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Issue 156 – November 30, 2008

A Scouter told me that the sheepshank knot has been removed from the Scouting program. I can’t find that information anywhere. Is this a fact, or just wishful thinking? (Ralph Lee)Yes, you heard it here: The sheepshank knot has been removed as a result of high-level conversations between the BSA and PETA. Seems that far too many sheep were getting shanked by Scouts not only here in North America but around the world as well. This was having a severe negative ecological to say nothing of economic effect in such countries as Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand, plus much of southern Canada and Idaho and Montana right here in the USA. The reduction of the sheep herds due to over- or improper shanking was also having devastating effects in Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, and Chile, while Columbia actually thrived as a result of very firm governmental controls over the shanking of sheep, llamas, emus, and macaws (yes, some countries were starting to shank birds as well as mammals! Deplorable!). So you’ll be pleased to know that the BSA is leading the way world-wide in the elimination of this inhumane practice. (I even display my “Save the Sheep—Stop the Shanking” bumper sticker on both of my Hummers!) Thanks for asking!

BTW, This scale of global action hasn’t been seen since the early days of the BSA’s “Gag the Granny Knotters” campaign, collaboration with the AARP!

For more on this, check out my April 1 column.

Hi Andy,

I’m a WEBLOS 1 Den Leader and in December every year, our pack hands out the Pinewood Derby cars for the boys to start on for our race in March. We’d like to make some kind of a display for their cars in the den meeting—something like a shelf or box where they can show off their cars after they’ve been raced. Do you have any ides? (Ellie Giffin, Inland North-West Council, WA)

First, let’s get the spelling right: It’s WEBELOS, as in WE’ll BE LOyal Scouts, and it’s WEBELOS, both singular and plural.

The simplest display would be a plank of wood, maybe 10″ deep by 5/8″ or 3/4″ thick and as long as needed for the number of cars-per-den. Then, to keep the cars from rolling off it, tack down two 1/8″ x 1″ strips to fit inside each of the wheel-bases. That done, you can paint and decorate the whole thing! Maybe even attach some holiday lights to show ’em off! Have fun!

Dear Andy,

We, a Chartered Organization with a currently active Cub Scout pack, will shortly be starting up a new Boy Scout troop. In its first year, it will consist entirely of new, unranked Scouts (new Webelos and “disenfranchised” recent Webelos graduates from the past year or two). At this point, we believe we’ll have five to six Scouts to start with. We’ve been reading through your columns and we’re very committed to running the new troop correctly. Our concern is that, starting out, we won’t have an older Scout to act as either a Senior Patrol Leader, or a Troop Guide. Some of our disenfranchised Scouts may have achieved Tenderfoot before they dropped out of the other troop, but even that seems unlikely. Do we form this first “new Scout patrol” with the Scoutmaster and ASM guiding the boys, in the roles that the SPL and Troop Guide would normally fill, until some of our Scouts have achieved their First Class rank? Do we look to see if any of the Scouts have achieved any rank, and allow the Scouts to vote for a SPL who may not be technically qualified? (That certainly seems counterproductive and setting the Scout up for failure.) Any advice for what seems to be a somewhat unique situation would be much appreciated! (Dawn Gilmore, Scenic Trails Council)

Your situation is not unique… All Boy Scout troops, at one time or another, started with former non-Boy Scouts. Therefore you do not deviate from the model patrols and troop presented in the BSA literature and training…not even for “just a little while.” If you do deviate, you’re creating something, to be sure, but it won’t be Boy Scouting. It’s that simple, and that important.

Recruit enough boys to have two patrols of at least three Scouts each (they will then go out and recruit their friends, and their numbers will increase) and one elected Senior Patrol Leader. That’s seven, absolute minimum. The Scoutmaster coaches the Senior Patrol Leader, and the Patrol Leaders, but the Scoutmaster does not lead the troop. Remember this: The essential unit of Boy Scouting is not the troop; it’s the patrols—each with their own elected Patrol Leader. (Key: Never have just a single patrol—the minimum is 2!)

Okay, that was my big concern, that if we start out outside of the model, we’d create something that wasn’t right, and later it would be impossible to tame the monster we’d created. So we manage to get seven Scouts… Who acts as the SPL if they’re all unranked, or at best perhaps Tenderfoot? Are there minimum rank requirements for SPL and PL, or were the requirements I saw, that stipulated being at least First Class rank simply set by local troops? Do we waive those requirements to allow the boys to elect their own leaders? Then the Scoutmaster and ASM will be training the SPL and PL’s from the beginning. (Forgive me…part of my problem is my Girl Scouting background, which, in the days I participated, wasn’t youth-led, and since then, I’ve only been involved in Cub Scouts.) (Dawn Gilmore)

“Rank” isn’t the issue… Don’t worry about “rank.” All Scouts are eligible to be elected Senior Patrol Leader and the only thing that would prevent this is if they don’t care to stand up for election. Votes are done by closed ballot, and the Scout with the most votes (whether “majority” or not is a secondary consideration) is the SPL for the next 6 months and is coached and mentored by the Scoutmaster. Same with the Patrol Leaders… They’re elected by their respective patrols and will serve for 6 months.

What other troops do or don’t do is irrelevant.

Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts are entirely different programs… Don’t rely on your experience with them to help you out with Boy Scouting. Begin by reading the first couple of chapters of the Boy Scout Handbook, so that you know what the Scouts in the troop are being promised by the BSA! That is what you all want to deliver on!

Thanks…that helps a lot. Some of what I’d read was confusing me: Things that said in order to be eligible for SPL, one had to be at least a First Class Scout. I’m guessing that must have been “local troop” stuff. I’ve spent a bit of time reading the Boy Scout Handbook, and I’m waiting for our Scoutmaster Handbook to arrive, and I’m beginning to understand better what we are trying to put together. From reading your other columns I’m definitely learning that Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts are very different, which is why I wrote for guidance. Thanks again for your help! (Dawn Gilmore)

Thanks for finding me, and for writing! Anytime!

Now in a perfect world, having a SPL who’s a First Class Scout, minimum, is a pretty good idea… But you all aren’t even close to a perfect world! That happens later. But that doesn’t mean you start doing crazy stuff, like have the Scoutmaster take over the SPL role or do other stuff that takes away from these boys learning “on the job.” Moreover, there’s no reference to rank when the Boy Scout Handbook talks about the Senior Patrol Leader. The Handbook simply says that he’s “the top boy leader in the troop” and “is elected by all the Scouts” and “is in charge of troop meetings and the patrol leaders council…” The Scoutmaster Handbook says that the Senior Patrol Leader is “the leader with the most responsibility in a troop” and “he is elected by all members of the troop” and “each troop sets its own…schedule of elections, though SPLs are usually chosen at 6- to 12-month intervals and can be reelected.” The SMH goes on to say “The SPL of an established troop (yours will be in this category in a few years from now) is often selected (in a vote by all Scouts in the troop) from among experienced Scouts of a certain age and rank. In a new troop or a troop without older members (such as your own) boys are still likely to choose a Scout whom they respect and believe will provide the best leadership.”

Dear Andy,

We’re planning on doing a troop activity—to work on Horsemanship merit badge as a group. We have our local tour permit, but what if the Scouts who participate don’t all have their Blue Cards signed before the first of two visits with the Merit Badge Counselor? Can they get them signed between visits, so that the Scouts can have them signed on completion? (Larry & Laura Hannan)

What you need to do is hardly “lethal.” Just have the cards back-dated by the Scoutmaster, so as not to create confusion later on.

Dear Andy,

Our troop just purchased a new Scout Trailer; do you know of a database of interior trailer designs? We are trying to design the interior but don’t want to re-invent the wheel or miss out on a great opportunity to make our trailer as usable as possible. Would you be willing to ask your readers for their recommended features for the inside of the “perfect” troop trailer? (Bart Winkler, Northeast Illinois Council)

I’ve already reached out to two Scouters—Rick Jurgens and Rolland Pfund, in New Jersey—whose troop has had a trailer for some time, and they’ve been in direct contact with you.

Any other readers with suggestions that could help Bart and his troop can send them here, and I’ll publish them in an upcoming column! THANKS!

Hi Andy,

I’m putting on a merit badge weekend and I’m looking for a movie for Saturday night. The Scouts have seen and enjoyed “Follow Me Boys,” with Fred Mac Murray and Kurt Russell, and I’m looking for another good movie with a Scouting spin, or at least a moral or value core. What would be your suggestions? (Bill Casler, Greater Alaska Council)

Try “Akeelah and the Bee” (Akeelah is an African American girl, and the story’s excellent. Stars Lawrence Fishburn), “October Sky” (The original “rocket boys”), “Miracle” (The 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team). Stars Kurt Russell), “We Are Marshall” (very tough story about the team and the plane crash and what happened next, and superb—there won’t be a dry eye in the house! Stars Matthew McConnaghy). Finally, consider “U-571”—a gritty WWII sea tale all about leadership and decision-making (Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Matthew McConnaghy, and Jon Bon Jovi).

Hello Andy,

I’m with a Cub Scout pack in Georgia and on a recent trip to Chicago I saw something called the NWSC Segment Program: Mini-patches that can be earned and worn on the red patch vest. I understand that this is an unofficial program and I’d like to bring it to my home council. Are you familiar with the segments and the authority for having such a program? (Mike O’Byrne, MC-Advancement, Northeast Georgia Council)

Track ’em down and get the specifics on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Patches that go on red vests aren’t “illegal,” so go ahead and pitch what you’ve found to your home council’s advancement committee, and even if they don’t buy in, that’s still OK… Just do it in your own pack!

Hi Andy,

Is there a specific amount of time a Den Chief must serve, before he receives his Den Chief badge? (Doug)

Good question! How about two seconds…the time it takes him to say yes I’ll do the job. That’s right: He gets the DC position badge immediately. It’s not an “award”—It’s a badge of office.

(Now I sure hope there’s no “back-story” on your question, like your troop withholds Patrol Leader, SPL, QM, Scribe, and so forth badges till they’re “earned,” because this is total baloney!)

Thanks. My son was pretty darned disappointed when the Cubmaster told him he couldn’t wear his badge for six months. He thoroughly enjoys serving the 20 Tiger Cubs in his assigned den. I’ll be sure to address this with the pack, now that you’ve pointed the way. (Doug)

That Cubmaster full o’ baloney and has the barest of understandings, not only about Scouting but about BOYS! How about we tell him he can’t wear his Cubmaster patch for 6 months? Think he’d buy in? 😉
But there’s more… 20 boys in a single den is total nonsense! That’s THREE dens, at least, and it could be four, with 5 boys in each! With 20, here’s what’s gonna happen: More than half will be gone in 3 years. They’ll drop out because they’ll miss a meeting and their Den Leader will be thrilled, because there’s fewer boys to manage. So the missing boys’ll never get a “what happened—we missed you!” phone call. Then more will skip, and the DL will continue to be thrilled, until, by the time they’re Webelos (4th grade), all but a handful will have been lost to Scouting and the BIG adventure of Boy Scouting… And all because they started out wrong!

Hi Andy,

I’m just starting up a Daisy Girl Scout troop. For a “close of meeting song” online, I found “Daisies, Daisies,” by Donna Montgomery and Daisy Troop 5045. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say what tune the lyrics go with!. Any ideas??? (Amy Takken, Loveland, CO)

A stab in the dark here… I’ll bet that the origin of the song is “Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built For Two),” written by Harry Dacre in 1892. Check it out and see if it fits.

Dear Andy,

I’m having trouble finding craft supplies like arrowheads and bear claws in bulk. They can be artificial or natural, but I’m not finding anything for less than about 35 cents each. Any ideas? (Don Hobbs, CM, Connecticut Yankee Council)

Good old Tandycraft is still the best resource for stuff like this—but it’s tough to beat 35 cents apiece! If you do find a cheaper source that still gives you some quality, let me know and I’ll publish it! (Maybe there’s a supplier among the display ads in the back of “Scouting” magazine?)

Hi Andy,

I’d appreciate your opinion on what to expect of parents of Scouts, and the best way to approach them to get involved. I’m looking at this on two levels: their involvement with their own son, and their involvement with their son’s troop. Also, are there any BSA publications beside the Scoutmaster Handbook that might provide tips and ideas in this regard? (Ernie Kuhn, BSRTC, Great Salt Lake Council, UT)

The Scoutmaster Handbook is probably your best written reference. Another great source, as you already know, is to pose this question at a monthly Roundtable! My own take on your questions, briefly, are…

As a Scoutmaster or Committee Chair, I’d want new parents (heck, ALL parents!) to read the Parent’s Guide and the first two chapters of the Boy Scout Handbook. I’d also want them to attend a Scoutmaster- and Committee Chair-led orientation session that explains in detail that (a) this isn’t “Webelos III” so no “help” with advancement will be necessary but that (b) every parent helps this troop succeed in one way or another—as an ASM or on the committee, as a driver for outings, as a food-preparer for our troop’s annual dinner, as a FOS supporter (included in our troop dues), and as a fund-raising (we sell popcorn) supporter. If we have any “open slots” at the time of this orientation, I’d expect to fill them right then and there.

As a Commissioner, I’ve helped any number of units—both packs and troops —whose leaders “complain” that they “can’t get any parental help” by suggesting that they hold a parent orientation (with light beverages and some cookies!) and put all “jobs” to be filled on large index cards, which they’ve pre-taped to the front wall of the meeting room and then covered with something (a throw-away plastic tablecloth and masking tape usually does the trick), so that they can pull it off and reveal what’s needed after they do the softening up at the front-end of the meeting. Then, as they get volunteers, they literally write in their names on the spot! After the meeting, they round up the immediate volunteers and describe next steps.

If they start to get a “deer-in-the-headlights” situation, I’m the first one to point out that, if these parents are really smart, they’ll speak up quickly and get a job they’d like, rather than hang back and get stuck with something else, because MAKE NO MISTAKE: WE’RE FILLING ALL JOBS BEFORE WE LEAVE HERE TONIGHT. It works! It takes a spine, and a big smile, and the courage to go for it! Then it works!

Dear Andy,

We have a Scout who earned both Swimming and Hiking as “Eagle- required” merit badges to apply toward his Star rank. But now some of our adult leaders are questioning whether his rank is valid, because the wording says: “Either this merit badge or Hiking merit badge or Cycling merit badge is required to earn the Eagle Scout Rank.” My thinking is that his rank is valid, but that if he works all the way to Eagle he’ll need to earn another Eagle-required to replace either Swimming or Hiking, to have the correct number of Eagle-required merit badges. Nothing in the Handbook says he can’t earn every Eagle-required merit badge; only that only one of the three—Swimming, Hiking, or Cycling—will count toward Eagle rank. Can you help clear this up? (Sean Eubanks, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

For the rank of Star, this Scout can use both of these two merit badges toward the four “required for Eagle.” This is stated clearly on page 14 of the Boy Scout Requirements book: Read the fine print. It’s also stated, of course, in the Boy Scout Handbook, on page 444. He may do this for Life rank, also. For Eagle rank, however, it narrows down, and the category alternatives become “electives.” Good question and thanks for asking!

Dear Andy,

I’m a Den Leader. We’re presently trying to address an issue that one of our other Den Leaders has raised. We’ve planned a pack camping trip and this adult leader wants to bring a friend’s daughter (age 5) along with her and her den, and allow the girl to stay and sleep in her tent along with herself and her son. At first, we determined since the girl wasn’t a family member of a registered adult leader or Cub, then the DL would have to provide the pack with a liability waiver and a consent to treat from this girl’s parents, to meet the BSA insurance requirements. We also determined that this girl couldn’t sleep in the same tent with the DL and her son, because they’re not related and the DL would be the only adult in the tent. However, someone on a higher level said that it would be OK for the DL to have the girl sleep in with herself and her son because her son was a registered Scout and there would be a total of three in the same tent. Then I read something about the “party of four” rule—What is the full rule, where can I find it in print, and how does it apply to this situation? (Bob Taylor, DL, Bay Area Council, TX)

This is really very simple: In Cub Scouting, it’s parent-and-child or parents-and-their-own-children. Period. If it’s a pack-only activity, then only pack families go; no exceptions. If it’s a pack family camping outing, then all members of the families can come along, including sisters and brothers. If it’s a district- or council-sponsored event, then district and/or council policies are in effect.

This woman is 100% out of line. She needs to be told No by somebody with a spine. If this is a Cub-and-parent outing, with no siblings trotting along, then this woman is 200% out of line and needs to be told. Same spine needed.

Dear Andy,

I’d like to get your take on a situation: Scoutreach units not following the Cub Scout program but, instead, using the Bear level and rank achievements for all boys regardless of age or grade. In other words, to keep it easy for everyone, all boys will be using the Bear book and wearing the Bear uniform. To me, this defeats a key purpose of Cub Scouting, But the council says it’s OK with this, and that this is really up to the charted organization. How do I get these folks back on track? Complication: I’m actually employed part-time by the Scoutreach program. When I was hired, I was told to run this “by the book” but now my boss says it’s up to the chartered organization. I don’t want to be the policy police, but this goes against what Cub Scouts is supposed to be. Should I shut up and stay out of it, or rock the boat? (Name & Council Withheld)

This is definitely a dilemma, and I appreciate your concern. Narrowing things down, here’s what I’m hearing: (a) You’re employed by a BSA council, (b) You’re responsible, at least in part, for the quality of the council’s Scoutreach program, (c) You’ve been given a mandate of keeping the Scoutreach program true to the overall Scouting program, (d) You’ve discovered an aberration and brought it to the attention of your employer, with the goal of fixing the aberration, (e) Your employer has told you that they’re OK with the aberration. If I have that right, then your conversation is with the person you report to, as an employee, to ask: Which one of the two directions do you want me to follow? Then, whatever your boss says is the way to go!

Dear Andy,

I just read online about a possible update to the Eagle board of review. Has there been a restriction imposed in 2008 that no longer allows an Eagle candidate to choose a member of the board? (Eric Heinbach, Tidewater Council, VA)

An Eagle candidate has never had the right to choose one or more members of his board of review. Maybe this was a local idiosyncrasy of some sort?

It was certainly recognized as a troop courtesy, but I read that there may be a new revision to the board of review rules at the national level that will strictly forbid this. (E.H.)

There’s never been a policy, one way or the other, with regard to this. As to “forbidding” it, there’s nothing to forbid, since there’s never been national recognition of such a practice in the first place.

Hi Andy,

Does a Scoutmaster have the right to withhold a merit badge “blue card” from a Scout who asks for it, for any reason other than a physical limitation? (Sandy McPherson, Simon Kenton Council, OH)

The procedure for obtaining a merit badge application (aka “blue card”) is described on page 187 of the Boy Scout Handbook, and, frankly, I can’t think of a single reason why a Scoutmaster would withhold this from a Scout, especially in light of the fact that, on page 22 of the Boy Scout REQUIREMENTS book it is clearly stated that any Boy Scout can earn any merit badge any time he, the Scout himself and no one else, chooses. This latter means that, even when there may be a supposed physical or other possible limitation, it is not the Scoutmaster’s (or anyone’s!) prerogative to decide for the Scout—this is entirely and exclusively the Scout’s personal decision.
Happy Scouting!


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(November 30, 2008 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2008)

Letters to AskAndy may be published at the discretion of the columnist and the editor. If you prefer to have your name or affiliation withheld from publication, please advise in your letter.


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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