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Issue 75 – Mid-April 2006

Hi Andy,

I think your column is wonderful, but I disagree with you concerning the length of the wheelbase on a pinewood derby car. The rules are explicit concerning width, length, weight, and clearance, but there is no mention of wheelbase length. The assembly guide states to place the axle in the slot. I read this as a recommendation because it’s part of the assembly guide section of the instructions that come with the car. I’m very skeptical of parents when they speak about requirements in the BSA handbooks like Philadelphia lawyers, but I just don’t see a rule concerning wheelbase in the information that comes with the pinewood derby car kit. So, to be consistent with the practice of not adding to or subtracting from requirements, a wheelbase length requirement (rule) should not be added. Are there any other sources for this “rule” other than the recommendations for assembly? I actually don’t mind the rule; I’d just like a better argument in case a “legal eagle”-type challenges me on it. (Wes Bucher, Pinewood Derby Chair, Pack 68, Pennsylvania Dutch Council, Elizabethtown, PA)

There’s really not a lot of help I can give you, because you seem to be saying two different things and they are at loggerheads with one another. If you’re accept the leap that instructions for building a pinewood derby car carry the same weight and are subject to the same national policies as requirements for advancement, all the way from Bobcat to Eagle and beyond, that’s one thing and you’re welcome to that perspective if that’s what you really want. On the other hand, if you’re going to assume that the assembly instructions are merely “recommendations” and that one can either accept or reject them at will, then you’re welcome to that point of view as well. It’s really up to you. The only observation I can offer is that your pack be consistent: If wheels can be placed anywhere, then say so; if they need to be in the pre-cut slots that seem to shout “THE AXLES GO HERE, DUH!” then say that. It’s your call. Just don’t waffle, or you’ll be enjoying a whole heap of mayhem.

NetCommish Note: What counts are the rules for your District and Council Pinewood Derby events. If you check with your Council, you’ll find the rules that your Council uses. If you deviate from the rules at the Pack level, your Scouts will be disqualified from participating in District and Council competitions. By the way there is a nice picture on the web from the Harvest District Pinewood Derby in your Council at This District published its Pinewood Derby rules on the web at This guide says that cars must be constructed from the official Pinewood Derby kits. BSA once published a list of Pinewood Derby Rules and these are reproduced at This latter set of rules stated “axles, wheels, and body wood shall be as provided in the kit.” While neither of these explicitly say that you can’t move the axle slot, I think it is clear that the intent is to not deviate from the kit.

Almost every set of rules, including this district’s rules, say that the idea is to assure that there is a level playing field for all contestants. Looking at all the other rules, you can see a pattern of trying to prevent any modification of the kit so that the only changes that get made to that block of wood are really limited to shaping it into a car.

If this is not enough, then for the next year’s event, you should work with the District Pinewood Derby Chair to make clear what the rules will be.

All adults – this note is for you! — Pinewood Derby events were designed for Cub Scout participants. The idea was for a Cub to work with a parent to make a car. The parent is supposed to help the Cub so that this is a learning process. That help should be focused on the Cub doing the shaping of the car, the Cub working on the wheels, and the Cub doing the painting, sanding, etc. This is not an adult car design competition.

Some Packs do offer family racing after the main event and some Packs offer adults a chance to race their own cars. That’s fine and better than situations where adults make the car and won’t even let the Cub touch it until race day. When an adult takes over making the car, it deprives the Cub of a learning experience.

One of the best things that I ever have seen at a Pinewood Derby was a post-race fun challenge. Cubs were challenged to beat the Cubmaster’s car. The Cubmaster purposely designed the car to look as slick as something out of GM headquarters. It was just awesome to look at, but there was a catch, the wheels weren’t very well sanded and the axels were just as they came out of the kit, so when it ran down the track, it just barely made it across the finish line. Every Cub that challenged whooped and hollered as his car smoked the Cubmaster’s car. They each left with a little pride that their extra work had helped them make a really good car. Now that Cubmaster understood that the racing was all about the Cubs and giving each a chance to do their best and feel good about it.

When I was a Cubmaster, my favorite moment and one that I treasure the most was seeing a hesitant Cub enter a car that he’d made all by himself without any help. His mom worked and his dad wasn’t in the home. He didn’t know anything about fancy design and so just barely rounded the corners on his car. He painted it with a magic marker that ran out before the car body was completely colored. But he really worked and worked on the wheels. It took a lot of courage for him to step up and hand his car over for inspection. Lots of parents were looking at this car like it was almost too embarrassing to be allowed. Some of his buddies snickered and some adults behaved badly with comments, but there was a wonderful Den Leader that put her hand on the little guy’s shoulder and said you have a wonderful car. Let’s go find a good place to watch until its your turn. When the little guy’s turn came, he walked up to the track carefully carrying that car like it was made of glass. The whole place hushed as people saw that sad looking car placed on the track and almost everyone took in a deep breath wondering if it would even make it down the track. A few seconds later the whole room was clapping and cheering. That ugly duck of a car had just won the first of many races that it would win that day. It won heat after heat.

For this young Cub, the race was one of those wonderful turning points in life. He did a little better in school and he got a lot of respect from other kids because he did it on his own. Most of all he had confidence in himself for the first time. On that day Scouting really helped a young fellow make a big leap in his own growth. You don’t get that with adult made cars and adults quibbling about rules. When we run an event strictly for the Cubs, they benefit.

Dear Andy,

I live in Lodi, California, and have a Navy double-ended 24-foot diesel- powered open center steer personnel transport. It’s in fair shape but needs motor work. Would the Sea Scouts be interested in it…free? (Tim Koehler)

That’s a generous offer! The Mount Diablo Silverado Council-BSA service center is located at 800 Ellinwood Way, in Pleasant Hill (94523) and their phone is (925) 674-6100. Give ’em a call—They have Sea Scouts and can probably put you in direct contact with someone who might be interested.

Dear Andy,

Do you have a listing of merit badge counselors, so we might consider the available counselors as my boys plan for badges they will work on? I understand this is listed by badge, with names and phone numbers. (Catherine McNally, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Refer to page 187 of your son’s BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK. After your son has done a little research and selected a merit badge he’d like to work on, he goes to his Scoutmaster, who will give him a signed application (“blue card”) and the name and contact information for a merit badge counselor. If you are the Scoutmaster, or the troop’s advancement chair, then you would contact your district or council advancement chair or merit badge dean (try your district, first) and request a copy of the current MBC list.

Dear Andy,

In your April column, you described how to wear the merit badge sash. How does a Scout wear both an Order of the Arrow sash and a merit badge sash? Thanks! (Karen Krumrey, Troop 405, Omaha, NE)

Both sashes are not worn together. Neither is ever worn draped over the belt. An OA sash is worn when one is representing the OA and that’s it. In other words, it’s not especially appropriate to wear an OA sash even at a court of honor, because that’s when the Scout wears his merit badge sash—and besides, he’s wearing a lodge flap patch on his uniform shirt, and that’s plenty.

Dear Andy,

Once again, great column as always!! You’ve answered questions of mine in the past, and now it’s my turn to “clarify” a question a Scouter asked you in your April column, or at least to clarify what I believe her question was, and you didn’t quite hit on the answer. The question was from Candace in the Blue Ridge Council, who asked: “With recognitions for Cub Scout leaders, do you have to fulfill the training section over again for each one? Let’s say I want to put my Bear and 1st year Webelos leading tenure towards the Cub Scouter award. Do I need to do the Webelos Leader training over again when I want to earn the Webelos Den Leader award? Or would the training count for both?”

Your answer was technically correct, but I don’t believe it was the answer to what she was asking. I interpreted her question to be not about double-dipping on training requirements for the leader awards, but more along the lines of could she use the “non-qualifying” tenure requirements for the Den Leader awards towards the Cub Scouter Award. Here are the tenure requirements for each level of award:

Tiger Cub Den Leader Award, one year

Cub Scout Den Leader Award, one year

Webelos Den Leader Award, one year

Cub Scouter Award, two years

Now assuming that she started as a Tiger Cub Den Leader with her son and completed all other award requirements, she could have earned the Tiger Cub Leader Award, then the Cub Den Leader Award as a Wolf Den Leader, nothing as a Bear Den Leader, then the Webelos Den Leader Award in one of the two years served as a Webelos Den Leader. So, in the five years total as a Den Leader she would have received the three Den Leader awards, and two years haven’t been recognized. So what I think she was actually asking was can her two years as a Den Leader where there’s no award recognition be used toward the tenure requirements of the Cub Scouter Award. The answer to that question is a resounding YES, provided that she’s taken an additional Leader-Specific Training course, such as Pack Committee (the most likely candidate) or Cubmaster, and completed all other requirements. That’s where the issue of double-dipping training comes into play. While one of the award requirements states, “Complete New Leader Essentials and specific training for any Cub Scouting position,” it does not specifically prohibit using the training requirements for one award toward this one. The “interpreted” intent is to further broaden the training of unit leaders for each award level. Despite the spoof patches, there is no such thing as an over-trained leader. So if she’s has taken all the LST modules for Cub Scout leaders, then she’s eligible to earn the Cub Scouter Award in the two years of “unrecognized” service, or even in lieu of one of the Den Leader Awards. (SW, Three Fires Council, IL)

All your details are accurate. I appreciate the time you took to assemble them. I gave the “short” answer; yours is the “long version.” Thanks!

Dear Andy,

My first question is about the Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit patches. Are these BSA-recognized patches? Our Scoutmaster said they’re not, and that is why they should be worn on the pocket flap (I showed him printouts of the page after he told my son he was wrong for wearing them on his pocket and not the flap).

My second question is about merit badges. My son is a new Boy Scout and is really interested in playing golf. He told me he wanted to do the requirements for the Golf Merit Badge. He read the requirements in the current Merit Badge Book, and I told him that if he wanted to earn this badge he should tell his Patrol Leader that he wanted to talk with the Scoutmaster about getting a blue card. Well, my son did this, but something didn’t seem quite right (I happened to be standing nearby when my son asked the SM about this, and so overheard the conversation). The Scoutmaster responded to my son’s request for a blue card by asking him if he knew who the counselor was. Of course, my son didn’t (which is why he went to his SM in the first place) and when he said as much, the SM told my son that there would be enough time at summer camp to earn some merit badges. As I see it, my son did what he was supposed to do: He researched the merit badge he’s interested in, requested a meeting with his SM, and asked the SM for a blue card. It had been my impression that he should have been given the contact information for a counselor. Am I wrong about this?

What really angered me was that my son got really discouraged, and in the car on the way home said, “Well I guess I won’t get the golf merit badge.” I plan on talking one-on-one with the SM, but need to know if I’m right in my thinking on this. (Guy, Georgia-Carolina Council)

First one: Ordinarily, it would have to be a snowy day in Singapore before I said anything counter to the BSA, but I’m gonna make an exception here: The Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit patches are perfect examples of “patches for the sake of patches.” They’re about the stupidest patches I’ve ever seen. Their triangular bottoms suggest that they should go on a pocket flap, but nothing’s supposed to be sewn on the left Scout shirt pocket flap and the right one’s supposed to be only for Order of the Arrow flap-patches. This would mean that they’re “temporary” patches, but who knows! They’re not in the 2005 BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE and I don’t have a copy of the 2006 edition yet, but these dumb things are actually produced by the BSA National Supply Division! Ouch! Best bet? Put ’em on a patch blanket or in a collection book or box, and wait till your son earns something REAL.

Second: On your merit badge question, your son did exactly what he’s supposed to do (refer to page 187 of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK) and that Scoutmaster blew it. When approached by a Scout who expresses interest in a particular merit badge, the Scoutmaster is supposed to provide a signed application (“blue card”) to the Scout, along with the name and contact information for a merit badge counselor. There’s no “alternative” to this—It’s supposed to happen just as described. It is absolutely NOT for the Scoutmaster to “decide” on what a Scout wishes to work on—that decision belongs entirely to the Scout. As an interested and concerned parent, you do have the right and obligation to your son to talk directly with the Scoutmaster about his apparently cavalier attitude with regard to your son, and get that counselor’s name.

(It is NOT required that the troop have a “troop counselor” for this or any other merit badge–the list of all current merit badge counselors for all available merit badges is provided to troops by the district or council. If there isn’t one, and you consider yourself qualified to counsel on this subject, you can file an application to be a merit badge counselor for golf, AND you are permitted to counsel your own son–this is BSA policy.)

Dear Andy,

My son is bridging to a very successful troop next month. Historically, no women have ever been involved with this troop. A few dads wear uniforms and are involved in leadership, as well as some “mature” gentlemen who have stayed with the troop after their sons grew up. I’m finishing my tenure as Cubmaster at the same time my son is bridging and I want to be involved with the troop, but I don’t know where to start. I’ve been hinting for a year, but I still feel uncertain. OK, I’m embarrassed and intimidated. I think the troop seems pretty happy with the way things are and doesn’t seem to want a mom tagging along. But I don’t want to miss the fun! When I started some years ago, I knew nothing about Cub Scouts, but learned a lot as Cubmaster. Now I know nothing about Boy Scouts, and I don’t know where I fit in. I’d like to volunteer for a really yucky job that no one likes and do a great job, so that I’d feel confident and accepted. I’d like to wear a uniform so I feel like I fit in. It would be easy for me to stay involved in Cub Scouts while my son moves on, but I’d like to move on with him. I want to trade my yellow leader shirt for tan, and I’d like red shoulder loops. To me, “missing the fun” is missing opportunities to learn and serve. I want to camp, cook outdoors, perform community service, shoot rifles, hike, and learn everything I can. I think I can serve as a positive role model for youth. If all I do is drop him off and pick him up at troop events, he’ll have a great experience but I’ll be missing the fun.

I’ve reviewed the Boy Scout Fast-Start training on the Internet and reviewed some of the Boy Scout Handbook. I’m familiar with the patrol method. I plan to attend week-long summer camp with the troop, where I will get four hours a day of Leader Outdoor Skills training.

I think the problem may be gender. Although I’ve been hinting for a year, I’ve been getting hints that I’m not welcome. I get comments like, “Aren’t you going to stay with Cub Scouts?” and “Maybe your son wants to look at some other troops!” and “Moms don’t go camping!” and “Maybe your husband wants to come camping with us!” There was a small breakthrough when I was told, We’ve never had a female go to summer camp before, but it’s probably OK.” So I’m going to summer camp! I want to wear a brown uniform with red shoulder loops, but I think I have to be a registered leader with the troop to wear that uniform. I am so afraid to ask to be a member of the troop committee! I don’t want to step on toes and seem aggressive.

Congratulations to your son for graduating to Boy Scouts and to you for your stint as a successful Cubmaster!

I think it’s terrific that you want to continue your Scouting involvement beyond Cubmaster! As far as your son’s new troop is concerned, instead of “hinting,” ask the troop committee chair what the troop could use…maybe someone to develop membership, or run fundraisers, or arrange transportation for campouts. Find out what’s needed, then state clearly: “I’d like to tackle that job.” Your volunteering to handle a specific job should be welcomed, and so you then register as a member of the troop committee and roll up your sleeves! If, on the other hand, not wanting to “miss the fun” means something other than finding a way to serve a specific need for the troop, then you may need to explore your own motivations. Meanwhile, do take the time to read your son’s new BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK (not with him, of course—let him have his own adventure!). This will give you a pretty good idea of what’s in store for him and how Boy Scouts, patrols, and troops work.

Of course, there’s a big gap between “aggressive” and “assertive.” Find a job on the troop committee (maybe you can develop an ally who can suggest one) and then register. This gets you your “tan shirt-with red shoulder loops” and there is a position badge for “troop committee” (No. 00434), and while you’re probably safer not wearing it to troop meetings (committee folks usually aren’t in uniform), you’ll have a “legal” shirt for summer camp. As you move forward with your personal goals here, do remain sensitive to three things…

Yes, your gender probably is an underlying factor here, especially if this troop has never had a woman directly involved before. So, be sensitive to the other leaders and understand that they’re in “unknown territory” just as much as you are!

Do also keep in mind that Scout-aged boys (11-18) definitely need and latently desire male role models. This is how they learn what men do and how they interact and accomplish tasks, etc. While Cub Scouting is designed to strengthen the bonds between parent(s) and child, Boy Scouting is designed (and has been from the very beginning) to assist, support, counsel and encourage boys as their sense of and need for independence from parents begins to flourish and ultimately takes hold. The self-directed troop of teen-aged boys, who operate in small groups (patrols) with their own elected boy leaders is what makes Boy Scouting unique, relative to sports teams, for instance, which are invariably under the direct leadership of adults (i.e., coaches).

Third, this is a very sensitive time for your own son, who has the latent need to separate and individuate himself from both of his parents but especially his mother. So, whatever you do, be sure that you aren’t a dominant force in your own son’s Boy Scout experience. You help him grow to his best potential by stepping back, not forward.

Hi Andy!

I’ve run across a question that I just can’t find the answer to, so of course my first thought was to come to you! I’m not only an active leader but also a proud mother of a Scout and, as such, I have several “parents’ pins” from my son’s achievements. Can these pins be worn on the lapel of my uniform shirt? I know that I can proudly wear them on my jacket, etc., but I thought it would be really nice to be able to wear them on my uniform. They show my dedication to the Scouts through my children as well as through our pack. Any help would be greatly appreciated! (Elizabeth Furtaw, Gerald R. Ford Council)

Parents’ pins are truly wonderful—I proudly wear my “Eagle Scout Dad” pin…on my “civvies.” Yup, that’s where they go! They’re non-uniform wear. Pinning them on your shirt or blouse just isn’t cool (and besides, it’s one of those BSA policies). Besides, like your son, you wouldn’t wear all of them, anyway—Just the most recent rank. That said, there seems to be something fairly popular that folks like yourself do, and that’s to make what I’ve heard called a “brag rag,” which is a length of ribbon that you cut a slit in, so that you can attach it to the button of your right uniform pocket (under the flap) and on which you can attach those pins. Don’t go overboard with this, but give it a try, if you like. If it raises eyebrows, you’ll know what to do.

Dear Andy,

In your first April column, you responded to an Assistant Scoutmaster’s concern about the troop requiring longer stints in a position of responsibility than what the rules call for and also that a Scout can’t serve in the same role. I agreed with everything you said until the last couple paragraphs. You mentioned that the ASM needed to discuss this with the Scouts themselves and then have an en masse response from the Scouts and parents to cause a change. While your recommendation may be appropriate for that particular situation, I was wondering why you didn’t mention anything about the role of the Unit Commissioner in such a situation (especially since this is a column about commissioner service). I don’t know if that troop has an assigned UC, but that’s one person who should be able to help, by espousing the official Scouting policy at a committee meeting, which may effectuate a change a bit sooner. As always, I look forward to your column and I’m glad to see it appearing more frequently than monthly. (Dennis Rosauer, ADC, Mid-Iowa Council, IA)

You’re right! I should have suggested that she contact her Unit Commissioner, and between the two of them work out a plan to get these problems straightened out! I’ll take 20 lashes with a wet lanyard for my hiccup here!

Hello Andy,

I’m looking for a good sign-off sheet for myself. I want to keep track of the advancement progress of my boys, including the requirements, electives, belt loops & pins, and beads. I’d like to have all the things there on one sheet, and I want to have a sheet for each boy. Do you know of anything like this? (Melissa McNeil, DL, Pack 998, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

Your local council’s Scout Shop sells a poster-sized advancement chart for Cub Scout dens—Just go buy one! In addition, your pack committee should by now be using a software package called Packmaster—they’ll use this for rechartering, for instance — and there’s an advancement module built into it that should work just fine!

Hi Andy,

We had a Scout who left our troop in September 2004 to join another troop. Last week, he called up our Scoutmaster and asked for his SM Conference for Life rank (he was a Star at the time he left our troop), and said at the same time that he wanted to re-join our troop. He went on to say that he’d been active in leadership with his school, and that he’d also been working on merit badges; however never registered himself with the other troop and has, in fact, not been registered anywhere in the BSA for the past approximately one-and-a-half years! Of course, he’s not presently registered with our troop, either.

So our question is this: What’s the policy on advancement under these circumstances? For instance, do the merit badges he worked when he wasn’t registered count?

Related to that, is there an official policy on how long a Scout has to complete a merit badge, once he’s started? I was told that “national” was considering adopting a policy that partially completed merit badge blue cards would be good for one year and, if not completed in that one year, the Scout would have to start over from the beginning. Did this ever become policy? If so, when?

Also, doesn’t this Scout have to have met the six-month leadership requirement in a position that’s specifically listed with the BSA as a qualified position, and not just something done at school?

Your help in this matter would be extremely helpful. We want to be fair to this Scout, but also to all the other Scouts and to the integrity of the program as well. (Brenda Rosell, Inland Northwest Council, Colbert WA)

This is a really weird situation. If this young man wasn’t actively involved with a troop, and his registration had lapsed, how did he get the names of merit badge counselors, and what unit leader signed his “blue card(s)” indicating that he can even start the merit badge(s)?

The process for earning merit badges is described precisely in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, page 187. Did this Scout follow this procedure?

A merit badge is not to be started until the Scoutmaster’s signature is on the front of the blue card. “Retroactive” signing is not appropriate. That said, if this Scout failed to follow the process described in his own handbook, then, yes, he should rightly start over and do it right this time. If this means he has to repeat requirements (or verify completion of them) with a new counselor, then so be it, and shame on the Scout for not reading his own handbook! Following due process is a valuable “life lesson” to be learned here. He may have been filled with good intentions, but so is the pathway to you-know-where.

As for merit badge partials, they’re good up to a Scout’s 18th birthday—that’s the BSA policy (and the ONLY policy) regarding duration. (The “one year” stuff that you mention never was, isn’t, and is unlikely to ever be BSA policy.)

Leadership positions must be one of those specified in the requirements; non-Scouting leadership positions, not matter their significance or the diligence with which performed, don’t count and are not appropriate “substitutes.” This is also BSA policy. Again, had the Scout merely read his handbook, he’d know this.

This young man should of course be welcomed back with open arms. He should at the same time be counseled on what’s appropriate and what’s not, and he should be directed to read his handbook—That’s where 99% of his questions will find their answers.

Dear Andy,

What would be a good way to find a Leave No Trace service project, or a conservation project? (Amy DaSilva, DL, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Go to the website and then find “advancement home.” Click through, then scroll down to Cub Scout Advancement and find “other” (just below Activity Pins). Click, and then go to “Leave No Trace” and also “World Conservation Award.” I’m sure you’ll find everything you’re looking for!

Happy Scouting!


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

(Mid-April 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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