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Issue 71 – Mid-February 2006

Dear Andy,

In reply to your call for Monkey Bridge materials—our Troop uses a Monkey Bridge for the crossover ceremonies for incoming Webelos and, when the Pack asks, for their yearly advancement ceremonies. We found the best place to get a solid list is in the Pioneering Merit Badge book. Thanks for the great column! (Chris Byers, SM, Far East Council, Okinawa, Japan)

I didn’t know I’d reached the Far East! Thanks for reading—and writing!

Hi Andy,

I’m a Wolf Cub Scout and I just received my Cub Scout World Conservation Award. Where on my uniform do I put this award? I’ve also received many Activity Patches, and I don’t know where they belong, either. I enjoy Cub Scouts and have received just about all the awards that I can. Soon I’ll be a Bear, and will get all that I can, also. (J. B., Great Salt Lake Council, Centerville, UT)

Thanks for writing to me! Yes, I can help you! Your already know that your rank badges, like Wolf and (next year) Bear, and your Arrow Points, go on the LEFT pocket of your Cub Scout shirt. The other place patches, like the World Conservation Award, go on your RIGHT pocket. But just one patch goes there, on that right pocket! Now I’ll bet that you already have something else there right now. Maybe it’s a Pinewood Derby patch, or something else like that. Well, if you really like that World Conservation Award patch, maybe you can convince your Mom or Dad to take the “old” patch off the right pocket and put the new one there, in its place. But then what do you do with the old patch? Well, you can keep it in a special box or folder or book — that’s one way. Another way is to buy a bright red “patch vest” at your council’s Scout Shop and put that patch on the vest. This is a pretty good way to do it, because, with that vest, patches can go on it any way you like! And you can wear that vest to your Cub Scout meetings, over your Cub Scout uniform shirt, and keep adding new patches to the vest as you earn them! Pretty cool? Yup, I think so, too! Keep enjoying Cub Scouts—It’s lots of fun!

Hi Andy,

Why is the District Award of Merit “knot” an overhand knot instead of a square knot (like the others)? (Gary Jordan, Grand Canyon Council, CO)

My “unofficial guess” is this: All “square knot” badges represent either “National” or “National-presented-by-Council” recognitions, whereas the D-A-M is a recognition presented at the District level by a Council. In other words, it’s one step down from the “square knots,” making the overhand knot an appropriate representation of that level.

Dear Andy,

Our pack recently held our annual pinewood derby. After all the races were done and awards presented, it was noticed through photographs that one parent had lengthened his son’s car’s wheelbase base. This car won first place at the den level and then overall first place in the pack, which meant it had earned the right to go to the district pinewood derby. Complaints were made to our pack’s derby committee, our pack committee, and to our council. Representatives of each of these three groups held a meeting about this car, and they decided that the least impact on the Cubs would be to leave it as is and let this car keep its first place and go to district race. They said that they’d reached this decision because the father of the Cub with the improperly modified car claimed that it was “just an honest mistake”…that “he didn’t know there was a rule about wheelbases.” But this same father has run and participated in the race for years, and, besides, he’s the pack’s Cubmaster! When I spoke to him about this, he became very angry, saying he’d sue me for slander, cancel our pack’s B&G dinner, cancel our Arrow of Light ceremony, and on and on. The Cubs felt threatened and I felt threatened, too, so I hired an attorney, took this story to our local newspaper, and sent an email letter to BSA executives (The BSA said they couldn’t help; that we had to handle this ourselves). Then at a more recent pack committee meeting, they seemed upset with me for going to the paper and tarnishing our pack’s reputation. My son did come in fourth in the race, but my concern is not about my son only, but for all the Cubs—they weren’t given a fair race. Committee members and den leaders have told him that the right thing for him to do is disqualify his son’s car from the district race, but he refuses to do so unless my own son—and only my own son—doesn’t race in the district event. Meanwhile, the district is allow this car to time to be fixed, even past the check-in time, right up to the start of the race! What can I do about this situation? I am so upset for the Cubs! What is the more important lesson here…Winning or playing by the rules?

Your situation, unfortunately, isn’t unique, and isn’t that a shame!

There’s no question in my own mind but that this Cubmaster/father knew exactly what he was doing when he lengthened the wheelbase of his son’s Pinewood Derby car! Heck, there are slots on the bottom of the wood block, and even Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy would know that that’s where the axles are supposed to go! “Honest mistake”? Not a chance! It’s pretty plain that this parent, faced with a decision between winning and fairness, chose unwisely.

Now there’s no question in my mind but that, for your pack’s next pinewood derby and all subsequent derbies, your “car inspection procedure” will be more rigorous and exacting. And I expect that the pack’s written rules for car construction and dimensions—which you’ll give to all families in your pack—will be more precise, too.

As for what to do right now, the first thing to acknowledge is that this is, indeed, a pack issue. It’s not a district or council issue, and it’s certainly not a “national” issue, and these folks were correct in not interceding. But it’s not a “public” issue either, and I’m not at all sure that taking it to the press enhances the image of Scouting to the general public (the ACLU does a fine job of screwing this up, all by themselves!).

Meanwhile, let the district do whatever the district chooses to do—If they don’t have a precision check-in process, that’s their problem; not yours. And if they do, then the rascal will be disqualified.

Finally, you need to abide by the committee’s decision that the least impact on the Cubs themselves is to leave things as they are (which is something you chose not to do, and which created this brouhaha). Let it go. This sort of thing only gets uglier the more we chew on it. It is, after all, a once-a-year event, and so long as the Cubs themselves are not infected, it will become distant memory quicker than you know.

Hi Andy –

You had some things to say in another column about “voting,” and I think you may have hit on something. Even though everyone on a unit committee is supposed to have a job of their own, and for the most part they do them well, every now and again some folks seem compelled to tell everyone else how they should be doing their jobs, and this often prompts “voting”—Voting for what every dime should be spent on, voting on who can be the SPL, and on and on. I recall reading some political commentary one time that expressed the idea that there is such a thing as “too much democracy.” Thanks so much—I think I get it now. But one follow-up question: Since a unit committee chair doesn’t have a vote, how can he or she be most effective from a practical sense? (Kevin Brouk, SM, Okaw Valley Council, IL)

Yup, you “get it”—In a well-organized, well-run committee, where everybody has a job to do, and is doing it, there’s virtually nothing that ever has to be voted on! And a smart committee chair will make sure the committee has no “members-at-large,” who never do anything but think they have some sort of voting “power.” We’re not in Scouting to “vote”—We’re here to get the job done! When we start voting on stuff, we’re headed toward bureaucracy and away from the spirit of Scouting! So keep on keepin’ on!

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to put together a list of Chief Scout Executives along with National Presidents and Honorary Presidents of the BSA, from the beginning. Can you possibly direct me to a site with that information, or give me some advice on how to find it? (Rick Pixler, ADC/BSA Division Commissioner, Great Salt Lake Council, UT)

Here’s what I have for Scouting’s first 50 years…

National Presidents

Colin H. Livingston – 1910-24
James J. Storrow – 1925-26
Milton A. McRae – 1926
Walter W. Head – 1926-46
Mortimer L. Schiff – 1946
Amory Houghton – 1946-51
John M. Schiff – 1951-56
Kenneth K. Bechtel – 1956-59
Ellsworth H. Augustus – 1959-…

Chief Scout Executives
James E. West – 1911-43
Elbert K. Fretwell – 1943-48
Arthur A. Schuck – 1948-6…

Honorary Presidents
Theodore Roosevelt in 1910 held title of Chief Scout Citizen (predecessor to HP)
William Howard Taft was first Honorary President under that title
(All successive US presidents have held this title)

Now I could swear I’ve seen the complete list somewhere, but I must be having one of those famous “senior moments.” I’ve tried a couple of websites and Googles, but no luck. Maybe our Editor knows of a list somewhere in the USSSP website and I just couldn’t find it. Or maybe another reader has it, and will send it to me, so I can print it in my next column.

Dear Andy,

There’s a problem with one of our troops, and I’m at a loss for what to do… This troop does an Assistant Scoutmaster’s Conference to get an Eagle candidate ready for his “final” Scoutmaster’s Conference. They tell me (I’m their unit commissioner) they do it this way so that the Scoutmaster doesn’t have to “waste his time going over all the things that the Scout should know.” But, apparently a very recent Eagle candidate was “failed” by the Scoutmaster because, in the Conference, the Scout “didn’t know the Scout Oath” (He was 17, and the troop had waited until just a few days before his 18th birthday, so that when he failed, he was “out of time” and so didn’t earn his Eagle, which I think is a darned crime.) I’m wondering: Wouldn’t that first one, with the ASM, be considered his Conference, and be all the candidate needs? I’m also wondering what can be done about this Scoutmaster. (Name Withheld, UC and District Advancement Chair)

The only reason I can think of for having a “pre”-conference as a prelude to a Scoutmaster’s Conference is that the Troop’s adult leaders somehow think the SM Conference is some sort of a “test,” and that a Scout might “fail” it. You and I both know this is nonsensical if not downright silly. I’m also going to make the uncomfortable guess that these conferences are not done “privately-in plain view,” which would also be inappropriate.

You have two important things to do. The first is to get this troop and Scoutmaster pointed toward True North. The second is to correct the injustice done to the Scout that you described.

Here’s a possible solution to the first: Team with another UC and pay a visit to the next Troop committee meeting (when the SM and ASM(s) are all present) and—under the guise of “this is a little training moment we’re doing around the district”—put on a short, two-part “skit,” where your role is that of an SM and your partner’s is the role of the Scout. In the first part of the skit, you (the SM) do it all wrong: You make it an intimidating, non-personal quiz, and tell the Scout he’s “failed.” In the second part, you do it right, by making it a back-and-forth conversation about Scouting values, outside activities, aims and goals, and so on. To wrap it up, you briefly cover a few more points in a Q&A mode, and bring the issue right out on the table. If you do this well, no one will feel threatened or singled out, and you’ll have accomplished your goal of educating these leaders, so that what they’re delivering is closer to what they’re supposed to be delivering.

Now, let’s talk about that Eagle candidate who was “failed.” I’m going to begin by assuming that all requirements save the Scoutmaster’s Conference had been completed. (This is a fair assumption, because that meeting doesn’t happen until everything else is done, since it’s preparatory to the Board of Review.) Next, I’m going to guess that this Scout could not possibly have passed through six prior Scoutmaster’s Conferences and six prior Boards of Review, to say nothing of countless Troop meetings and other Scouting events over nearly seven years, without having learned and memorized the Scout Oath. (Now maybe he “froze” when this Scoutmaster demanded it, or something else went wrong, or whatever, but in fact it really doesn’t matter, because there’s no rank beyond Tenderfoot that specifically asks the Scout to repeat the Scout Oath or anything else from memory.) Consequently, as your district’s Advancement Chair, there’s definitely something you can do, and you need to do it immediately: OVERRIDE THE TROOP AND THAT AWFUL SCOUTMASTER BY CARRYING OUT THE SCOUTMASTER’S CONFERENCE YOURSELF AND THEN CONDUCTING THE BOARD OF REVIEW USING YOUR DISTRICT ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE AS ITS MEMBERS. As District Advancement Chair, you have the right and authority to do this. As a dedicated Scouter, you have the obligation to do this, because, if this young man is denied what he’s painstakingly earned because of some misanthrope who likes to get off on the power trips of a tyrant, it will color his life-view for literally the rest of his life. This is not what we are here to achieve in the Scouting movement. And the good news is that you can set it right.

Dear Andy,

I always get asked about how many knots a leader may wear on his or her uniform. I’ve seen several articles as well as emails posted on various sites that say there’s no limit, but I also hear from others that there is a limit of nine. Can you clear this up for me, so I can deal with this often-asked question?

I also have a question about National Jamboree patches: Is there a set time limit, or can they be worn until the next Jamboree occurs? (Steve Shuga, ADC, Lake Sands District, Gulf Coast Council, FL)

I’ll answer these questions only if you promise you won’t join the Patch Police! Promise? Scout’s Honor? Well, OK, then…

Square knots: THERE’S NO LIMIT. The BSA’s INSIGNIA GUIDE (any edition) is silent on the number that may be worn.

National Jamboree patches: Per the same BSA publication, “Jamboree emblems…are worn only by registered Jamboree participants and staff” and “(only) one current Jamboree patch above the right pocket.”

But, further: “(Scouts and Scouters) should make every effort to keep their uniforms…uncluttered” (same book).

Hey Andy,

Several of the boys from my troop volunteered to help with training for Webelos at a recently scheduled Webelos overnight. My Scouts provided assistance with food service, advancement training, and general event management. Can they reflect this time as service hours toward their rank advancements? (Tarry Hempel, SM, Troop 249, Council Bluffs, IA)

Those sure sound like “qualified” service hours to me, but remember that this is the Scoutmaster’s call—That’s you, my friend! Ideally, your Scouts would approach you in advance, describe what they’ll be doing, where, and for whom, and then you make the decision. In this case, it looks to be a “no-brainer.”

Dear Andy,

I’ve recently become a unit commissioner for two Cub Scout Packs. In Pack “1” they’re doing fine—no problems. But, in Pack “2” the leaders and parents are fighting. They’ve changed their leadership mode from the Cubmaster making all the decisions to now the unit committee runs the pack. Some of the parents and a few of the leaders don’t like it this new way. In the planning for their B&G dinner, some wanted to have it catered, but when they discovered they’d be going to be over-budget, they wanted to charge each family and extra $20. The pack committee said No, they didn’t like that, and put it up for a vote among the leaders. The vote turned the B&G into an affordable “potluck,” and I thought everything was OK…until I heard from one of Pack 2’s leaders that, at their pinewood derby, some of the parents and some of the leaders got into a shouting match that almost turned into a fist fight (one parent allegedly said he’d “take it outside” to finish it!) until other leaders stepped in and defused the situation. As their UC, what should I do? Our council’s District Director has stepped in and told these people that they have to work this out for themselves and if he had to step in again, they might be losing their charter. I’d like to help them work this out without bring in the District Director, if possible. Should I work with the committee first and then call a parent meeting? (In Little League, when a parent is unruly, they’re given a verbal warning, and if that doesn’t stop them, they’re banned from the ballpark for the rest of the season, end of story. Yes, their son can still play ball, but the parent can’t show up other than drop-off and pick-up. Should we do the same in Scouts?) (Mike Wyatt, UC, Crossroads of America Council, IN)

Start by checking out “When Parents Run Amok”—It’s a Commissioners College subject.

This is a unit-level problem, so you’re right in wanting to keep it inside the unit, where it belongs. Your job is not to take sides but to guide these unhappy people to a solution; however, you definitely can set some ground rules. The first one is that only registered members of the committee “vote” on anything, and when they do, that’s it. Cubmasters and Den Leaders don’t vote (and no baloney about “double-registering”—if they’re a CM or DL, they don’t vote), and neither do unregistered parents who may be part of an ad-hoc committee formed for a specific task or event (like the Blue & Gold). For very serious altercations, it’s the committee chair’s job to walk up to the troublemakers and tell them, flat out, “This has to stop immediately or I’m calling the cops,” and if it doesn’t stop, take out a cellphone and make the call (let the police handle it, if it comes to that.

Meanwhile, your job is to facilitate and moderate. Bring together the committee chair and one representative of the recalcitrant parents. They sit down. The parent describes what the “problem” is, as he or she sees it, and states how they’re actually feeling about it. The Chair then responds by first re-stating what the parent just said (this is called “reflecting”), and then describes his or her own point-of-view, including how they’re feeling. The parent then responds back, and the Chair responds back, always in the same format, until one of them proposes a solution, which the other can accept or modify.

It might go something like this…

P: “The Pinewood derby’s unfair because the dads that have built cars with their older sons have an advantage over Tiger Cub dads. This makes me feel sad because my son’s being cheated of winning.”

CC: “You think experienced dads build better or faster cars with their sons and you feel sad that your own son has little chance of winning anything. We’re trying to be fair to all, and as each Cub and his dad moves through he program, the cars get better and better, which we think is OK, and it upsets me that there are parents who don’t understand this.”

P: “You’re trying to be fair and you’re upset by folks who haven’t figured out what you’re trying to do. Couldn’t there be separate competitions for each level, so that the younger boys can win something, too?”

YOU: “I hear a possible solution being proposed. Is this workable?”

CC: “If everyone would be happier with separate competitions for Tigers, Wolves, Bears, and so on, we can make that happen, but I think there should be a final race so that there are overall winners.”

P: “Overall winner are OK, so long as the younger boys have a shot at that, too.”

CC: “Suppose we had a final race, among winners from each group?”

P: “That works for me.”

CC: “Then that’s what we’ll do from now on.”

YOU: “I think you’ve done it… Congratulations.”

Next, here’s the response from the Commissioner who thought he was “helping” Scouts when he “corrected” them on their badge wearing (from an earlier column)…

Hey Andy,

Geez! I’m not the Patch Police! I think you’ve misjudged me; but since you don’t know me, you can only form an opinion from what I say. For what it’s worth, a received my district’s Commissioner Award of Excellence in 2003. Knowing that someone feels I’m doing a good job inspires me to be a better commissioner, both now and in the future. So next time I see a youth wearing six purple religious award knots, I’ll congratulate him (just joking). I appreciate the reply, even though I didn’t like reading some of it. I love your column and I read it all the time. Your service to Scouting is way beyond anything I could ever fathom. In Service, Wes Elder.

I have no doubt you’re one of the “good guys.” If you take another look and what I said, I gave you cautions, aimed at keeping you focused toward the True North on your Scouter’s compass. There were also some suggestions on what you could do to be a further positive influence on the units you serve and the Scouts they, in turn, serve. As “Brother Eagles,” you (’64) and I (’57) know what the mountaintop looks like, but we also have come to learn that what you really see from there is…more mountaintops! Commissioner service is one of the very most rewarding positions in Scouting, and I’m happy that you’re a part of this special corps of volunteers.

Dear Andy,

Is there anything wrong with wearing your Silver Explorer square knot? I know that the original Exploring program is long-gone, but I’m very proud that I earned the Silver Award and I really didn’t see anything wrong with wearing it. If I’m wrong, please tell me, and I’ll take mine off. (My job is to set a good example to the boys and the parents I meet, and I wouldn’t feel right to tell them one thing and get it wrong myself. (TJ Shuff, CSRTC, National Capital Area Council)

Congratulations! The (original) Explorer Silver Award is significant and the BSA definitely does recognize it with a unique silver square knot badge with a red-white-and-blue striped background. Originally, when a Scout/Explorer earned both this and the BS Eagle rank, these were referred to as “The Double Eagle,” and deservedly so! Yes, the BSA Insignia Guide lists it, and it’s perfectly “legal” to wear… and pretty darned honorable, too!

Dear Andy,

Quite some time back, you helped me with an extraordinarily difficult “Scout bully” situation, and this is a brief update and then a couple of questions.

Sadly, the “problem Scout” has, if anything, become more domineering over the other Scouts in the troop and, in a weird way, even over most of the adult leaders in the troop! (His actions are overt in the case of the Scouts and covert in the case of the adults—I say “covert” because, he does his bullying of his peers when he thinks no one’s looking.) Following a recent Webelos crossover ceremony, this Scout started “initiating” the new Scouts, but some of the new parents spotted him doing this and cut him off at the pass, further demanding that the Scoutmaster do something immediately to stop this from ever happening again. This outcry from the new-Scout parents was a reality check, because it reminded several troop leaders of their own complacency and indifference about this Scout’s behavior, and about their own reluctance to deal with his misconduct. Why reluctance? This “fixing” process is going to be tough, because this Scout’s father is considered a “founding father” of the troop! So here we have a dynamic, charismatic father, and a son who is the virtual antithesis of what a Scout is supposed to be! If you can help with a few questions I have, I’d appreciate it.

Here’s an excerpt from the BSA’s Rules and Reg’s: “The unit committee should review repetitive or serious incidents of misbehavior in consultation with the parents of the child to determine a course of corrective action including possible revocation of the youth’s membership in the unit,” what does “revocation” mean? Does this mean actual removal from the troop’s membership roster but not removal from membership (registration) in Scouting? My understanding now is that after “revocation of … membership in the unit,” a Scout is still a registered Scout and still can join another unit, advance, etc., and that “full revocation …” does not occur until the next troop re-chartering and the Scout is no longer listed there.

Also related to a continuation of the same excerpt: “If problem behavior persists, a unit may revoke a Scout’s membership in that unit…When a unit revokes a Scout’s membership, it should promptly notify the council of the action,” is “may” to be interpreted as “is allowed to”? (C.B.)

Yes, a Troop has the right (and obligation to the health of the Troop as a whole) to terminate a Scout, particularly in a problematic behavioral situation that gives the appearance of being incorrigible. When the Troop terminates the Scout, he is removed from the Troop roster and informed that he is no longer welcome to attend Troop meetings or any other gatherings involving the Troop or any Scouts in it. The Scout does, however, remain registered in the Boy Scouts of America until the end of the Troop’s charter year. Between the termination and the end of the charter year, the Scout may seek out and join another Troop (if they’ll have him, of course, and that’s their decision—not his) or he can become a “Lone Scout” (Yes, that program still exists, and would be available to him). However, if neither of these events occurs, then upon his non-renewal/non-reregistration when his (former) Troop’s charter comes due, he will drop off the BSA registration records.

I’ve also learned from a knowledgeable professional that it is absolutely worthwhile to make this termination a “formal” procedure, by inviting the Scout and his parents to a meeting with (at the very least) the Scoutmaster and Troop Committee Chair (it’s not a bad idea at all to invite a member of the local professional staff—a DE who serves your District, for instance—to attend this meeting as well, where the DE’s role is that of witness; not arbitrator). Additional (and supportive) committee members in that meeting also help, even if they don’t have speaking roles.

All that said, you’ve finally told me what I have to believe is the root of the problem: It’s the triangular relationship between this Scout, his “dynamic Scouter” father, and Scouting itself. This young man’s behavior tells me—loud and clear—HE DOESN’T WANT TO BE A SCOUT. And, to make matters worse, he probably doesn’t know how to tell his father this! So, what does the young man do? He “acts out.” That’s right… he acts in a way that should get himself booted out of the Troop. (He’s probably wondering why you haven’t done this! How far does he have to “escalate” his behavior for you folks to grow spines and do what both you and he know you should have done a long time ago!)

So, these well-meaning but timid souls in the troop need to stop walkin’ small around this “elephant-in-the-kitchen” and do something about it! If they don’t they’re literally sacrificing a Troop-full of Scouts for one very unhappy boy who doesn’t know how to tell his father that he just doesn’t want to be a Boy Scout.

Happy Scouting!


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

(Mid-February 2006 – Copyright © 2006 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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