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Issue 105 – June 1, 2007

Hi Andy,

We’re having a pack camping trip and we advised the families in our pack that a parent or legal guardian would need to come on the trip with each boy, as only these could sleep in a tent with their own child. Now, we have a single parent who doesn’t want to come on the trip but would like her son to enjoy the camping experience. How can this situation be accommodated? Presumably under the BSA rules the Cub could sleep in a tent by himself, but would that count as being supervised? This boy’s mother also wants another den parent to drive her son to the campout, but wouldn’t that violate the one-on-one rule? I’m struggling between the enforcement of child protection rules and denying this young Tiger Cub his first camping trip. Obviously, child protection comes first, but my question is whether or not a scenario that complies with the rules exists, so this boy can go camping. Thanks for your thoughts on the matter. (Tony Verardi, DL, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ)

Cub Scouting is, of course, all about building and strengthening the parent-child bond. For a simple proof of this, we need look no further than the advancement process, especially the pre-Webelos ranks and the Arrow Points: Here, we note that “Akela” is the parent, and that the Den Leader is merely the recorder of the Cub’s achievements with his parent.

This parent needs to be helped to understand that this is not about “having a camping experience.” The camping is merely a way of providing a setting for strengthening the parent-child bond. The purpose of the weekend is to encourage each boy-and-parent pair to share experiences and build lasting, jointly shared memories. It is absolutely not “camping for camping’s sake.” This parent needs to understand very clearly that if she is unable or unwilling to do this with her son, it is of no benefit for her son to go without her, and in point of cold fact is counterproductive to the purpose of the event.

Given that she begins to understand the true agenda here, perhaps she will change her mind or alter her plans. If not, then I would not recommend that some other boy’s parent be asked to take responsibility for this parentless boy, because this not only puts an unfair burden on that person but it will (I guarantee this!) defeat the goal of that parent bonding further with his or her own son.

In short, this is not so much about “rules” as it’s about the central purpose of Cub Scouting. This has almost nothing to do with “sleeping arrangements” and everything to do with what happens between reveille and lights out!

Dear Andy,

Many troops go to out-of-council camps, where their Scouts earn merit badges. When this occurs, it’s the Scoutmaster’s responsibility to ask for, and the camp’s responsibility to offer, lists of their Merit badge Counselors or the people actually signing the completed “Blue Cards” (the Merit Badge Applications), so that the Scoutmaster can attach this list of approved counselors to the advancement report covering this period when he sends it to his council to report advancement. The local council advancement committee for each council “owning” each camp should approve the list of staffers who will be approving merit badges at their camp. Now I know that many merit badges taught at camp, especially in the aquatics area, are taught by younger staff who are not old enough to actually approve a merit badge, so the Blue Cards from these areas must be signed by an adult, usually by the head of that activity area, who are in turn approved by each council’s advancement committee. Do I have this scenario about right? (Dave Loomis, ADC/BS Training Chair, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

You’ve got it right about summer camp counselors and such, including the details. It’s usually accepted that a summer camp counselor’s signature is valid, because it’s a policy and generally understood “de facto” that all BSA summer camp counselors are registered as such and approved in advance by their council’s advancement committee. I’m not sure that a Scoutmaster has to acquire an actual “list,” per se, since when he places the final signature on the application, he’s signifying that the counselor’s OK. Besides, from a purely practical perspective, most council service centers don’t go through a verification process when it comes to counselors’ names (whether or not councils should is for an altogether different conversation).

Dear Andy,

I recently received the privilege of being appointed Scoutmaster of my sons’ troop. The Scoutmaster I replaced is an outstanding individual whom I admire greatly and I’m proud to follow in his footsteps and pick up where he left off. That leads to my question… What is the role of the troop committee in regards to program decisions? I took “Troop Committee Challenge” training, but what I’m discovering in my troop doesn’t begin to resemble what I learned. Historically, our committee meetings generally broke down into mayhem time after time. There’s been improvement now that we’ve appointed a new Chair, who’s Wood Badge trained, as am I, but he’s only one person and obviously has no vote. Up to now, I’ve observed that our troop committee has micro-managed every aspect of troop operations, including but not limited to troop leader election dates and which Scouts are eligible to be elected, camping dates and locations, and any other activity the troop does, such as fund-raisers and day-hikes, and even down to the level of setting troop meeting agendas! Up till now, there’s been no structure to our troop meetings, no Scouts teaching other Scouts, and no patrol meetings. When I attempt to direct the Scouts (many of whom have had leadership training) to utilize the methods of Scouting, I’m criticized for being “too heavy-handed.” My personal goal is evolve this troop into one in which the Scouts are allowed to lead themselves within the framework of Scouting program.

Another challenge I face is changing the perception that “Scout spirit” is a “gimme” – Just show up and you’ll advance. On the night I became Scoutmaster, the troop meeting consisted of the boys coming in and saying the Pledge to the Flag, then taking off their shirts and fencing for an hour and half, then listening to a few announcements and leaving.

I do understand that change is a process and not an event, and I’d appreciate any guidance you can give to aid in the success of our troop. (Kevin Brouk, SM, Millstadt, IL)

First, congratulations and very best wishes! Scoutmastering is a profound experience and you’ll influence the lives of boys far beyond your own years in this pivotal position.

And, boy, are you in luck! You and your Committee Chair are both Wood Badge-trained! Get together over a cup of coffee right away, and decide between you two that you’re gonna be “buddies” and you’re gonna get this Troop running right-side up!

Now, let’s cut through the hairball that calls itself a Troop…

First, make sure your Troop is organized into PATROLS. This is the essential Boy Scout unit (not the Troop—the Troop is the “umbrella” for the Patrols). The Troop members at large elect one Senior Patrol Leader. Then, each patrol elects a Patrol Leader (once YOU—not the troop committee—approve the candidates, whomever they elect is it. Period). Each Patrol Leader then picks one Scout in his patrol to be his assistant (APL). They then select names for themselves–Yes, you will definitely approve the names in advance!

Once this is done, start them planning the Troop’s PROGRAM.

PROGRAM—including content, dates, and so forth—is decided on by the PATROL LEADERS COUNCIL, which is made up of the elected Senior Patrol Leader and the elected Patrol Leaders, with you as their advisor (but not decision-maker). You can have an ASM whom you trust sit in with you, but the troop committee members absolutely do not sit in on their meeting—not even as observers.

At the end of this meeting, tell the Patrol Leaders that in order for them to receive their Patrol Leader badges, and for the “leadership clock” to start running (for advancement), they need to show up in full uniform. No exceptions. (When they do this, reward them with some small Scouting item–a coin or compass or special neckerchief slide, whatever.)

Of course, you and any ASMs had better be in full uniform or this will never work!

“Problem ASM”? He shows up in full uniform or he can’t be an ASM—period. (Get your Committee Chair to “buddy” with you when you deliver this message.)

Moving on…

SUPPORT of the program the PLC has decided on comes from the troop committee, though the Committee Chair, who assigns jobs. Committee members can make suggestions, which you can bring back to the PLC if you choose to (you’re under no direct obligation to do this unless it’s really a good idea), but they absolutely do not “vote” on whether they support the program or any part of it. To put this another way, for absolute clarity: The troop committee does not have approval-disapproval power – They can make suggestions, but that’s the extent of their comments on what the PLC has decided.

In short, the committee’s job is to support YOU and the PROGRAM CREATED BY THE SCOUTS THEMSELVES, and to handle administrative functions. That’s it.

Program content in Troop meetings is also the responsibility of the PLC. Get out your SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK and reproduce the page that shows the model Troop meeting (it’s in Chapter 6 of my book; might be different in yours).

How to get your Scouts in uniform? REWARD SUCCESS and ignore the laggards. Give prizes of some sort (a single stick of sugarless chewing gum works just fine) to EVERY Scout who shows up in full uniform and always choose them for special stuff, like instructing or flag ceremonies, and so on. Ignore the others. Never reprimand them, absolutely never “plead” with them—just ignore them. Then, one day soon, a whole patrol will show up in uniform. Be prepared for this, even though it may take a bit. Have something special for all of them the day this happens — a trip to the local pizza place works pretty good.

How to re-educate everyone on “Scout Spirit.” Make this a theme-of-the-month. Build your Scoutmaster’s Minutes around this theme. Suggest a “Troop Good Turn” and get the PLC to buy in. Keep at it—They’ll get the idea.

Baden-Powell(Baden-Powell: “If a man cannot make his point to keen boys in ten minutes he ought to be shot.”)

Be prepared to lose several committee members and even maybe a few Scouts. But, be equally prepared for replacements to come out of the woodwork once word gets around that this is a Troop that does Scouting; not mayhem, any more.

You’re going to be OK. But, make sure you build a team between yourself and your Committee Chair, otherwise, it gets pretty lonesome “out there.”

(Now I’m gonna bet, based on the foregoing, that I’m gonna to get letters from a bunch of readers—you know who you are!—about my perspective on uniforming, so let’s get this out of the way right now. Let’s start with B-P himself: “Show me a poorly uniformed troop and I’ll show you a poorly uniformed leader,” and “The uniform makes for brotherhood, since when universally adopted it covers up all differences of class and country.” And he also shared this wisdom with us: “To be a Boy Scout does not require a uniform; but what boy with Scouting in his heart would be without one!” To me, with full understanding that a uniform and all its parts is not required; it is certainly expected. It’s like getting regular oil changes and lubes for your car: It’s certainly not required that you do so, but when you don’t you can definitely anticipate difficulties down the road. That said, my preferred ways to encourage correct uniforming always reward the positive and avoid attempts at “legislation.”)

Dear Andy,

I need to plan for the training of Roundtable Commissioners and staff in my council. There are needs in our districts in both the Cub Scout and Boy Scout program areas, but it’s been a little difficult identifying the correct and most current BSA training syllabuses (syllabi?) in both areas. I suspect that the Cub Scout Roundtable Commissioner and staff basic training book is BSA pub. no. LM33013 (or maybe LM33013 or LM330013?), but I don’t know the name or publication number for the Boy Scout level. And while I’m at it, I might as well ask if there’s a similar publication for Venturing Roundtable Commissioners and staff. Since it’s been a while since our council’s conducted this type of training independent of joint ventures with other councils, I need to identify the official BSA publications that support RT leader training, discuss with other Scouters how they organized and implemented it in their own councils, work out an event time-line to conduct this training in, discover if neighboring councils might want to co-sponsor or co-train with us. (Brian Mulcrone, ACC, Northwest Suburban Council, IL)

Your best resources will be ANY version/edition of…

– Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner Training

– Boy Scout Roundtable Planning Guide

– Continuing Education For Commissioners

– Cub Scout Roundtable Guide

Plus, check with your Scout Executive and/or Scout Shop to see if there’s new literature and/or training materials that might add to this list.

As for what others in other councils have done, are doing, or would be interested in partnering with you, ask your Scout Executive or Field Director to get you some names and phone numbers from neighboring councils, and then start making those phone calls!

Now, two further comments based on personal observations and experience…

The typical Commissioner College/Conference is heavily weighted, as it should be, toward unit service. RT Commissioners often don’t get a lot out of these sessions because their issues are very different. They’d actually be better off taking the Trainer Development Course! This also means that it wouldn’t be out of line to conduct RTC specialized training, separate from the UC stuff.

Recruiting the right sorts of folks for the job is a lot more important than a big, elaborate, formal training program Jack Welch is one of many who have said that the most important employee hiring principle is HIRE FOR ATTITUDE—YOU CAN ALWAYS TRAIN FOR SKILLS! Since the main jobs of a RTC are to be a “recruiter” for new, fresh presenters each month and then to keep the flow of the RT moving along, you really want folks who are good at recruiting and good Emcees, more than you want highly skilled trainers or even highly knowledgeable Scouters (except in knowing whom to reach out to)!

Dear Andy,

This summer I’m going to camp for the first time as a staff member—my position will be Assistant Dining Hall Director. I’ve been a Scoutmaster of a new troop for four years and have had other Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting experiences. I really want to be more than a “48 year-old disciplinarian.” What can I do to be a fun guy, bringing excitement to “waiting your turn” but at the same time maintain reasonable order, maybe even teaching a skill or encouraging Scout Spirit? Any advice?

Here’s a little background… Scouts are required to wear Class-A uniforms to dinner, sans hats; for other meals it’s Class B or C. All hats are confiscated at the door and returned after the Scout sings a song or demonstrates some other act of contrition at the end of the meal. Scouts line up outside until they settle down and then are allowed in to sit at assigned troop tables. Adults generally sit together, but separate from the Scouts in the same room. Camp staff float between different tables meal-to-meal – a get acquainted/control tactic.

The dining hall is a large 40’x80′ single room with a concrete floor, wood walls, and screened windows. Rectangular, picnic bench-type tables seat six adults or up to ten Scouts. There are two waiters per table provide settings, pitchers filled with beverages; the waiters also provide table and hall clean-up after meals. Waiters rotate daily. Meal service varies with the meal type, sometimes offering line service while other meals may be family-style. Waiters are required to get replacement silverware, more napkins, more drinks, and serve family-style meals.

Order is generally obtained by raising the Scout sign. A prayer is made prior to getting food. Awaiting a meal, staff may initiate a game, skit, or song. Any loud or obnoxious behavior usually results in immediate intervention, the individual or group is made to wait outside until all others have been served. Scouts remain at tables until the chef OKs food service. Once the OK is given to start getting food, tables are allowed up individually by some order: quietest table, random order tables, even number tables, table with the most Jambo attendees, and so on. The general rule of thumb for serving amount is “take what you’ll eat, eat what you take.” “Seconds” are permitted. Dismissal is discharged by some order.

My main responsibilities are to organize and inform the waiters, to maintain dining hall order, to supervise clean-up by the waiters and the cooking/serving staff.

My initial concern, I guess, is what novel tactics might I employ other than the standards? Some of the old approaches grow tired and stale for returning campers. I know keeping the Scouts occupied, interested, and in good spirits can make all the difference between order and chaos. I don’t want to hear, “Oh no, not that stupid (fill in the blank) again!” Any thoughts would be helpful ((Jerry Losowyj, Northern New Jersey Council)

As a boy I went to four different camps; as an older teenager and young adult I staffed five different camps (including Schiff NJLTC); and as a Scoutmaster and adult Scout leader, I’ve been to five different camps plus Philmont staff. Of all of these, the very best “boy-oriented/boy-friendly” camp I’ve ever been to, bar none, was Camp Kern, in California’s High Sierras (Southern Sierra Council-BSA).

In this camp, staff never, ever used the word No. How many times have you heard a camp staffer command, “No rock-throwing”? At Camp Kern, they said, “You can throw all the rocks you like…We have a designated area for doing this, and it’s right over there (staffer points).” How about running in camp? A No-No, right? Not at Camp Kern! “You can run UPHILL any time you like.” Dining hall? “You can put as much food on your plate as you like, and then eat it all.” The whole darned camp was this way! It was almost discouraging…There was practically no way a Scout could “get in trouble”!

Reaching further back in time, as a Scout, the best dining hall I ever “waitered” in had special privileges for us waiters: At least once during our “tour of duty,” we got an extra dessert before leaving the dining hall after post-meal cleanup. The best mealtime “Scout spirit” I ever experienced was at a camp that actually taught us new songs–real songs; not just “follow me” chants.

The fastest “quiet” was in dining halls in which the leaders never, ever shouted “SIGN’S UP!” (Do you clue your staff into the idea that they have to set the example every time the Scout sign is raised?) The best “disciplined” dining halls were those where adults—both camp staff and adults accompanying troops—assigned to sit at the same tables with the Scouts (one adult/staffer per table usually worked best) for the entire week, and the very best had permanent table assignments, so that over the course of the week some actual bonding took place at each table.

The best dismissals after meals I’ve experienced happened when this was done by table; not individual — “If you have an Eagle Scout (not counting a staffer or adult) at your table, you’re dismissed”…”If you have a Life Scout…” and so on. Later in the week, any table with a Scout who’d earned a merit badge, or did a “polar bear swim,” or something else along these lines, would be dismissed first, and so on. Hats? Never a problem, because if you stick the bill of the hat downward and inside on the fanny-side of your pants or shorts, the hat’ll stay there for the duration of the meal.

“Happy Birthday” was sung almost every day at dinnertime (at the best camps, there was a special cake for the table of the “birthday Scout”) for any camper (campers only!) who had one while in camp (staff relied on Scoutmasters to tell ’em). At the best camps, no Scout was ever publicly humiliated in the dining hall or anywhere else! (Nowadays, this is actually a not-so-subtle form of abuse!)

One of the most fun days we had in camp was “backwards day” (terrain permitting)… Uniforms backwards, dessert first, song at the front of the meal-grace at the back, and so on.

The best “grace” was sung, not spoken (the three “standard” graces have tunes!).

For campers, the very best meal is one of the last, when the adults/staffers are the waiters! If your campers line up immediately outside the dining hall before meals, this is an excellent time for a morale feature, like teaching a new song (that they’ll sing later—but by then they’ll know it), or seeing who can form the straightest line, and so on.

For announcements, do you sing “The Announcement Song”? (“Announcements, announcements, announce-ments! What a terrible way to die, what a terrible way to die…” etc.) Do you sing patriotic songs, and Scouting songs, or just fun songs? Do you sing “rounds”? Or do you just do the no-brainer “follow me” stuff, where the campers merely repeat each line after it’s sung by the staff/staffers?

Do you have “table totems” and a contest: The best design, the most representative of the camp, the most creative, best use of natural materials…you get the idea. Do you do a “sound-check” on your microphone and sound system before each and every meal so you don’t get squawking or that awful feedback whine? Do you actually teach your staffers how to use the mike (Yes, there’s a technique, and it’s different for every system)? No, I don’t mean merely how to turn it on an off; I mean which hand to hold it in, where to position it, how loudly to talk/sing into it, and so on.

One final thought: If the dining hall experience sucks, nothing will rescue the week! But, even if it rains all week, it’s cold and muddy all week, the rifle range is closed, the waterfront a tar pit of slime, and there’s no sunshine any day, if the dining hall experience (food, fun, and fellowship) is a good one, you’ll have a happy camp.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you – Go have a blast!

NetCommish Comment: Dear Readers – if you have a great Dining Hall experience that you’d like to share, write to me at and I’ll publish some of the best ideas for how to make a Dining Hall experience really rock. Tell us what you really liked, what the Scouts enjoyed most, what things you remember most from your Scouting days, and the like. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Dear Andy,

I was an Explorer from ‘71 to ‘74 when the program was vocationally-related, and served as a charter member and president of the post—a law-focused post. We designed projects related to the vocation, had them approved by our adult Explorer leaders, completed them, and received various awards for our efforts. I’m now a Scouter and don’t want to wear a square knot on my uniform to which I’m not entitled, but, if entitled, would be proud to wear a knot signifying my Explorer awards. The Explorer G.O.L.D. Award and the Explorer Achievement Award descriptions on the site state that while the awards were long ago discontinued, previous recipients can still wear them. The site further states that the “Silver Award Knot may be worn by previous holders of any Exploring advancement award except the Quartermaster Award (separate Sea Scouting knot for this) and holders of any national or council Young American Award.” Might that include the awards I earned, or was that a “blackout” period for such awards? (BTW, The program must have worked for me— I’ve been a lawyer for many years!) (Seymour Melloncamp, CC, Hoosier Trails Council, IN)

I earned the Explorer Silver Award back in 1959—the very last year this award was available to be earned by an Explorer—and I absolutely wear the square knot for it! The BSA’s “rule” on stuff like this is simple: If you earned it, you get to wear it! So, if you earned the GOLD Achievement or Achievement Award back in 1971-74, by all means wear the emblem for it!

Dear Andy,

For an upcoming Court of Honor for Eagle Scouts, I’ve been asked to present Eagle rings, and I’m thinking that it would be nice to give a short history and significance of the Eagle ring. Easier said than done! Do you have any information these, or can you direct me to a good source? (Liz Edmonds, Sacramento, CA)

Scouting magazine ( tells us that the Eagle Scout ring was first introduced in 1923, and has been around in various forms ever since. Check out the article and I’ll bet you’ll find just what you’re looking for!

Dear Andy,

Who votes on issues at a unit committee meeting? Our committee chair says she plans to limit voting privileges to only those who are listed on the roster as committee members. We’re considering a critical issue—changing our troop number—and there are many deep feelings about this within the troop. I think everyone in the troop should have a say in this decision, as it will affect everyone. In fact, there’s a chance that this decision could divide or split up the troop. (Steve in Louisville)

I’m going to give you, the “technical” answer first, and then the real answer…

Any unit’s committee is composed of its BSA-registered members; that is, adult volunteers who are duly registered with the CC or MC code (see the application).

A unit’s committee does NOT “set policy.” The BSA has already done that, and the unit committee’s job is to support the Scoutmaster and Patrol Leaders Council in carrying out the Scouting program as provided by the BSA.

When it comes to such matters as unit number, this is the decision of the sponsor/chartered organization—They’re the ones who “own” the unit; not the unit committee. In fact, the unit probably has no right to change its number without the full approval of the sponsor. But, I have to ask why a unit would want to do this. In the first place, the unit instantly loses its heritage: It’s no longer two or five or thirty or fifty years old; it’s a new-born, and its “age” begins at zero. In the second place, if it’s been around for a while, it has alumni, and how would these men feel about their troop simply “going away”? Does the present number have some sort of unsavory alternate connotation? Is some “special” number now available?

Finally, a story…

A few years ago, I joined a new council and in my travels met a long-time Scouter whom I admired greatly. As we came to know one another better, we shared stories of when we were Boy Scouts, some 50 or more years ago (he’s 15 years older than I am). As we each shared stories about the great troop we’d been in, something started to resonate. “What town was your troop in?” we asked each other? “What troop number?” Well, you know the rest of the story… We had both been Scouts in the same troop, 15 years apart, some 50 years before!

So if somebody’s thinking of changing a troop number, they’d better have one darned good reason why.

Dear Andy,

Do merit badge counselors have to fill out a new application every year to be registered as such? (Bob Eft)

No, they don’t. But they do have to re-register and keep their registration current year-after-year.

Dear Andy,

I hate to bother you with this, but it’s been on my mind… My grandson won second place at the local Pinewood Derby and is advancing on to the district-level. His brother, a twin who took 4th place locally, is his brother’s “alternate.” According to the rules, the glue must remain clear to the axle in order to race. At of the end of the locals, one of the leaders said that the boy who came in third would probably not be able to race further, because the glue he’d used turned darker (it “yellowed”), and so there would be a good chance that the 4th place (“alternate”) would move up. But then the person in charge of the district races said that there would be no alternates racing this year—he just wasn’t allowing it. It’s hard to teach children that rules must be followed and then have some adult go against the rules simply because they’re “in charge! (Charlotte Myers)

Frankly, I’ve never heard of any pinewood derby rule having to do with glue color or color change. But I do know that each pack and each district has the right to establish its own rules, as they see fit (in other words, there’s no “BSA rule” or “universal rule” that everyone must adhere to). But this really isn’t the issue, as you point out. The true issue is seemingly arbitrary and unilateral rule-changing by an individual who doesn’t seem to understand that consistency by adults is vitally important to young people like your grandsons and their friends. However, there’s still a valuable “life lesson” that can be drawn from this, and it’s that some people just don’t get it. Throughout our lives, we’re going to encounter people like this—they are simply clueless as to rules or the feelings of others. It’s unfortunate, because we’d like to believe that everyone “plays fair” all the time. But, life tells us otherwise. And what we need to do when this happens is just take a deep breath, relax, don’t let your spine shrink, and feel a little sorry for the dunderhead.

NetCommish Comment: I can understand your angst with this situation. The adults in this case are creating unnecessary problems and are apparently confused about their roles and responsibilities. While it is important that a pinewood derby have rules that assure fairness, it is equally important that the rules make sense and are not applied in an arbitrary manner.

Pinewood derby events tend to bring out a lot of competitiveness in the adults and sometimes that mars the purpose of the whole thing which is to facilitate a parent and child relationship where the boy builds a car with some adult help instead of an adult building a car that little Willy had better not touch. Sometime folks set rules to try to prevent this sort of thing, but that can get downright silly when the rules start to penalize the Scouts through no fault of their own and don’t make sense.

The person running the District Pinewood Derby reports to a District Chairperson, who is ultimately responsible for all District events. If the activity chair is having trouble executing his/her duties in a fair way as in this case, the best thing is to talk with the District Chairman and explain your concerns. The District Chairperson can coach and counsel the activity chair and perhaps help iron out some difficulties. Usually the District Chair is a little more experienced and more sensitive to “customer” needs.

If the initial rules were that there would be alternates, then alternates should be permitted to race when a winner is unable to race or disqualified. As to disqualifying a racer because the glue turned yellow, this seems to me to be going too far. How is a boy at a Cub Scout age supposed to be able to predict which glue will have what chemical reactions over time? Why on earth does yellowed glue matter? You have a good reason to be a little frustrated and since communication from the activity chair is not good and decisions seem arbitrary, I think it is time to move up the chain and at least raise your concerns – they are valid and reflect more wisdom than is being exhibited by the activity chair.

If your efforts don’t bear fruit, I would not let this bother you too much and as Andy says above, use it as a coaching lesson for your boys about how we will throughout life run into people like this.

Dear Andy,

I have a Life Scout who’s preparing for his Eagle Board of Review and I’m preparing for his Eagle Scout ceremony. While going through old Scouting materials several years ago, I came across a list of names and addresses of prestigious people like senators, judges, etc., who write letters of congratulations to boys earning Eagle Scout rank, and I recall our previous Scoutmaster reading them and then handing them to the new Eagle at the Court of Honor. Unfortunately, he passed away. Now that I’ve become Scoutmaster, I’d like to continue his tradition, but I’ve not been able to find any information on how to go about requesting and securing these letters, nor have I been able to locate a list of those willing to write such letters. Can you help me? (David Linsy, SM, Troop 75, Chippewa Valley Council, WI)

Go here: Then be sure to check out the rest of that site!

Dear Andy,

Maybe you can help me with an item that’s coming up in our troop. I really don’t want to be in any violation of BSA policies, so I thought I’d turn to you for some additional guidance.

We’re thinking about using a spreadsheet checklist for determining “Scout spirit”—a tool to track each Scout’s compliances with this advancement requirement, and also as a way of recognizing Scouts each quarter. Will the use of this spreadsheet violate BSA policy? (Steve Bertone, ASM, Troop 463, Middle America Council, NE)

Don’t do it. This would run the risk of violating the BSA policy that “No council, district, unit, or individual has the authority to add to or subtract from any advancement requirement” because you’re adding rubrics and stipulations and even a “scoring system” to what has specifically and purposefully not been defined in this manner. I believe your intentions are honorable and your hope is to be fair and equitable to all boys. However, this ignores the plain truth that no two boys are the same. It also runs the very real risk of some day evolving into a yardstick for “passing-and-failing” (No, not today, or even tomorrow, but we do know how such things as this can take on lives of their own, especially when they remain in place after their well-intentioned creators have moved on.) In short, Steve, it’s a ticking bomb.

No matter how adamant you may be in claiming that “these aren’t requirements—they’re guidelines,” when you use such descriptive terms as “a tool,” “checklist,” “compliance,” and “tracking,” you’re deluding yourself if you believe these won’t become “report cards.” And report cards are precisely not what Scouting’s all about.

The BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK (page 47) tells the Scout just what “Scout Spirit” means: “Scout Spirit refers to the effort you make to live up to the ideals of Scouting. The Oath, Law, motto, and slogan serve as everyday guidelines for a good life.” And (page 108) it tells the Scout how to do this: “Do the best you can…” To attempt to establish elaborate rubrics and a “scoring system” for this begins to take on the aura of the famous conundrum, How Many Angels Can Dance On The Head Of A Pin?

To attempt to establish “objective measurements” of something that is purposefully designed to be otherwise flies in the face of something that’s even more fundamental to Scouting, described by Baden-Powell himself, this way: “It is the job of the Scoutmaster to find the good in every boy and bring it out.” Are we really so smart, that we’re willing to say we’ve found a better way than the very founder of the Scouting movement set before us some 100 years ago?

NetCommish Comment: One of the enduring strengths of the Scouting program is individualized coaching, counseling and guidance from adult leaders. Anytime you try to prop that up with a crutch like a scorecard, spreadsheet with criteria or like, you are depersonalizing the process and cheating the Scout of your full attention electing to rely on a half-measure.

In the corporate world, people believe that it is easier to manage people with a myriad of criteria, checkpoints, and the like for metrics of performance. Every few years a new campaign is launched across business with a new name and slogans to try to make it work. Starting with the Zero Defects campaigns of the late 60s through Lean Six Sigma in more recent memory, these campaigns have followed one on top of another to try to improve performance. All of them are geared toward process management and efficiency, but one has to ask why there is a new campaign every few years with new terminology and language, if the concept works. There may be short-term gains and some progress, but the thing these campaigns miss is individual motivation, individual development, and individual relationships.

Scouting on the other hand recognizes that this is where the rubber meets the road (individualized help) and where the most good can be accomplished. We do this by taking on individual needs and issues directly instead of relying on crutches to avoid uncomfortable or complicated situations. And in this case it isn’t hard, but it does take more patience, skill and understanding to do a good job.

And we need to also remember that corporate methods are about profit and efficiency whereas in Scouting our methods are geared to support the goals of character development, citizenship, and fitness in developing youth. Keep corporate methods for corporate problems and use Scouting’s methods for Scouting’s goals.

Dear Andy,

We have an Star Scout who will be transferring to another troop, due to his family moving. The problem is, he leaves just a few days before he reaches the sixth month of being a Star. His mother asked for an early board of review, so that he can transfer into the new troop as a Life Scout. Of course, we had to say no, but how early can this Scout have his Scoutmaster Conference? Also, how long will he have to be a member of the new troop before he’s eligible for his Life rank board of review? His mother thinks that he’ll quit Scouting when they move and is hoping that an early advancement will keep him interested. (Confused Advancement Chair)

Sorry, but an “early board of review” just isn’t possible. Why? Because all the requirements for a rank need to be completed first, including the Scoutmaster’s Conference (which is a requirement, by the way—the very last one for each Scout rank). There are no exceptions to this, because an exception would undermine the BSA advancement process itself: A Scout learns, he is tested, he is reviewed, he is recognized (in that precise order).

As for the Scoutmaster’s Conference, this takes place after all other requirements are completed (this is stated in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK, by the way)—It’s always the final requirement to be completed before the board of review is held. Again, no exceptions.

As regards tenure in a leadership position, since this Scout has held the position for nearly six full months, and since the Scoutmaster’s primary job is to train Scouts in leadership skills and carrying out leadership responsibilities, I’m going to assume here that the Scoutmaster’s been doing his job and that this Scout will have successfully completed 99% of his tenure, and so when he joins his new Troop he’ll have just a few days or perhaps a week or so to acquire a leadership position and successfully conclude his six months’ tenure.

Finally, if this Scout doesn’t understand that timing is timing, and we can’t always control it, and decides to drop out because you’re not able to accommodate his parent’s uninformed requests, there’s really nothing anyone can do about that, unfortunate and misguided as it may be.

Dear Andy,

A female member of our Venturing crew attended Den Chief training. We no longer have the Den Aide patch, so she was given the Den Chief patch and put on her Venturer uniform. I believe this was the wrong thing to do—that she’s not authorized to wear this patch. Is it not true that only Boy Scouts are awarded and can wear the Den Chief patch? (Deborah Wiggins, ADC-Venturing, Kia Kima District,)

Let’s get some formal definitions taken care of first…

A Den Chief is a youth registered in a Boy Scout troop or team, or an Explorer post, and chosen to carry out specific responsibilities with regard to a Cub Scout or Webelos Scout den.

A Den Aide, on the other hand, is specifically not a BSA-registered member. This position is available to male or female teens, age 14-18, for the purpose of helping a Den Leader in a situation where Den Chiefs are not available. The Den Aide position is a non-uniformed position (because this person is not a registered member of the BSA), and there is no badge or device for this position.

That said, let’s take a look at this young lady…

To begin with, clearly, she’s a “hybrid”… She’s a Venturer, which means she joined of her own free will and not merely because she “graduated” from Boy Scouts. This means, of course, that she’s a registered member of the BSA. She wants to help a Den Leader with Cub Scouts. She’s even willing to take training, to do the job right. And last, of course, she’s wearing a “technically incorrect” patch given to her by the trainers.

Do you really, truly, want to take that little piece of cloth and thread away from her? As you consider this, think about two additional factors: First, how often is this going to happen in your district or council, and second, who is being harmed by her wearing this patch? And consider one more thing…

There’s a BSA policy that states that once an advancement is earned, it cannot be taken away, for any reason. While this is not in the category of “advancement,” I’d sure be tempted to apply the same principle, especially since she didn’t go out and buy the Den Chief patch on her own (which might fall into the category of “self-aggrandizement”), but was presented with it on completing the training. So, before you tell her to take it off her uniform, be very sure that you’re acting in the best interests of this young lady, the Cubs she’s volunteering to work with, the Den Leader who will get her help, and Scouting.

Does this mean that I’m encouraging or endorsing incorrect uniforming? No, of course not. However, if I have to personally decide between the spirit of youth in service to others and a wayward piece of cloth, the decision’s a no-brainer.

Dear Andy,

I’ve participated in many of my council’s Scouter “colleges” from the 80s through to 2001, and I’ve just been asked to be the Dean of the College of Commissioner Science. Two questions…
– Which courses are required for each degree and which are optional?
– What are minimum requirements for each degree?
(Gene Stewart, Council Training Chair, East Texas Area Council, TX)

You’re in luck! Get a copy of CONTINUING EDUCATION FOR COMMISSIONERS. If your Scout Shop doesn’t have it in stock, go to It’s all there!


Happy Scouting!


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(June 1, 2007 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2007)


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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