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Issue 95 – The Bridge to Nowhere

Around this time for the past half-dozen years, I get a batch of letters about the Webelos Cross-Over ceremony. The letters are either from Cubmasters who’ve been set-upon by anxious parents wanting their kid to be in the ceremony, even when their kid hasn’t picked a troop and usually isn’t even sure he’s going to be a Boy Scout, or from parents themselves, who don’t understand why their kid can’t cross over with his buddies, even though the others have all picked a troop and their own kid hasn’t. The usual tired argument from such parents is that Scouting is now “ruining” their kid by “forcing” him to sit on the sidelines while those other kids get all the glory and honors. To which my most gentle reply is usually: Horsepucky.

The third kind of letter I get is from Webelos Den Leaders who don’t seem to have caught on. Their approach is to simply say, “Well, I leave it up to the boys, ‘cause it’s up to them, not me, whether they go into Boy Scouts or not.” Sort of an “it ain’t my job” washing of hands. Well, here’s the news: It is your job. In fact, it’s one of your most important jobs.

Let’s climb in the ole time machine for a little bit… Back in 1989 the 18-month Webelos program was introduced nationally. Designed to graduate Webelos II Scouts into Boy Scouting before the spring solstice, the program aimed at keeping more boys in Scouting than the full two-year program had done. You see, before 1989, boys didn’t go from Webelos II to being Boy Scouts until some time around late May or into June. They might join a troop, but they missed out on going overnight camping with the troop and often mommy and daddy didn’t think they were “ready” for a week’s worth of summer camp with their new troop. So, while the troop was busy with summer camp and such, these new boys mostly “went dark” over the summer. So then September rolls along and guess what? The new boys are gone. They’d never bonded with their new troop-mates, and a new school year and September sports had started, and it’s bye-bye Boy Scouts. Ouch! All that Webelos preparation going right down the ole porcelain fixture!

With the 18-month Webelos program, these new Boy Scouts had several opportunities to go on overnights with their new troop, and the troop had the time needed to educate the new parents on the value and fun of Scout summer camp.

That small and simple change made a monumental difference. Now, when September rolls around, instead of only about 20% of the Webelos who’d become Boy Scouts via the two-year program returning to the troops they’d joined, fully 80% or more stayed Boy Scouts.

Shortly after the 18-month program was put in place nationally, the BSA published a brand-new WEBELOS LEADER GUIDE. There, an overview of the Webelos-to-Scout transition and plan is provided:

“Every graduating Webelos Scout deserves the opportunity to continue his Scouting experience as a member of a Boy Scout troop.”

“The purpose of the Webelos-to-Scout plan is to give every Webelos Scout a sampling of the troop program, troop leadership, advancement opportunities, and fun and excite-ment of Boy Scouting.”

“…joint den-troop activities…allow him to see boy leadership at work and become familiar with the boys and adult leaders of the troop.”

Then, specifically discussing the Parent Orientation Conference, the GUIDE provides this for the Webelos Den Leader:

“The goal of this orientation is to inform parents…how the Webelos program prepares the boy for…Boy Scouting.”

“(This Conference) sets the stage for a natural continuation of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout program by removing the perception that boys need to make a conscious choice to join Boy Scouts” (underline mine.

Are you getting this? The plan is simple and straightforward: The plan for Webelos Scouts is that they become Boy Scouts, in the same way that we expect our kindergarteners to go into 1st grade, 5th graders to start junior high, 8th graders to become high school students. In short, the Webelos-to-Scout transition is a pivotal point in a 12+ year continuum that looks like this:

Transition Chart

click for larger image

This is why the Webelos program is so different from Tiger, Wolf, and Bear. Where up to now, mostly mom and dad were the boy’s “Akela,” now it’s clearly the Webelos Den Leader, because when he becomes a Boy Scout his Scoutmaster will be signing off on advancement requirements completed. Camping overnight is introduced, because this is what he’ll be doing lots of as a Boy Scout. Working on rank-oriented badges (Aquanaut, Forester, Readyman, and so on) with a new adult each time is introduced, because Boy Scouts work with adult Merit Badge Counselors. Plus, the requirements for earning the Arrow of Light award (the only Cub Scouting rank that has a badge that can be worn on his Boy Scout uniform!) include no less than three visits to a troop, and learning the Boy Scout oath, law, motto, sign, and handshake. Even Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Boy can figure out that some-thing’s afoot here: The program is preparing these boys to be Boy Scouts.

So, now, let’s take another look at the famous Cross-Over Ceremony…

This ceremony is to publicly show the transition, or crossing over, from a Cub Scout pack to a Boy Scout troop. At one side of the bridge is the pack he’s leaving. On the other side are the representatives of the troop he’s chosen to join (always the Scoutmaster and most often the troop’s Senior Patrol Leader—the highest-ranking youth leader of the troop—too). They usually present the new Boy Scout with his new troop’s neckerchief and slide, and often his BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, too. The paperwork’s already been done, and the new bond is sealed with the Boy Scout handshake.

Then, at his very first troop meeting, this new Boy Scout (and, hopefully, his entire den of friends as well) are recognized in an investiture ceremony and shake hands with every Scout in their new troop. A new adventure has begun!

So, if a boy is not joining a troop, and he crosses over the bridge to where at least one set of troop representatives are waiting, what does he do? Do you want him to “fake it”? Or maybe snub the troop and just keep on walking? Or what? That’s why it’s pointless for an undeclared Scout to get on the bridge in the first place: For him, unfortunately, it’s a “bridge to nowhere.”

He needs our help. Whether we’re his parent, or Webelos Den Leader, or Cubmaster, or possible Scoutmaster, we need to assure him that Boy Scouting isn’t some giant chasm into which he’ll drop and be gone, but a new adventure that’s been waiting for him for the past four to five years. He’s ready; let’s us be ready, too.

Sometimes I’ll get a letter that says, “How do you expect a ten year old boy to make a choice between troops? That’s way too difficult and Scouting is wrong to put a boy in this position!” To which I usually reply, Hey, the kid’s not marrying the troop; he’s starting out! Maybe he’ll switch troops along the way, and that’s OK. Maybe he’ll stick with the same troop till he’s 18, and that’s just fine, too! Just make a pick and see how it works out. But MAKE THE PICK.

So help him get out there and learn his stuff and pick a troop, so that he can cross-over and begin a BRAND-NEW ADVENTURE!

Happy Scouting!

Andy McCommish

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

(Copyright © 2007 Andy McCommish)

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner. He has previously served in a number of Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and Senior Patrol Leader as youth member. His awards include: 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 & Cliff Dochterman Awards, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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  1. Webelos den leaders: What’s your most important job? | Bobwhite Blather - February 20, 2012

    [...] 2007 column by Andy the Net Commissioner titled The Bridge to Nowhere gives us more insight into why the Webelos program is structured the way it is, and underscores the [...]