By the way, you might want to consider revising your “vocabulary” slightly—Instead of “lower” ranks, how about foundation ranks? What do you think?

Dear Andy,

What are your thoughts on the Council Commissioner’s Cabinet? We used to meet every month, but now that we have a new Council Commissioner, he’s decided cut down on the meetings, and the Cabinet has gone by the wayside, so there’s no forum for Commissioners anymore. We still have monthly Council “Key 3” meetings, where all the District Key 3 convene and give reports, but there’s no discussion or training just for Commissioners. Since this change, our Commissioner staff’s esprit de corps has gone down dramatically, the ACCs and ADCs have now been taken out of the loop, and our Commissioner staff is very fragmented. I’ve been looking for some literature from national regarding the need of the cabinet, but I’ve had no success. (Charles Eichelberger, ACC, Ventura County Council)

You already have the answer to your question. When morale declines, particularly among a purely service group like Commissioners, disaster lies ahead. As morale depletes, especially among volunteers who are virtually always in a pro-active mode (that is, they reach out to the units they serve ten times more often than their units reach out to them), ultimate effectiveness erodes exponentially. It is one of the Council Commissioner’s prime responsibilities to keep morale among Commissioners high. In fact, if a Council Commissioner succeeds in every other aspect of his job but fails at this essential element, he fails.

However valuable they may be in their own right, “Key 3” meetings aren’t substitutes for Commissioners Cabinet meetings. The Key 3 meetings are for information dissemination, evaluation, and planning; not for “fellowship,” per se.

That said, and with the understanding that Commissioners Cabinet meetings should—much like unit-level meetings—specifically include morale- and camaraderie-building elements every time, it’s not really a horrible idea to make such meetings bi-monthly instead of every month. Six meetings a year that are meaningful and enjoyable are better than twelve that are “same old…same old…”! So, maybe that’s the solution—Try six meetings a year instead of every month. Heck, a Commissioner’s responsibilities include at least four meetings a month already (two unit visits, one District-level Commissioners’ meeting, and one Roundtable), so adding one more every other month isn’t quite so burdensome!

Here’s what the BSA says the responsibilities of a Council Commissioner are:

The Council Commissioner is accountable for the unit service program and responsible for its outcome. The Commissioner reports on the program’s progress to the council executive board and leads the other Commissioners. The Council Commissioner’s responsibilities are:

1. Maintain the standards of the Boy Scouts of America, uphold national policies, promote good uniforming, and lead efforts to hold regular roundtable programs in the Districts.

2. Direct Commissioner staff activities and preside at regular District Commissioner meetings.

3a. Lead efforts to recruit a quality Commissioner staff to provide continuing and effective Commissioner service for each unit (a ratio of one Commissioner for every three units and one assistant District Commissioner for every five unit Commissioners).

3b. Join with the Scout Executive to hold District Commissioners and District executives accountable for adequate recruiting.

4. Assure that Districts provide opportunities for immediate Commissioner orientation, frequent basic training, and monthly learning experiences for all Commissioners.

5. Assist District nominating committees in selecting District Commissioners, as needed. Serve on the District nominating committee of those Districts where the council president believes you can help the District replace its District Commissioner.

6. Conduct an annual Commissioner training conference.

7. Be concerned with proper recognition of unit leaders. Maintain their morale, periodically reporting unit conditions to the executive board.

8. Help District Commissioners maintain good working relationships with their District executives.

9. Develop and/or maintain procedures that assure maximum on-time unit charter renewal by the Commissioner staffs of each District.

10. Collaborate with the council president to secure the help of committees in meeting unit needs.

11. Develop a no-lapse/no-drop unit commitment in the council and each District. Help each District develop a commitment and strategy to provide prompt, intensive, and ongoing care when major problems occur that might threaten the life of a unit.

It says right there (item no. 2) that the CC is expected to regularly hold meetings for the DCs in the Council. That’s what a Commissioners Cabinet is! Go for it!

Dear Andy,

I’m wondering if you could shed some light on something…I’m in final Eagle advancement status. I’ve just finished my Eagle project, and just finished the write-up. I have not attended church since 4th grade. I’ve been told that all that I needed was a letter telling of my faith. Do you have any examples of what I need in that letter? (Corey Bates)

I’m going to recommend that you show this message to whomever told you that you’re supposed to provide (if I get your drift) “a letter telling of (your) faith.” There is no such requirement for the rank of Eagle. Nor is any Scout expected to be a member of any organized religion (although this is certainly encouraged) in order to qualify to be a Scout or for advancement through the ranks of Scouting.

What an Eagle Scout candidate such as yourself is asked to provide are the names and contact information of “individuals who know you personally and would be willing to provide a recommendation on your behalf, including parents/guardians, religious, educational, and employer references” and two other references (see requirement 2 on the Eagle Scout Rank Application). These people are to be ones who can comment on you from the standpoint that “you live by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life” (again, see requirement 2).

This means that your responsibilities with regard to this requirement are to (1) contact these individuals in advance of providing their names to tell them what you’re asking of them and why, and then (2) provide the names and contact information of those who agree by writing these in on the application itself; thereupon, your Troop’s, District’s, or Council’s (this depends on how your Council’s Eagle advancement process is structured) advancement chair will contact each of these people to request a letter of recommendation, which will be sent directly to that advancement chair (in other words, you, personally, do not ask for the letters, nor do you, personally, see them).

As for the letter of recommendation in the “religious” designation, this need not be from an ordained minister, priest, rabbi, or anyone else associated with an organized religious group. This letter can be from the second of two parents, an aunt or uncle, a godparent, a close neighbor or friend of you and your family, or anyone else who knows you sufficiently well to share their observations of you in writing.

Dear Andy,

Thanks for all your work to support Scouting. You helped me once before, and I’m hoping you can again. I recently received my second District Award of Merit (I’ve been in two different districts). Do I wear both knots, is there a device to wear, or do I just stick the knot in a drawer and look at it every so often? (Randy Bernstein, RTC)

Congratulations — This is a pretty unusual circumstance, and quite a testimony to your contributions to the Scouting movement!

Unfortunately, there’s no device for this square knot, as there is for the “Key.” I’m in the same situation you are, and had to make the same decision. While the BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE does suggest that we Scouters “should make every effort to keep… uniforms… uncluttered,” this same book also states that “what each youth or adult member has accomplished… can be recognized by the insignia worn on the uniform.” Taking my guidance from both statements, and in the absence of a device, my personal decision has been to wear both square knots.

NetCommish Comment:

My take is a little different from Andy’s. In our Awards pages at, we offer the following: “The District/Division Award of Merit is awarded by a District or Exploring Division to volunteer and professional adults for service to youth in the District or Division. Normally, the award is presented for service to youth in excess of five years. A person may receive more than one District/Division Award of Merit, although there are no provisions for the wearing of a device or emblem officially to denote the second or subsequent awards. Unofficially, those Award holders that have received more than one may wear a small Universal device centered on the knot.” Our logic was that for all other knots that can be awarded multiple times, devices are used to connote multiple awards and for consistency, this approach seemed best. This suggests two options. You may decide to wear both knots or to wear a device on a single knot to suggest multiple awards.

Dear Andy,

Requirement 5 of Citizenship in the Community merit Badge, calls for the Scout to watch a movie. The merit badge site doesn’t have any suggestions. The movies that keep coming to my mind are “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Absence of Malice,” but I’m not sure if movies like these are appropriate for the middle school age group (which is what the bulk of my Troop is). Any ideas? (Dave Sutter, SM, Troop 732, Old North State Council, NC)

Let’s first take a look at the language of that requirement: “…watch a movie that shows how the actions of one individual or group…can have a positive effect on a community” (underline mine). Based on the language of this requirement, I’m not certain that either “Mockingbird” or “Absence” fits. In “Mockingbird,” although the accused is ultimately exonerated in court, the community doesn’t change and, in fact, a member of the community actually murders the man! In “Absence of Malice,” we essentially have a man who, when his life is essentially destroyed by the newsmedia, wreaks vengeance on the several people who considered themselves absolved of malice by out-manipulating and outsmarting them (Wilford Brimley’s memorable line, “…Are you really that smart?” comes to mind).

A classic that seems somehow to better fit the requirement is “Inherit The Wind,” dealing with the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” and Clarence Darrow. More contemporary, we have “Norma Rae,” “Erin Brockovich,” maybe “A Civil Action,” but definitely “Pay It Forward,” which seems to be also the most age-appropriate.


Meanwhile, keep in mind that, before any film is viewed for this requirement, it must have the prior approval of both the Scoutmaster and the Scout’s parents!

Dear Andy,

The merit badge “blue card” basically has two “final” sign off areas. In addition to the section for a Merit Badge Counselor to sign off individual requirements, there’s a section on the reverse side for the MBC to sign that the requirements are complete. Then, underneath that signature is a spot for the unit leader to do the same. So here’s my question: What if a Scout had a “partial” merit badge done in the Troop and then attended a Merit Badge College and earned the rest of the requirements (maybe duplicating some), where the College provided a sheet of completed requirements (in effect, another “partial”), but didn’t sign off on the partial blue card the Scout already had. Now, the Scout has completed all requirements, but with two separate pieces of paper. Can the two be merged? And can the Scoutmaster and/or the Troop’s Advancement Chair sign off the final signature saying that the merit badge is complete? Or do we have to go to District/Council to find a Merit Badge Counselor who will sign off the final signature? (Note: This is for a merit badge that our Troop does not have a Counselor for.) Thanks for any guidance you can provide. (Phil Purvis, CC, Troop 729)

In order to answer your question, let’s get this straight, first: A Merit Badge Application (aka “blue card”) has one and only one “sign-off” line: The one for the Merit Badge Counselor. This line is present on the “unit” segment and on the applicant’s record segment of the card. Also present on these two segments is a line for the unit leader’s initials (unit segment) and signature (applicant’s record); however, these two lines are there to signify that the unit leader has received and recorded the completed and Counselor-signed card. In short, the purposes of the lines for the MBC and the unit leader do not serve the same purpose—only the MBC’s signature is the indicator that the Scout has completed the requirements for the merit badge; the unit leader’s signature indicates that the information has been received and recorded, and nothing else.

Now, let’s look at your scenario, which looks to have a couple of flaws, by the way…

Boy Scout Johnnie starts a merit badge. This means he should have a blue card signed by his Scoutmaster and, on the flip-side of the applicant’s record segment, there’s a place where his counselor has recorded and initialed what requirements have been completed, and their dates. Now, Johnnie, instead of staying with his original MBC and using the Merit Badge College as a way to earn other merit badges (which was not the smartest decision he could have made), doesn’t ask the counselor at the College to sign his original blue card (or he didn’t bring that card with him, which would be his second not-too-bright decision). Johnnie comes back to the Troop and now he has both an incomplete blue card (the one he started out with) and a “partial” slip from the MB College. Your question is: What should Johnnie now do? The answer is simple: Johnnie goes back to his original MBC, offers an apology for “abandoning ship,” and ever so politely asks that MBC to consider signing that Johnnie’s completed the requirements for that merit badge, based on the College’s “partial.” If the MBC is a good guy (which in all likelihood he or she is, or they wouldn’t be doing this in the first place), Johnnie will get a signed card after a little discussion about how the other requirements were completed, and his Scoutmaster and Advancement Chair will get a call from that MBC telling them to not pull this sort of malarkey again.

To be even more direct: No one except a council-approved Merit Badge Counselor can “sign off” on a merit badge. No exceptions. Period. Do you “have to go find a counselor”? You betcha! Except, it’s not the Troop or its leaders that do this; it’s your Scout, Johnnie, who does this. Should you all do it for him? Of course not! What will he have learned if you do his work for him? Yes, you guys messed up, too, by allowing Johnnie to use the College for a merit badge he’d already begun, but you need to leave the fixing of this mess to Johnnie—after all, it’s his merit badge, not yours.

Keep on keepin’ on!


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

(Mid-December 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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