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Issue 93 – Mid-January 2007

Hi Andy,

Very good special article about YSDC, but I have a disagreement with some of your statements. I think that for many Scouters, we’ve never heard of YSDC. So to talk about YSDC immediately replacing NJLIC is a surprise to me and I think a lot of other Scouters. Many of us thought the new NAYLE is NJLIC with a new name. If my own region (Southern) is providing a YSDC course, I’m not aware of it. But I’ve certainly never heard of it from my fellow council-level Scouters who are doing NYLT!

Don’t get me wrong. YSDC sounds great and it’s important, but someone seems to have dropped the ball because I think most of us have never heard of it. (Michael R. Brown)

Thanks for your comments! The key to YSDC’s success will be simply this: Are you willing to spread the word about YSDC (and perhaps this column and the YSDC website) in your home council, so that Scouts sign up and attend!

One of the reasons behind my writing that particular column is to dispel the incorrect notion that NAYLE is the replacement for NJLIC. It is not, as you’ve now discovered. NAYLE is an excellent program, there’s no question there. But it does have an entirely different purpose, agenda, and syllabus from NJLICà

YSDC. YSDC continues to be the premiere training ground for your council’s NYLT (formerly JLT) youth staffers!

For the time being, the Northeast Region is running the YSDC course, at a course-dedicated camp in New Jersey. Other regions may follow, but there’s no clear plan on the drawing board for this, yet. The best way for our other three regions to get on board here is for the YSDC courses that are presently being run in the Northeast Region to be an over-whelming (and oversubscribed!) success. That’s why local promotion by you and others is so vital!

Dear Andy,

I recently had the privilege of being the professional advisor for our council’s Wood Badge course. When we got to the “Wood Badge Game Show,” it was chaotic at best trying to determine which bell, whistle, clank, thud or whatever came first. Could maybe an electrical engineer who reads your column send me a circuit diagram linking eight simple latch circuits so that only one patrol at a time can ring? I’m looking for something like a Pinewood Derby finish line that’s push-button operated. Thanks! (Dave Rice, Senior District Executive, Illowa Council, IA)

Hey! Is anyone able to help Dave? Write to me, and I’ll publish it in my first February column!

Hi Andy,

My son is receiving his AOL and is in 5th grade. We’re starting a new troop, and my husband has been asked to be Scoutmaster, while I’ve been asked to be our Training Coordinator. Could you please tell me what my responsibilities are going to be? I want to be sure I’m doing everything I need to be doing for our new Scouts. (Patty White)

Right away, ask your district to get you an experienced Commissioner! A Commissioner dedicated to helping you get your new troop up and running will be your absolute best resource. He or she will help you understand your roles in the troop, point you in the direction of training, and make sure that your first several months of troop meetings and outdoor activities will become a magnet for other boys, too!

If you don’t know who to contact among your district’s volunteers, call your Council Service Center, tell ’em the town you live in, and ask for the District Executive (a salaried professional Scouter) who serves your area. Then ask that DE for the name and contact information for your District Commissioner (a volunteer, just like you good folks) and describe your situation and need.

Dear Andy,

Our Pack does things a little differently than is probably on the books. It’s not a good or a bad thing, it just IS. There is actually a new initiative in Cub Scouting that is going this way, too, so perhaps we’re on the vanguard of a movement. On the Pack side, we feel that inclusiveness is best, in both Pack and Den meetings. We encourage parents to come to Den meetings, and bring their Cub’s siblings if they need to (like, if the other parent is working or out of town, or there’s a single parent). We give as many of them “jobs” as want them: attendance keeper, advancement person, station leader during activities, and even clean-up after the meeting’s over. We have all seven parts of the Den meeting. It doesn’t happen this way all the time, but here is a description of a typical meeting: flags, announcements, a game led by the Den Chief, then the middle is (sometimes) set up to work on activity/achievement pins or academics and sports things, like a marble or chess tourney, or Webelos Traveler, etc. When we do achievements, we sometimes have the boy-parent “team” take an assignment home, then come to the next meeting with their portion ready to go. Then we do a round-robin, with Dens visiting each station. For instance, one boy-parent team brought a map and the Cubs worked out how to get to the ice-fishing derby that was happening in a couple of weeks in a town two hours away. Each team, as they came to that station, worked out the directions, the mileage, how many hours it would take to get there and back, and how much it would cost in gas money. Then they have more fun time (usually outside), and sometimes a snack while talking about what they need to do ahead, bring, or be thinking about for the next meeting. This involves the parent and scout working together at home to do some of the achievements and electives, but doing some of the advancement things in the Den meeting helps those who might not advance on their own to stay active and involved, and so remain in Scouting instead of dropping because they can’t attend meetings.

Ouch! Your Den meetings aren’t “ahead of the curve;” they’re off the track! Den meetings are for the Cubs and their Den Leader. Period. Get those little brothers and sisters and Mommies and Daddies outa there! How the heck can this be a special place if it’s a “romper room in blue”? And advancements? Those are home-based, between parent and son; not under the watchful eye of the Den Leader! This idea’s way, way off-base. I really hope you revisit this and get your Den meetings the way they’re supposed to be. There’s a reason why they’re designed the way they are, and this is a repudiation of the underlying purpose and methods of Cub Scouting. If parents and siblings have to tag along, then put them in a different room of the home and keep ’em there till the Den meeting’s over.

Dear Andy,

The BEAR book (page 229) bird caller we made isn’t making a sound! Help! We’ve tried everything. Even bow rosin from the music shop. But still no sound! Please help ASAP! (C.Muse, CM, Pasco, WA)

I assume you’re talking about a bird caller you and your son have made… Not something you did in a Pack or Den meeting. Have you tried the kind of rosin sporting goods stores sell, in their baseball departments? Of course, the way these things work is that the peg’s too bigh for the hole, and so when it’s twisted, it squeaks (the rosin helps the peg turn and squeak). Maybe the peg’s too small, or the hole’s too big?

Hello Andy,

I’m a new Scoutmaster. We recently had a new boy join our troop and he’s new to Scouting—and he’s deaf. I need The Scout Oath, Law, Motto, Slogan, and Outdoor Code in American Sign Language. Any help with this matter will be much appreciated. (David O’Brien, SM, Troop 25)

My hat’s off to you for not concocting some reason why this wouldn’t work! What you’ve just done is what Scouting’s all about! For some signing help, go here:

A further thought… Have you considered showing this new Scout the words, and then asking him to teach his troop how to sign the Oath, Law, etc.?

NetCommish Comment: There are some great resources at for working with Scouts with disAbilities. offers American Sign Language cards for sale that show the hand symbols for the Scout Oath and Law.

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to get the official word as to who can sign off on rank requirements in the Handbook. Can you help? Also, can a parent, if registered as a Merit Badge Counselor, sign off on his or her own son’s Blue Card? (Clifford Strat, ASM, Troop 631)

Boy Scouts is unlike Cub Scouts, in which program “Akela” is 99% the boy’s parent, who has the primary responsibility of working with his or her the Cub Scout on rank and arrow point advancements. In Boy Scouts, parents do not “sign off” requirements for their sons; this is done by registered members of his troop. The most usual signing off of rank requirements is done by the Scoutmaster (the pages in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK say “Unit Leader” because this book is also used by Scouts who are members of Varsity Scout Teams, and have a Coach instead of Scoutmaster as the key adult volunteer); however, most troops also assign this responsibility to their youth leaders — Patrol Leaders, Senior Patrol Leader, and Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, etc. — as well. This is an excellent approach to advancement, because it is built on the principle of boys learning from boys, and is perfectly “legal” as far as the BSA is concerned. For the specific details on this, refer to Chapter 10: Advancement in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK.

The other person who “signs off” on requirements is the Merit Badge Counselor for the particular MB the Scout has chosen to earn. Here’ the MB Counselor has the absolute last word on completion of all requirements and cannot be challenged by any Scout leader so long as he or she is a council-registered MB Counselor. And, YES, the BSA specifically states that a MB Counselor can sign off on a merit badge for his or her own son or nephew without challenge.

Dear Andy,

In order to earn the Arrow of Light, the number one requirement is to “Be active in your Webelos den for at least six months since completing the fourth grade (or for at least six months since becoming 10 years old), and earn the Webelos badge.” The situation is this. A Webelos Scout is paid up on his dues, but since completing the fourth grade last summer he’s not been regularly attending meetings. Over the summer, he was involved with sports and worked at home with his parents on some of the requirements. Then, last September, he returned more actively, and he’s been actively attending meetings, etc. ever since. All other things being equal, is he eligible to receive his Arrow of Light with the other Webelos Scouts who were attending various functions over the summer? (Sign me “Curious”)

You betcha he’s eligible! He was as active as his life-schedule permitted. He “did his best,” did he not? He simply had the usual commitments to other activities that most healthy, well-rounded boys have. Don’t let anyone “punish” him for simply being an active, healthy boy! (This is why the BSA never stipulates some sort of “percentage” or anything of the sort when it comes to “being active.” “Be active” absolutely does NOT translate into “attend every darned meeting or event”!)

Hi Andy,

Until recently, I was Den Leader of a Webelos I Den that my son was in. But I’ve been asked to leave my pack, along with my son, after an incident in which I got into an email argument with our Pack Treasurer. There was just one Den Leaders meeting that I couldn’t attend, and that’s where my Cubmaster decided to ask everyone if it was OK to let me go! Not only was not every Den leader there, but the few that attended asked him to give me another chance, on the strength of my outstanding record up till then. In fact, they mentioned to him that this was fundamentally unfair. My Den (boys and parents) weren’t very happy about this chain of events, but then my Cubmaster sent out suggestive letters to the rest of the Pack, leaving it wide open for interpretation on why I was being let go. Although many people went to bat for me and my son, I still to this day don’t know for sure why my son and I are being officially let go, but our chartered organization (our school’s PTA) has been sending me these official notices stating that, due to Pack feedback, we’re not being re-registered by the Pack.

I feel that my son and I are being treated unfairly. No warning, no principal, no due process, just a hanging committee. Is this the Scouting way? I don’t think this is setting an example for the boys on doing your best! I’m willing to step aside only due to the fact that I don’t want to deal with people that treat other people this way. It’s abusive behavior on the borderline of being cruel. Our Constitution even states “innocent until proven guilty.” My son, on the other hand, should not have to go through this and be asked to join another pack. I have parents that are willing to be his “Den parent,” but I don’t think that will work with our Pack.

I’ve spoken to our District Executive, who has given me little to no advice. She barely returns my phone calls. From what I understand, she is related to my Cubmaster (cousin) and is friendly with our Pack Committee Chair, too. She’ll be attending a meeting that I have this week with the Pack Committee Chair (who in a phone call offered to re-register my son, but now somehow doesn’t remember), the PTA president (who happens to be a Den Leader in our Pack), and myself. Sounds like a loaded deck to me and my son, without my even having a chance in this!

We’d join another Pack, but there are reasons for my son to stay here—It’s the Pack where he’s been, his friends, and next year he’s hopefully going to join Boy Scouts. He doesn’t want to change Packs! I don’t blame him! Why should he be punished for what a bunch of adults have created!

I need your advice, desperately! (Name & Council withheld)

Have you ever seen a war movie (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers,” “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” etc.) where soldiers use grenades? They pull the pin, then lob the grenade, and duck. After the explosion, they look up to see if the enemy’s been destroyed or not. Like it or not, email works something like this. We lob our “email grenades,” duck, and hope the “enemy” has been destroyed. But, with email, the enemy hasn’t, and they just lob their own email grenade right back! That’s when we begin to learn, usually too late, that “email wars” never make winners; only losers.

I’m sorry you’re in this pickle. I’m sorrier for your son. No: Of course what you’ve embroiled yourself in as a result of your email war with the Pack Treasurer isn’t “the Scouting way.” It’s the human way. This is what we humans do to each other, whether in or out of Scouting. It has nothing to do with Scouting and has everything to do with humans on the warpath and email wars.

The likelihood of your son—absent you—being reinstated is remote. Not because of Scouting, but because of people and people’s personal (and sometimes untoward) motivations. He’s “collateral damage,” a result of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

So, here’s my first bit of advice: Don’t you dare let your son hear you blame “Scouting” for your predicament. You and the other adults made this mess all by yourselves. You need to tell him this, and then apologize to him for messing up his Scouting experience all by yourself.

Second: Recognize that the bridge has been burned down. There’s no going back. Go find another Pack, immediately. And then help your son assimilate into it and his new Den, and just be a supportive parent. Otherwise, the only true victim in this whole mess will be your son, and that would be terribly unfair to him.

Dear Andy,

Where is the best online Scoutmaster training? (David Yost, ASM, San Ramon, CA)

The best Scoutmaster training is in your home council! If you’ve already completed “New Leader Essentials,” you don’t have to repeat it! Just move on to the appropriate module for Scoutmasters: “Boy Scout Leader Specific Training” and “Introduction to Outdoor Leader Skills.” I’m sure that if you ask your district or council training chair for the next dates for these courses, they’ll be happy to oblige!

The reason why these aren’t available online is that the interchange of ideas, experiences between participants and the opportunity to ask specific questions and get answers from experienced trainers are vital components of this level of training! This is why the BSA’s online training site ( has only “Boy Scout Leader Fast Start,” and not beyond that!

Now there is one other thing you can do to get started: Go get yourself a copy of the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and start reading it — cover to cover.

Hello Andy,

My son is an 8 year old Bear Cub Scout and he’s just earned his “Light of Christ” award and the religious knot-the silver square knot on the purple background. Can you please tell me the proper placement of that patch on his uniform? (Roy Romano)

It’s sewn immediately above the flap of his LEFT uniform shirt pocket, CENTERED there.

Dear Andy,

An issue came across my desk this evening. We have a new advancement chair who is apparently requiring each Eagle rank candidate to have secured no less than seven letters of recommendation. Although he cites several sources for doing this, I can only find a “suggestion” of three to five, but no more than seven. How many letters must an Eagle candidate have? (Phil Malone, District Commissioner, Tecumseh District, Simon Kenton Council, OH)

How about NONE. The BSA has written advancement requirements very clearly, cleanly, and precisely. The Eagle candidate himself is NOT responsible for securing letters of recommendation. I’d sure like you to tell me what this guy’s supposed “sources” are, because if that doofus simply reads the Eagle rank application itself, it states clearly that the maximum number of referral names is six, and that the candidate’s responsibility ends with providing the names and contact information. If he then reads the BSA’s publication on advancement policies and procedures, he’ll discover that nobody can add to or subtract from a requirement.

Dear Andy,

May I ask another question? I’ve been told by my DE to choose my battles carefully and I think this is a worthy one…

At a council-wide merit badge “day,” Electricity MB, is being run by a volunteer. In the registration packet, he’s stated that he requires that any Scout signing up for his session be at least Second Class rank, and also requires that the Scout purchase the Electricity MB pamphlet at our council’s Scout Shop before attending. I cannot find, anywhere, that a Scout be a specific rank to work on any merit badge, nor can I find any requirement that a Scout must purchase the MB pamphlet, let alone read it, in advance. Can you tell me your thoughts on this? (Phil Malone, DC, Simon Kenton Council)

Whoever supervises that Electricity “volunteer” first needs to make sure he’s registered as a MBC, and then get him trained. Included in that training, whether formal or informal, is that there are ABSOLUTELY NO PREREQUISITES for Electricity as regards rank, age, etc. End of story.

About the pamphlet… I agree with you that “purchasing” it isn’t the point; having a copy and bringing it along (and maybe having read some of it beforehand) is a good idea, but even this can’t be demanded as a prerequisite.

That said, there’s one more issue here: That DE of yours needs to be whacked over the head! This isn’t about “picking battles.” This is about helping a new volunteer better understand what his responsibilities are and how Scouting expects him to carry them out.

Hi Andy,

I’m a resigned Cubmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster. I quit Scouting because I have no faith in my committee and council. I wish there was a contact to talk to in national BSA – I’d give them a piece of my mind! I’ve done so much training in the Pack and Troop; I’ve even taken Venture Leader Training. But I’m so disgusted with both committee and council. I’ve made many suggestions, but was not thought a good idea. Then, several months later, someone else comes up with same ideas, and now it’s a good idea! In the Pack, I had a problem child. He was the Assistant Cubmaster’s son. I told him about his son’s behavior and he told me, “Don’t discipline my son.” So I decided to leave the Pack as Cubmaster and I might remove my own sons as well. My eldest is going for Arrow of Light and his Den Leader is going to give it to all the Webelos II boys, even though one of them has only showed up seven times as a Webelos I so he can’t get the Webelos badge and now she wants to give it to him because he’s her son’s friend. I’m so frustrated about this problem in Scouts. I was a military veteran and feel so betrayed by the BSA…and the COUNCIL! (<TickleBoys@(withheld).com>)

Neither the council nor the Boy Scouts is responsible for your feelings of betrayal and dismay. The problems you’ve encountered are Pack-level and/or personal problems and are expected to be dealt with at that level. The problems you’ve described aren’t unique, either. Whenever parents volunteer to help kids (including their own), there will be situations that smack of favoritism, nepotism, and general unfairness, and after nearly 20 years as a Commissioner for several fistfuls of units in several councils and districts, I can tell you where the problem lies: It lies with PEOPLE. What you’ve described happens in Boy Scouting, and Little League, and AYSO and traveling soccer, and Girl Scouts, and Pop Warner league, and on and on and on. Your challenge, if you’re up to it, is to not poison your own kids with your personal disappointments, so that they can get the most the program of Scouting has to offer. If you’re able to find a Pack where there’s less apparent “politics” going on, that’s fabulous and I’d urge you to get over there right away. But, if you’re expecting perfection, you’re doomed to disappointment. If we were all perfect, we wouldn’t be on this planet!

That said, I’m also obliged to point out to you that it is not the “job” of a Cubmaster to “discipline” Cub Scouts. That responsibility belongs to the Den Leader and the parent. Based on what you’ve told me, you were out of line.

(By the way, you may want to consider a different email address… It may not be serving you as well as you might like.)

Dear Andy,

Can Roundtable Commissioners earn and wear the “trained” patch after attending Commissioner Basic Training, or do they need to attend RTC-specific training? (Garry Winchester, New Orleans, LA)

I sure can’t think of a good reason why not to! Heck, it’s real important for every Commissioner to know one another’s responsibilities and how to carry them out. The more “crossover learning” the better! So go wear that patch with pride! That’s “Andy’s take” on that!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been a Scouting leader (Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts) for 20 years, but I’ve never run into this: We have a brand-new troop here, with just six Scouts. We’re working on recruiting more, but in the meantime, should we have both a Senior Patrol Leader and a Patrol Leader, just a Patrol Leader, or just a Senior Patrol Leader? Also, at what troop size do you think we should split into two (or more) patrols? (Hopefully, we’ll get there soon and my questions will be moot!) (Jim Pritchard, SM, Twin Rivers Council, Dannemora, NY)

The PATROL is the essential unit of Boy Scouting; not the troop (the troop is the “umbrella” under which patrols operate). A troop doesn’t grow unless its patrols grow. Patrols won’t grow if they’re at or near “capacity.” Besides, how does a patrol “compete” in Scoutcraft skills and games if there’s no other patrol to compete with? Further, in a one-patrol situation, the SPL position is nothing more than a “glorified patrol leader”!

Absolutely and immediately, your troop needs to have two patrols! Right away, have the Scouts divide themselves into two patrols of three each (let them do this; not you!), and then have each new patrol elect their patrol leader (skip picking an APL, for the moment, because that would create an “odd man out” situation in each patrol). Next, go visit a nearby troop and ask to “borrow” a Scout to be your “Acting Senior Patrol Leader” for, say, six months. Work closely with that Scout to help these two patrols grow.

Dear Andy,

Where can I find a good reference that shows what’s deductible for Scouting? (L. David Johnson, Jr., ASM, Mesquite, TX)

I have to guess that you’re talking about personal tax deductions, as a Scouting volunteer. I’m not a CPA or a tax authority, so be sure to double check this: I’ve always considered these sorts of expenses to fall under the “charitable work” section of the IRS codes, and I’ve considered that any and all of my expenses, for uniforms and insignia, camping gear, training course fees paid, and miles driven, are legitimately deductible expenses, as are all direct donations to a unit, district, and council, or to the BSA directly. Other travel expenses, such as a flight to Minnesota to do a Boundary Waters canoe trip, are deductible, too. Summer camp fees are deductible. In short, any expense incurred in the carrying out of your volunteer activities is a tax deduction. But, again, CHECK THIS OUT with your own CPA!

Dear Andy,

As an involved parent in Scouting, I have repeatedly sung the song that no requirements can be added or deducted from that outlined by BSA. But I’ve consistently been ignored. Even to the point that they say that Eagle projects must be a minimum of 100 hours. I’ve taken the position that while we need to foster service beyond requirements, we can’t require it. My thinking is that part of the Scouting program is to encourage participation in service as a goal worth reaching for. As merely a parent, I really have no say, but it struck me that only the leaders’ sons are advancing. The old maxim about only the Scoutmaster’s kid gets to become Eagle comes to mind, but that’s the way it seems to be going here. Then, a recent edition of our troop’s newsletter came out with this:

Service hours are required by the Troop for EVERY rank, even if there is no requirement listed in your Scout Handbook. Service hour requirements are as follows:

· Tenderfoot – 1 hour

· Second Class – 1 hour

· First Class – 2 hours

· Star – 6 hours

· Life – 6 hours

Service hours cannot be banked, and they cannot be double-counted! Once you pass your Board of Review, your service hour total goes back to zero. You must do the requisite number of services hours after your last Board of Review date. Also, you cannot use service hours earned for another organization, or earned while going for a merit badge or other award, toward your total for rank advancement.

Since my son is kind of losing interest anyway, I decided to fold my tent. Am I wrong in doing this? (Name withheld. Northern New Jersey Council)

While I’m in perfect agreement with you that neither your son nor any other boy or young man should tolerate a troop run by the kind of tin-god jerks that knowingly make up their own requirements, I’m totally not in agreement with you about becoming a drop-out.

You’re right on the money about requirements. They cannot be added to or subtracted from by any person, unit, district, or council, and this is an inviolate BSA policy. You’re also right that that troop and its leaders are absolutely, unequivocally and unredeemably wrong in what they’re doing.

You’re right on the money that your son should run, not walk, away from that troop.

To your son, I’d say Nope! I don’t buy quitting Scouting just because of some little tin gods. Of course, you’ve lost some interest… right now. Who wouldn’t! You’ve been lead around the barn by a bunch of jerks! So get out there and find a troop that gets it right (there’s a lot more of those out there!) and then get going! Have some fun! Advance! Learn stuff and do stuff and pal around with other guys who share your interests! But just drop out because you’re bummed right now? Nope. That’s not what Scouts do.

Dear Andy,

Is there any printed information such as a guideline or rule on inactive Order of the Arrow members who list membership in OA on their college and Eagle applications? I don’t mean a Scout who’s missed several meetings; I mean a Scout who’s not paid his OA dues in several years and hasn’t been to any lodge meetings or functions in several years. (Sandy Hill, CC, Old North State Council, NC)

You bet there is! It’s called Scout’s Honor. However, once an OA member, always a brother Arrowman, even if not presently active or associated with a lodge. One can be “out” of active membership for years or decades, and all reestablishing membership requires is to “pay the five bucks.” So, if a young man states his years of membership, there’s neither harm nor foul. I’m not really sure a crime’s been committed here.

Dear Andy,

What does “active in the troop” really mean? Everyone has their own definition, and leaving it open to interpretation is too vague. Do you have examples of “active in the troop”? Is showing up once a year to an outing or event considered active? I know it’s not, but many parents would say “it depends” and then defend their son’s busy schedule as the exception. I’d would just like to get some examples of guidelines other troops use, and common practices. (Garry Holst, ASM, Los Gatos, CA)

There’s a very good reason why no matter how far and wide you search, you’ll never, ever find the BSA applying metrics to “active in the troop.” Why not? Because it’s impossible to do so. Each Scout’s situation is unique to him. The underlying principle is DO YOUR BEST. So if Harry attends every meeting and outing and Charlie attends only half of each, yet each is doing his best to attend as many meetings and outings as he’s able, given his own personal circumstances, is one of these two “meeting the requirement” better than the other? If Harry’s able to breeze through his school classes with straight A’s and doesn’t have to work part-time, and has extracurricular activities that have events on nights and weekends that don’t conflict with Scouts, lucky for him! And if Charlie has to study a lot for grades, has a part-time job, and has extracurricular activities that demand that he be there even though his troop has an activity on overlapping evenings or weekends, yet he still comes to as many troop meetings and outings as he’s able to, let’s honor his commitment to Scouting when it would sure be easy for him to just drop out and do the other stuff! Now of course I’ve created the “perfect” dichotomy here, and there are certainly many shadings and nuances in between these two extremes. But that’s the whole point! And the moment you try to create or enforce some numerical or proportional metric (like “X out of Y meetings”) you set yourself up for disaster!

So, how do you “know” what’s really going on in a boy’s life, so you can develop an understanding about the “do your best” aspect of this important dimension? Well, that’s what Scoutmaster’s conferences are all about! No, I don’t mean just the ones that happen on the cusp of a Scout’s advancement to the next rank. I mean the ones that happen in-between, too!

Why are parents “defending their sons” in this regard? This has nothing whatsoever to do with the parents! This has to do with the Scouts—Boy Scouts is THEIR life and how THEY choose to invest their time. If THEY aren’t getting value out of the stuff their troop does, then no amount of shoving, cajoling, coercing, or pushing by the parents, or “enforcing” by the troop, is going to matter at all!

So, if you’re having attendance problems in general, remember this simple guide: PROGRAM PRODUCES PARTICIPANTS. When the troop delivers a high-quality, involving, visceral program SCOUTS WILL SHOW UP as often as they’re individually able. When it doesn’t; they won’t.

Dear Andy,

I’ve never seen the following passage published in anywhere except at my local council’s website. Can you tell me if the following time extension exists with the National Council? I can’t find it at the National Council website, and I haven’t seen it at the NESA website or local council websites. It would not appear to be consistent with the original intent of the “18 year rule”:

“If a Scout or a Venturer foresees that he will be unable to complete the requirements for the Eagle rank prior to his 18th birthday, he may file a petition in writing with the National Boy Scout Committee through the local council for special permission to continue to work toward the award after reaching age 18. The petition also may be filed by the unit leader or unit committee. The petition must show good and sufficient evidence and detail the extenuating circumstances that prevented the Scout from completing the requirements prior to his 18th birthday. Extenuating circumstances are defines as conditions or situations that are totally beyond the control of the Scout or Venturer. If circumstances should also prevent a Scout or a Venturer from requesting the extension before he is 18, it is still permissible to ask for the extension, detailing the extenuating circumstances that prevented him form completing the requirements and from requesting the extension before age 18.”

Thanks! (Keith Larson)

The BSA book you want to track down is ADVANCEMENT POLICIES & PROCEDURES. Everything you could ever want about extensions and everything else is in there! Check with your local Scout Shop… They should have it in stock.

Hi Andy,

I was on the USSSP website and I tried to access “Scout Law Game” but “page not found” came up on the screen. Is there anything you can do to help? (Doug Payne, father of 3 Scouts)

Michael Bowman, our NetCommish, says: There are several Scout Law games on the USSSP site…,,, etc.

Dear Andy,

I can’t locate information on the National Camping Award that was mentioned in the Scoutmaster Handbook. Can you point me in the right direction? A website with the information would be nice. (Kristine Bernardo, Merit Badge Counselor, Detroit Area Council, MI)

Go here:

The commissioner who serves your troop can put you in touch with the folks at your council service center who processes these recognitions.

Hello Andy,

As a new Scoutmaster, I’ve provided opportunity for Scouts in need of leadership positions to take on positions we haven’t had before in this troop, such as Troop Historian and Troop Scribe. I just got two Scouts to take on the openings for these positions and at an upcoming troop meeting, I want to swear them in or have them repeat a pledge. Does the BSA have any official pledges or swear-in statements for positions like these? If there are no “official” pledges, do you know of any, or where I can find them? (Curtis Lipski, SM, Sunset Trail District, Cascade Pacific Council, Beaverton , OR)

Nope, I haven’t seen any sort of official pledges for the positions you’re interested in. So, go ahead and make some up—Make them new “troop traditions”!

Hey Andy,

In your November response to Ruth about Troop Committees, you said that the Troop Committee is not (among other things) a “board of directors.” The intention and the meaning of your response are absolutely correct! I believe you were trying to emphasize the need for an open or non-exclusive group who works for the benefit of the troop. But the wording conflicts with BSA Literature. The Troop Committee Guidebook refers to the Troop Committee as follows: “The Troop Committee is the troop’s board of directors…” I believe the writers of the book were relating the committee in business or common terms that people might understand. Both you and the guidebook go on to state the real purpose of this committee: To support the troop program and the Scoutmaster. That matters much more than the terms we use to describe the group. Thanks again for all you do in Scouting! (Michael R. Marks)

I’m glad we agree (at least I think we do!). I have the 1991 printing of the Troop Committee Guidebook and I cannot find where it says that a troop committee is the troop’s “board of directors.” If I did ever find this in writing, I’d certainly take issue with it as being patently inaccurate. A troop committee rolls up its sleeves and gets dirt under its fingernails; no “board of directors” anywhere would ever do this! A board of directors may be the thunder, but a committee’s the lightning. Thunder may sound impressive, but lightning gets the job done!

Hi Andy,

I am a Unit Commissioner, and one of my Scoutmasters asked me why the District Award of Merit knot is just an overhand knot and all the others are square knots. I asked a few people at Council, but no one knew for sure. Do you know why the District Award of Merit is just an overhand knot? If you know please let me know so I can pass the word around. Thanks for your help. (Bob Spencer, UC, San Gabriel Valley Council, Pasadena, CA)

Here’s what I’ve guessed on this, and it’s surely not official… All “square knots” represent national awards or council-level awards endorsed by the BSA National Council. Eagle Scout (red-white-blue square knot) is, for example, a BSA National recognition. The Silver Beaver (white-and-blue square knot) is a council-level award presented by BSA National (The certificate actually says, “Upon nomination by the ___ Council and approval of the National Court of Honor…”). So that would make the District Award of Merit (a district recognition endorsed by the local council) one rung below (so to speak) national-/council-level awards, and so the “knot” has one less loop, making it an “overhand” instead of square knot.

Hey Andy,

I have a dad of a second-year Scout who’s is putting a lot of pressure and push for his son to advance. The Scout is having fun doing our activities and is “on-track” with his advancement. During his recent Board of Review for First Class, the board members told him he’s on-track, and the Scout replied, “Tell that to my dad!” In addition, this dad likes telling me all the good things that his son is doing to advance… right in front of his son! What would you recommend for me to do? (Rick Jurgens, SM, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

A brief conference with this dad might help this Scout. But first, ask the dad to read a bit in his son’s Boy Scout Handbook, particularly page 14, where it says, “…you can advance at your own pace…” and “…active Scouts will usually earn First Class (rank) within a year…” and then page 169, where it says, “…The speed at which you advance through Scouting’s ranks is up to you.” (The italics are mine.)

After the dad’s done this, it’s time for a brief conversation. Determine that he understands what you’ve asked him to read, with no “Yes, but’s” from him! Advise him that advancement is a part of the Scouting program, but it’s not the reason why a boy is a Scout, and that the primary goal of your Troop is not to crank out Eagle Scouts but to develop young men into tomorrow’s responsible citizens. Assure him that his son’s doing just fine. Ask him to “let go” a little bit, so that his son’s advancements “belong” to the boy and aren’t being done to either please or to avoid the wrath of the father! The boy has to “own his own advancement,” or it’s pretty meaningless. Finally, ask the dad to join the troop committee and become a backup to your troop’s advancement chair, to learn more, and to sit on boards of review. (This last one’s important, because this is one of the better ways for parents to learn first-hand that their own son’s doing maybe a lot better than they’d probably thought!)

Keep the conversation friendly, keep it brief, and keep it open-ended!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Unit Commissioner and I also have two sons in one of the troops I serve. This means I attend lots of troop activities, and so I get to see more of the Scouts there than I do in other troops I serve. What I’ve noticed is one particular family, with two sons. One is classified ADHD and is in a special school; the other isn’t classified, but he’s clearly “borderline.” One is 14 years old and the other is 13. Both are small for their ages (the 14 year old has 10 year olds taller than he is), and very thin. They’ve been earning merit badges through summer camp and on their own. They both want to advance, but they’re losing interest about not being able to, because they can’t swim. Their father can’t swim either, and all three of them sink to the bottom of the water every time they try. They can’t float, either. So they’re stuck at Second Class and can’t pass the Swimming merit badge. A lot’s been done to try and help. Their father’s spent a fortune at the local YMCA trying to get them to pass swimming.

What can be done to get them past this obstacle? They’ve both been at Second Class for over two years now. Their family isn’t that rich, and can’t afford to keep spending money with trainers. We’ve tried to get them to swim with other kids, but nothing seems to work. Any help would be greatly appreciated. (Name and Council withheld)

First, let’s understand what advancement in Scouting is all about: The acquisition and development of skills and knowledge intended to last a lifetime, that bolster a young man’s confidence in himself and his personal capabilities.

The ability to swim is a life-skill. This is why the BSA has promoted the swimming since the very first Handbook For Boys. The ability to swim is also a life-saving skill, for every individual who knows how.

Second, unless these boys are classified as handicapped, there are no alternate requirements available to them. If, however, the ADHD is attested to in writing by a physician, an alternate requirement may be possible. But, frankly, I don’t personally believe that it’s ADHD that’s keeping them from acquiring this skill.

If these two boys are both skinny and under-height for their ages, part of their problem may simply be that they’re too frail or weak to sustain a swimming stroke for very long. They probably also lack stamina. In this present physical state, they’re not going to be naturally buoyant, which means that they’ll definitely need some good muscle-power to propel themselves in water. So the first thing they need to do is to start and sustain a muscle-building exercise program for themselves, and stick with it till they’ve beefed themselves up a bit. Calisthenics, distance-running, that sort of thing. Even weight-training shouldn’t be ruled out.

The next consideration is the quality of the swimming lessons they’ve had. I’m guessing that the Y lessons were probably group lessons. For boys like this, I could have predicted that these wouldn’t work. Parents think this is the less expensive way to go, but it’s really not. These boys will need private, individual lessons, separate from one another. With a qualified instructor who is fully briefed in advance. This is the only way lessons will help them. I suggest researching a local swim club, or even a nearby university.

So, let’s summarize: Beef up and get stronger, add a stamina-building regimen, and then get some individual swimming lessons, it that order. This won’t happen overnight. Allow several months, at the very least. But it definitely can be successful if these boys are motivated to set a goal for themselves and really accomplish something for themselves here.

Finally, there’s one thing puzzling me: You say they’re “stuck at Second Class.” If they’re indeed Second Class Scouts, this means that at least rudimentarily they can swim. If they couldn’t muster sufficient strokes to cover 50 feet (two 25-ft. legs), they couldn’t have completed req. 7b! So, this suggests that we may not be dealing so much with the inability to swim as we’re dealing with lack of physical strength and endurance. This is where the motivation to improve their physical condition may well be the key to their ultimate success!

Dear Andy,

My troop’s chartered organization has been working on and designing a camping award program to recognize Scouts who have logged a various numbers of camping trips. They want to award the Scout a patch (each with a slightly different design) at every 50 days and nights camping (much like the National Camping Award program, except with smaller intervals between recognitions). The problem is that the patch design is a “flap” design and the placement would be on the left pocket flap (so as to not interfere with the OA flap). We submitted the idea to our Scout Executive, who said that he had no problem with the idea so long as he had the authority to approve it, but he later said that he couldn’t find where he had the authority to approve such a patch. The issue died for a while, but now the issue’s come up again and I’m trying to find a way to make our patch idea “legal.” I don’t know if our Scoutl Executive looked at Clause 11 of the BSA Rules & Regulations, Article X, Section 4, that I think would give him this authority, or if he was too busy to put much research into it, or if he was just dodging a bullet. My question to you is what do you suggest? Our chartered organization wants a patch that’s not “temporary” and would leave the right pocket open for camporee patches, and would use an unused space on the Boy Scout uniform. Are there any rights given to a chartered organization as the “owners” of the troop to authorize this patch and its placement? Or is there another way that I haven’t thought of? (Casey Hillmer)

“Article X, Section 4, Clause 11,” relates to council-level badges and insignia; not unit-level stuff. Your Scout Executive was correct. Nice try.

While the fundamental idea of a special recognition for Scouts who really “get out there” and go camping is terrific and to be applauded, you need to consider that…

  • The right pocket flap of Boy Scout uniforms is reserved for ONLY the presence of an OA flap.
  • The LEFT pocket flap of Boy Scout uniforms has from “Day One” been absent a patch.
  • The notion of “finding unused space” on the Boy Scout shirt is, in a word, stupid. This only makes the “Christmas tree effect” worse.

Instead of trying to shovel water upstream, design a patch that can go on the right pocket. Your sponsor obviously doesn’t understand that “temporary” really means “at the wearer’s discretion.” If you design a patch for that pocket, and have a loop on the top of it, it can be worn just like the famous Philmont trek Arrowhead, and then it can be replaced when the next level of camping is earned.

You don’t need “special council approval” for what I’m suggesting to you, which means you can get your program up and running a lot faster than if you had to sit around rotating on your thumbs while waiting for “the on-high” to approve something that’s less than appropriate.

(Oh, yeah, just in case you’re thinking about those “totin’ chip” flap-shaped patches, maybe you’ve forgotten, or perhaps not noticed, that they’re NOT for uniform wear!)

Dear Andy,

I recently took over as Scoutmaster for a small group of Cub Scouts. This group was started five years ago by a gentleman who served as Cubmaster until this year. The whole Scouting experience, as we have discovered, was geared to his son. We discovered in leader training that the boys were entitled to segment patches for just about everything they do. His son must have every patch in the book and under the sun, as compared to the other boys, who only have a few. Also, his son thinks that since his father was the past Cubmaster he doesn’t have to do things “according to Hoyle,” such as earning his religious emblem, as his father is doing that, and not taking that class with a pastor who’s willing to teach this course. I guess my question is: How can I straighten this mess out and get our Pack to run correctly, so that all the boys are treated fairly and earn what they deserve? (Sherry Leggett)

Let’s begin by getting our terminology and responsibilities right… A Cubmaster is the leading uniformed position in a Cub Scout Pack, which is made up of Dens that have adult Den Leaders. So, as Cubmaster, you have overall responsibility for the Pack-level program and the monthly Pack meetings. Consequently, as Cubmaster, you don’t have to really worry about individual Cub Scouts. That’s the rightful job of each Den Leader for each Den. Your “interface” is with the Den Leaders on the one side and the Pack committee members on the other; not with individual Cubs except casually and extemporaneously.

As for the religious award the boy you seem to have your eye on is concerned, P.R.A.Y. (the governing organization for these awards), for the “God and Me” award, for instance, points out that while the application and request for the workbook must carry the signature of a pastor, also makes this statement:

“Parents have the option of enrolling in the God and Me Adult Mentor Program. In this program, the parent is an active learning participant alongside the child. The parent would have lessons and projects to complete in the Mentor Workbook just like the child, and then both parent and child would work on the student curriculum together. The mentor program is designed to provide the adult with additional opportunities to model his or her Christian faith and to help a young child talk about his or her belief in God.”

So, are you 100% certain that this is NOT what’s happened? And, even if you are, since religious awards are not governed by the BSA, there truly isn’t much you can (or should) do, because it’s outside your and the BSA’s bailiwick.

In short, while no Scouting unit is perfect, your Pack, as a whole, may be running just fine, and you may find more relief and fun by simply pulling this one small burr out from under your emotional saddle and focusing on your Cubmaster responsibilities.

Dear Andy,

I have three troop organization/leadership position questions, but first some background…

Our troop is at an awkward stage. We have three older Scouts at or near Eagle and very busy with high school (rarely can attend regular meetings); a three-week-old new Scout patrol of seven, and six other Scouts who are pretty active, ranging from Scout to Life (call them “the regular patrol”). There are a couple of others who are mostly inactive, and it seems unlikely that they’ll remain in the troop. So that gives us an active membership of about 13, with two more who can’t regularly attend but need leadership positions to continue advancing. Of these 13, six need to be in leadership positions to continue advancing. Looking back, none of our older Scouts really had the opportunity to be in a correctly run troop. In the past, the Patrol Method was given lip service at best, and the Scouts have never really run their own troop, let alone the patrols! OK, we’ve identified that and have made an emergency course change; Troop Leadership Training is being readied as I write this. Extra effort is needed up front, of course, since the current SPL has no real experience in a Scout-led troop.

Here are the questions…

1. Where do you feel the troop youth leadership (SPL, ASPL, Scribe, etc.) should mess and tent on a campout? (I assume that a Troop Guide stays with the new Scout patrol he’s responsible for.)

2. Can Scouts be “dual hated,” that is, in a patrol AND holding a troop-level position, such as QM? If the answer isn’t “No,” I’d like to know your thoughts on that.

3. Given our current circumstances, how would you suggest the troop be organized, at least for the time being? Option A might be a new Scout patrol, a smaller regular patrol, and the SPL. At the other end, Option Z might be a single patrol (a new Scout patrol, perhaps, with the very young Scouts of newly minted “Scout” rank added), an SPL, ASPL, a Troop Guide for the new Scout patrol, a Troop Scribe, a Troop QM, and a JASM or two. But what would Options B through Y look like?

Can you help? (Tom Ayers, ASM, Illowa Council Rock Island, IL)

1 & 2. In a perfect world, Scouts camp in two-man tents. The SPL and ASPL are buddies (the SPL—although himself elected—hand-picked his ASPL), so they tent together. The rest of the Scouts tent by patrols, two to a tent. The positions of troop scribe, historian, and other appointed positions, don’t automatically create some sort of “super patrol.” These guys are in patrols, just like the other Scouts. So they tent with their own patrols. There’s no “dual hat,” because every Scout except the SPL and ASPL is a patrol member (unless you have a JASM, who is also not a patrol member, so have two of them so they can buddy up).

The ones you want to cut from the herd are the adults. Adults camp and tent away from the boys. This isn’t for youth protection so much as it’s done to keep the troop campout from resembling a Cub Family Weekend. Boys with boys, and adults except the Scoutmaster and an ASM out of sight.

The SPL and ASPL are then the invited guests of the patrols, for meals. The non-SM and non-ASM adults cook their own meals, out of sight of the Scouts. The Scoutmaster and an ASM can be patrol guests for meals too, but this is vastly less important that the SPL/ASPL patrol guest method.

3. Keep two patrols as an absolute minimum, no matter what!!! Even at the troop’s present size, you still might consider three patrols by intermixing all Scouts. Be sure they do the intermixing—don’t try to do this for them. (I’ve addressed how to do that at length in a recent column.)

Then, get some RECRUITER patches, and a couple of real tangible Scout-oriented “rewards” (like a good Scout knife, or daypack, or some BSA water bottles) and have a “troop contest” to see which patrol can recruit the most new troop members between now and Scout Sunday in February! That’s how patrols grow…ORGANICALLY, by THE SCOUTS THEMSELVES.


Hi again Andy,

Couple more questions…

Regarding the position of Troop Guide: On campouts, which patrol is he with…his organic patrol or the new Scout patrol?

Regarding your organizational suggestions for our troop: If we suggest to the Scouts that they re-form into two patrols, one possible outcome is that there will effectively be no new Scout patrol. I don’t have any strong feelings either way about new Scout versus co-mingled patrols, provided that the Scouts in any new Scout patrol eventually re-organize into less homogenous patrols. But that’s pretty much just thoughts, and I don’t have much basis from first-hand observation.

Your suggestion to allow the Scouts to organize themselves into two to three patrols seems to imply that in our current situation, you feel the Scouts will be better off with “natural” patrols rather than a temporary construct (NSP) for the new scouts. Your thinking is…? (Tom Ayers, ASM, Rock Island, IL)

If the new Scout patrol (“NSP”) is now more than six or so months old and the boys have been to Scout camp this past summer, that Troop Guide probably doesn’t have a whole lot to do anymore. So camp him with his natural patrol and not as an “overseer” from now on. But if for some reason the NSP boys joined much more recently, then you can create a “hybrid”—The TG eats and sleeps with his natural patrol but “visits” the NSP throughout the day and evening till they’re bedded down for the night.

Yup, I’m a believer in Scout-formed patrols. When given the option of forming up as they wish, it may well happen that the “new” Scouts will continue to stick together as a patrol, but now they’ve made the decision themselves instead of some old guy deciding for them. That’s what Scouting’s all about: Boys and young men making decisions for themselves, getting it right or not, and fixing it, in a safe place.

Dear Andy,

I’ve served in Scouting all of my adult life (I’m 42). I’m an Eagle Scout with a wife, two boys in Boy Scouts, two in Cub Scouts, and a nine year old Indian Princess. I currently serve as an Assistant Scoutmaster, Den Leader, Cub Roundtable Staffer, plus the usual helping out when needed. Your columns are wonderful! I’ve gained more knowledge and wisdom from your site than any district training session I’ve ever attended. Thank you for your dedication, knowledge, humor, and blunt honesty. (Jeff Croy)

Folks like you, who write to tell me this, are my “paycheck” and the ONLY reason why I do this!

Happy Scouting!


Got a question? Have an idea? Found something that works? Send it to me
(Please include your Council name or your town & state)

(Mid-January 2007 – Copyright © 2007 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.

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