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Issue 161 – February 16, 2009

Editor’s note from the NetCommish: Ask Andy was red hot and ready to publish a week ago. Andy wrote a great column and had it ready, but, your old editor, The NetCommish, was dealing with some real life issues that made it impossible to publish for awhile. My apologies for the delay in releasing this issue of Ask Andy. And now for the good stuff from Andy.

Dear Andy,

Growing up in Scouts as a kid, one of the things I always looked forward to at the end of our troop meetings was dodge ball. Now, my Committee Chair’s told me that the Boy Scouts doesn’t allow Scouts to play dodge ball at any Scout function. Is this true? (Jim Skinner, SM)

No dodge ball? Since when? Ask your CC to show you that in writing, in any BSA publication. Otherwise, Forgetaboutit! Dodge ball’s as natural as marbles, capture-the-flag, or any other non-pugilistic game! Check out the Guide to Safe Scouting for what’s to be avoided.

But… Just to throw in my own “two cents”… As a Scoutmaster and also as an OA Chapter Advisor, I used to use dodge ball, basketball, etc., in front of meetings, to get the Scouts there on time so we could always start our meetings on time! Go a 7:30 start-time? OK, dodge ball (or B-ball, or whatever) from 7:10 till 7:29 and then the balls go away. This way, the Scouts showed up to play, and we started our meetings at 7:30 sharp. In the troop, we ended on time so that the PLC can have its 15-minute post-troop meeting gathering without feeling like they’re missing out while the other Scouts get to play. Think it over…

Dear Andy,

I know you’ve covered Scoutmaster Conferences (aka “SMCs”) in other columns and I hate to rehash, but we’re having a bit of a disagreement in our troop about content and length.

Historically, this troop has used SMCs to re-test each advancing Scout for mastery of all of the skills learned for not only the rank sought but for every prior rank as well—it’s literally a checklist of skills to be demonstrated for each rank. By the time our Scouts reach First Class, and even more so for Start and beyond, SMCs are taking at least two meetings if the Scout doesn’t get nervous or flustered and forget the material—more if he forgets something or gets something wrong.

This procedure is causing Scouts to miss out on troop meeting programs, games, and so on during their SMCs and it also pulls the Scoutmaster away from the troop meetings week after week. Plus, since usually a group of Scouts will all learn the same skills and get them signed off on the same campouts, there are whole bunches of Scouts who need SMCs at the same time, so that weeks go by before a Scout can get his SMC underway.

The Scoutmaster and long-time troop committee members say that if this re-testing isn’t done the quality of the unit will go down. They also say that almost all troops re-test as part of the SMC.

Can you give me some sort of indication on how a successful program maintains knowledge without re-testing? Or are they correct that most troops re-test the way we do? (Name Withheld, Sam Houston Council, TX)

Thanks for finding me and for asking a really important question!

There are four steps to a Scout’s advancement: He (1) learns, (2) is tested, (3) is reviewed, and (4) gets recognized. He is never, ever re-reviewed, or re-tested, or is expected to re-learn. He goes through the four steps once and only once and that’s it.

The Scoutmaster conference has an entirely different purpose from what you’ve described; it’s explained thoroughly in the Scoutmaster Handbook and the training courses for Scoutmasters. The Scoutmaster is expected to follow the process described in his own handbook; there’s actually very little if any room for deviation. There’s certainly no room at all for re-testing or even re-reviewing. Not so much as tying a square knot! That’s simply not the Scouting way! Period.

A Scoutmaster’s conference with a Scout, preparatory to the Scout’s board of review for a rank, might last perhaps 10 minutes or so, perhaps 15 or a tad more for Eagle candidates, but that’s about it. These are simple and straightforward conversations; there’s certainly no “testing” going on, for goodness sakes! That’s just not what Scoutmasters are supposed to be doing at this point in the advancement process.

If the Scout’s handbook has been signed, saying that, let’s say, requirement 5a for First Class has been completed (per Step 2 that I mentioned at the outset), then it’s done…forever! It’s never, ever retested. By anyone!

If the Scout has completed a merit badge, and his “blue card” has been signed by his Merit Badge Counselor, that’s it. No questions pertaining to requirements that are in the “quiz” or “re-test” category ever get asked! The MBC has already stated, by signature, that all is completed, and that’s it. End of story.

If this isn’t the approach your troop is taking with its Scouts, then—old-timers or new-timers—the adults are doing a huge disservice to the Scouts and they need to stop this sort of stuff immediately. Their mission is to deliver the Boy Scout program as written; it’s not to make up their own set of rules or standards on their own. “We’ve always done it that way” is not an acceptable rationale for continuing to do what is patently the wrong way to go.

On your question of “how do we keep up skills without re-testing?” in the first place, that’s not your job! The BSA has not obliged you to make certain that every Scout retains 100% (or even an approximation of this) of all the skills and knowledge he’s acquired as a Scout. Heck, there’s not a public or private educational system or operation or institution on this entire planet that even tries to do this! That said, there are definitely things your troop can be doing to make having learned this stuff fun, and that’s by providing ways to use the skills! What do you think Camporees, Klondike Derbies, and so on are for? What do you think inter-patrol games and competitions are for? That’s how you continue to reinforce these learnings. Not “at gun-point” for gosh sakes!

I truly hope you’re all able to straighten yourselves out and start delivering the Boy Scout program the way it’s supposed to be delivered.

Thanks, Andy. Those are the sort of things that I was trying to tell them, but they kept telling me I was being unrealistic and that all troops were like this. That’s why I did a “sanity check” by writing to you.

What these folks aren’t getting is that it doesn’t matter what “other troops” are or aren’t doing. What matters is whether or not this troop is following stated BSA procedures. If they’re not, then they need to make an instant course correction and get themselves aimed at True North. They’ve wandered way, way off course.

I’m not the “sanity check”—The check to make is in the BSA literature, including the Scoutmaster Handbook and Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures. This isn’t “they’re wrong according to Andy;” they’re wrong according to the BSA! What a pity that they haven’t figured this out!

Hi Andy,

My son is ADHD, is bi-polar, has other emotional issues and has some diagnosed phobias. The first troop he joined was very slow to advance him—after a year he didn’t even have his Tenderfoot rank. He was very frustrated, as was I, so we transferred to another troop. His current troop is very organized and we’re proud to be involved; however, there’s an issue with which I need help. All of the other Scouts went through Cub Scouts together and moved on to Boy Scouts together. My son was never involved in Cubs. Because of this, he feels like an outsider, and since he’s been a Boy Scout for almost two years and he’s still only a Tenderfoot (compared to the other Scouts of similar age, who are all at least First Class), how do I help him continue to grow? Is there anything specific about Scouts that would help his Scoutmaster and the other Scouts understand him better? Are there any BSA policies regarding mentally disabled Scouts that I should be aware of, in order to help him advance at a quicker rate? Thanks for any help you can offer. I want him to grow and be a successful Scout. I want him to continue to learn, grow, and become a man of honor. (Therese Righter)

Congratulations to your son for sticking with it! And to you, too, Super-Mom! Thanks for writing. Let’s see if I can help out a little…

First off, missing Cub Scouts is, in the long run, no particular big deal. Sorry it didn’t happen, but let’s look forward, not back. It’s tough to be “an outsider,” but remember that he’s been in his new troop only a few months. He needs to give it a little time. I suspect strongly that a few good overnight camp-outs will go a long way to helping some bonding happen. Of course, he has to reach out, too! Life isn’t a one-way street.

Second, in Boy Scouting, advancement is “at will,” meaning it’s up to each individual Scout how fast and how far he, personally, wants to travel along the advancement trail. The troop’s program will provide opportunities for him, but no one will be putting him on their shoulders. This is why some Scouts make it all the way to Eagle and most don’t (nationwide, only about two to four out of every hundred Boy Scouts gets to Eagle). But again, no big deal here! If your son decides to be a Second Class Scout, or a Star or Life Scout, that’s just fine. He can even decide to stay right where he is at Tenderfoot! This is his decision, and his alone. He needs to read the first couple of chapters in his handbook (yes, it’s OK for mom and him to read it together!).

Third, the BSA does have alternate advancement paths for Scouts who are mentally or physically challenged, and this is described in your son’s handbook (refer to the footnotes on pages 65 and 113) plus the additional BSA literature mentioned there. All that’s needed, to begin with, is a written statement from a qualified medical practitioner stating the problem(s) and the limitation(s). Once this document is in hand, the alternative process can begin, and there is significant BSA literature to guide you all on the troop committee with this.

Review what we’ve spoken of here with your son’s Scoutmaster. Review the BSA writings on this subject. If you have further questions, let’s by all means hear from you again!

Hi Andy,

My question’s about the formation of patrols. I know that Scouts have a better time and feel more comfortable when all the boys in a patrol are close in age and experience level, but wouldn’t the Scouts get a more well-rounded experience and learn more if they were in a more diverse patrol—for example, one with, let’s say, a Life Scout, a Star Scout, two First Class Scouts, two Second Class Scouts, and two new Scouts? I’d think younger Scouts would learn more from that type of patrol environment because they’d be interacting with Scouts who have different levels of experience and maturity. This would also allow older Scouts the opportunity to learn to deal with and work with and more closely mentor younger Scouts, who are also at different maturity levels. I’m interested in your thoughts on this. (Matt Riti, CC, Central New Jersey Council)

No, they wouldn’t. Boys form natural groups by age/grade. Young men who are age 15 or 16 don’t hang out with 11 or 12 year olds. The kind of patrol you’re describing forces them to do something that’s totally unnatural to their maturation, instincts, tendencies, and liking.

A new Scout patrol of former Webelos den members is the most natural of all patrols. They’ve likely already shared many experiences, they’re in the same school grade and may even be in the same classroom, they’ll ultimately all be in the same high school graduating class together, they know one another’s strengths, weaknesses and personalities… why in the world would you want to bust ’em up and make every one of them low man on the totem pole?

They’re certainly capable of electing their own Patrol Leader, and—in a correctly run troop—that PL will have the “I’ve got your back” guidance of a Troop Guide (who is not, by the way, the “temporary PL until the new boys catch on”) and often an ASM as well.

Want proof? Just tell any group of Scouts that they’re to form into groups of between four and six Scouts each, and then you step back and observe them… They’ll instantly and absolutely group by relative age/grade.

Dear Andy,

I appreciated your comments about doing merit badge work during troop meetings—I think you’re absolutely correct that you can give Scouts a taste of merit badges without turning troop meetings into merit badge classes.

My experience with trying to teach Cit-Community and Cit-Nation in groups before troop meetings was mixed. Too often it felt like I was pulling out my back teeth with tweezers and it took forever to get anything done because half the Scouts would fail to show up and I wound up going over the same subject matter session after session after session. That said, the Scouts who worked at it got through two Eagle-required merit badges over a four- to five-month period. This year, I’ve focused instead on meeting with merit badge groups for about two hours each on a couple of Saturday afternoons, and find that we can crank out the requirements for each of the Citizenship badges a lot more quickly and it’s less of an ordeal.

Of course, the troop calendar has to include regular field trips and so on, to help Scouts who are interested meet the requirements of at least Eagle-required merit badges like the citizenships—I’ve found that the best and easiest way to get through the boring stuff is to talk about it on a field trip. There are a lot of other field trips that can spruce up the troop program and get the Scouts well on their way to finishing a merit badge, like a waste treatment plant visit, for Public Health, or to the local art museum, for Art and/or Sculpture.

One thing I miss from Cub Scouts is working on handicrafts. I think it would be fun and different if Scouts did things like basketry,
leatherwork, or whatever for a portion of a troop meeting once a month or so, and each patrol could have a storage box with individual craft projects. But the Scouts show little interest in that idea. Are you aware of troops that work crafts into the troop program with any success? What’s the secret? (Alex Gregory)

Let’s first understand that I’m an Eagle Scout from an entirely different era and culture… When I was a Scout, not even our Scoutmaster showed any interest in our advancement except to congratulate us when we’d completed a requirement. Of course, he’d been a wise enough Scoutmaster to have provided the opportunity for learning-and-doing while on camping trips with our patrols. But it was always up to us Scouts to grab the flag and run with it, so to speak. Classes? Never. Hand-holding? You must be joking! Special sessions to help Scout “catch up”? Not a chance. Troop Dads who were also Merit Badge Counselors? Not a one.

So, how did we ever advance, if we had to go “out there” and contact every single Merit Badge Counselor, for every single merit badge, by ourselves? Well, we just did it. We did it because we knew that if we didn’t, there’d be nobody there to coddle, cajole, or coach us through anything. Like it says in the handbook, advancement’s up to the gumption of each individual Scout—No one’s gonna hold yer little hand or pat yer little head. As Yoda said, “Do. Or do not.” The choice was ours, and we made it.

So you’re thinking, thank goodness there was no 18-years old limit when Andy was a Scout…probably took him a lot longer than Scouts today, who make Eagle at 11 PM the night before their 18th birthday! Well, I was an Eagle at age 15, and my younger brother did it at age 14, and neither of us was either unusually “devoted” to Scouts, or exceptionally motivated. We just sort of went along and did what we wanted to and, Lo and Behold, there we were, with all our requirements completed. Oh yeah, nobody drove us to either troop meetings or Merit Badge Counselor sessions, either. We had legs and we had bikes; we were expected to use ‘em.

So anyway, I’m not much of a believer in “make-up sessions,” or “special outings,” or any other such nonsense, because, fundamentally, I’m not a believer in the notion that “a troop’s primary responsibility is to produce Eagles.” I’m not a believer in that notion because that’s what it is: a notion.

Stop, already, with the classes and sessions and special field trips and all of that other stuff. If a Scout wants to earn a merit badge, he’ll go out and do it. If he doesn’t, he won’t. And spoon-feeding him ain’t the “solution,” largely because no solution is needed!

Well, now that we’ve established that, let’s chat a bit about handicrafts… Understanding that Boy Scouts better not be subverted into “Webelos 3,” the best way I can think of to inject handicrafts into a troop’s program is to set up a challenge-and-reward situation, like…

…By next month, any patrol whose members are all wearing personally hand-carved neckerchief slides get to go to… (name a spot they love!)

…Your patrol staves (that is, the poles that hold the patrol flags…you do have patrol flags, don’t you?) are way too plain and have no “character”… Here’s some Magic Markers, twine, gimp, beads, etc., etc., and you’ve got till the end of this troop meeting to personalize them. Best looking patrol stave, as judged by all of you in a silent ballot, gets to…

Are you getting my drift here…? <wink>


Dear Andy,

My question’s about Blue & Gold and Webelos cross-over. I’m a new Den Leader. I was pretty excited when our den started planning for the Blue & Gold banquet—the Tigers are making decorations and planning to decorate tables and sit together at the dinner. Our Unit Commissioner recommended to our pack committee that each den make decorations and prepare a skit. But when I went to the Cubmaster to clear our plans, he told me to hold off, because the Webelos will be doing the opening ceremony and then the cross-over ceremony will take over an hour, so there won’t be time for other dens to do anything. Where is the fun in that? I’m wondering. Maybe we “other” dens need a separate program—we’re sure not going to want to just sit there after eating and watch a more than hour-long ceremony to see a mere five boys get “arrow” plaques.

IMHO, if the Blue & Gold isn’t going to involve everyone in the pack, then cross-over should be a separate event. I know that both are important events, and I’ve looked at other web sites to see how other packs have done both. Being new, I’ve not yet seen how our pack does it, but all of the descriptions of it from other parents have been negative. What advice can you give me? (Ken Bohannan, Tiger DL, Ozark Trails Council, MO)

The Cubmaster’s the usual master of ceremonies at pack meetings, but he doesn’t control the program itself… The program is developed through the collaboration of all Den Leaders and the Cubmaster. It’s absolutely spot-on that pack meetings should involve as many boys in the pack as possible—meaning Tigers, Wolves, Bears, and Webelos—and not be limited to just one den over all the others. Pack meetings are designed to be highly involving for all Cubs; not just some. To be compelled to be “the audience” for more than about 15 minutes is abusive and needs to be changed. “Well we’ve always done it this way” isn’t an acceptable rationale for being wrong, wrong, wrong.

Round up the other Den Leaders, gang up on the Cubmaster, and fix this. You have every right to do this. The committee should be supporting your efforts to include more boys and should frown on any attempts to continue something that’s wrong.

The BSA publishes “Program Helps” in hard copy and on line. Follow those parameters and you’ll not go wrong!


Dear Andy,

In the district I’m associated with, Eagle candidates are reviewed by lining up as many as five candidates in front of the members of the board of review and asking these candidates questions alternating between them, for brief replies. The whole process, for five or more candidates, takes less than an hour. I first joined Scouting in 1941 and I’ve held virtually every volunteer position possible, including executive board member for a dozen years. I’ve always believed that all boards of review are done individually; never collectively. I’ve tried to speak with the district people about this, but they’re non-supportive of any change in procedure. Which is correct? (Frank B. Johnston, Cradle of Liberty Council, PA)

You have it right. Boards of review are always conducted individually—one candidate at a time—for all ranks and palms; not just Eagle. And it’s never, ever a “quiz.” The purpose of questions is to open up a conversation, a dialogue; not to “test” or “re-test” the Scout. For Eagle, a board of review might last perhaps a half-hour, maybe a little bit longer, and occasionally perhaps 45 to 50 minutes, but to hustle five or more Scouts through a review in an hour is absolute nonsense. Whoever is doing this, and whoever is permitting this to be done should be taken out back and shot.

Dear Andy,

I’m the newest Scoutmaster of one of the oldest and largest troops in town. In the two years prior to this, I was the troop’s camping chair. That’s where I first started noticing a significant difference in the way our Scouts generally behaved on camp-outs and summer (resident) camp, depending on whether or not their mothers were there: Behavior seriously deteriorated when mothers were present. Moreover, in instances where the mother of just on e Scout was present, the other Scouts treated him differently—not harassing, mind you, but differently…more like they cut him out of the group.

Last summer, while at camp, I had the opportunity to ask other troop leaders like myself whether they had any policies about mothers at camp-outs and such and, interestingly, the majority of those with whom I spoke either had strict policies about not including mothers or had an “unwritten understanding” that moms would get involved in troop activities other than camping.

I’ve since discussed this with our troop committee and with parents and, as a result, I’ve personally adopted this approach: “I highly encourage dads to become certified Assistant Scoutmasters and attend camp-outs; and while I don’t prohibit moms from attending camp-outs, I strongly endorse involvement in other areas, such as advancement, fund raising, administration, etc.” Our committee clearly doesn’t have a written directive either way, and I’ve tried to be very clear about this lack of policy with whomever I discuss this topic.

This unwritten strategy has worked well, even with single moms (who, I think, are sometimes are more enthusiastic about the Scouting program than their own sons). However, recently, this issue arose after I met with a single mom of a Webelos who’s considering joining our troop and another mom who’s very involved but hasn’t camped with the troop for a while but wants to keep that option open. I’m trying to be sensitive to their issues, but it’s becoming a dilemma. Personally, I think there are so few activities and organizations where “guys can be with other guys” that the issue of just one or two “tails” wagging the dog is frustrating. (I’m also checking into the Girl Scout policy to see if they allow dads to go camping with their daughters.)

The Scouts have recently changed the vision of the troop and are moving from single-aged patrols to mixed-age patrols, to emphasize more leadership, mentoring skills, and truly become a boy-led troop. There’s real excitement and momentum in the troop right now among both Scouts and parents alike, and I don’t want the “mom camping” issue become a negative factor in this forward momentum. I’ve considered letting the Scouts vote on their preference, but I’m wondering if this would be a good idea. Your comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. (Mark S. Miller, SM, Sam Houston Area Council, TX)

Thanks for raising these issues. They’re critically important! I’ll try to hit the key main points…

First: This is Boy Scouts. It’s not “Webelos III” and it’s not “family camping but with tan shirts.”

Neither moms nor dads should be directly involved with their sons on troop or patrol campouts—or even visible! The adult leaders on camping trips, hikes, and so forth are the Scoutmaster and perhaps one or two ASMs or committee members, at the very most. If other adults are along on the trip (for instance, maybe they’re drivers and they’d prefer to camp over instead of driving two out-and-backs), they’re to make themselves scarce. They don’t interact with the Scouts during the day, during meals, or at any other time. They camp and cook by themselves, out of sight of the troop. They might possibly be invited to the troop campfire Saturday night, but this is by no means “guaranteed.”

The Patrol Method: Either you’re using The Patrol Method or you’re not. If you’re not, you’re not providing a Boy Scouting program.

Same goes for Scout-led. You either are, or aren’t. If you’re not a Scout-led troop, you’re not delivering Boy Scouting. There’s no such thing as “a little bit pregnant.” There’s no such thing as “almost Scout-led.”

These things don’t have to be written down as some sort of “law.” They’re simply understood. And, frankly, if some parent doesn’t like this way of delivering Scouting, that parent is welcome to find a troop more to their liking. I just hope they’re not overlooking what their sons might happen to like–which is usually less rather than more parental involvement.

Don’t draw from Girl Scouts. This is an entirely different program, organized and run entirely differently from Boy Scouts. It is absolutely not “Boy Scouts, but for girls.”

Mixed ages in patrols is not as effective as keeping Webelos dens together as they become patrols and move through the troop together. Remember that these boys and young men are also in the same grade and perhaps even classroom together; ultimately, they will all be in the same high school graduating class. Why would anyone want to bust ’em up?! New Scout patrols are supposed to have one Troop Guide and one Assistant Scoutmaster assigned directly to coaching the Patrol Leader they’re elected from amongst themselves (the TG and/or ASM are NOT “temporary leaders until the Scouts learn how”). An 11 year old Patrol Leader is just as effective in attending a Patrol Leaders Council meeting and communicating his patrol members’ interests as a 17 year old Patrol Leader. If you reshuffle patrols to mix the ages, you’re destroying already-formed groups, and that’s just plain wrong.

Take a few well-spent hours to re-read your Scoutmaster Handbook. It’s still the way to go.

Hello Andy,

I have a question on Cub Scout advancement related to age. I think I’ve figured it out, but want to bounce it off you.

Out of 28 Cubs in our pack, we have only one Bear. Last fall, we agreed that instead of leaving this boy to hang out alone, with no den, he’d participate in Webelos den meetings (although he wouldn’t be earning Webelos awards—his parents would work with him to complete his Bear requirements this year). Then, next year, he’d still be with the Webelos den—they’d be Webelos II and he’d be I. He just had his 10th birthday the other day, and my fear is that, a year from now when the Webelos IIs graduate, he’ll have no den left, which would mean that he couldn’t complete the Arrow of Light requirements as written (“…with your Webelos den” and so on), which gets more complicated when we consider that until the current den of Wolf Cubs are Webelos I in the Fall of 2010, he’d not have a Webelos den to be with to start his 6-month requirement to earn the Arrow of Light, which at that point would extend beyond his 11th birthday in early 2011.

I suppose we could have told this family, back last fall, that we don’t have any other Bear-age boys in the pack, and recommended a different pack for him, but we have this thing about not turning any boy away and also he has a younger brother already in the pack and they’re a really nice family that we want to have. This boy is also academically advanced—in some comparisons, well beyond some of our current Webelos!

Then, we just found out that he’d been promoted mid-term from 3rd grade to 4th, so that, at the end of this school year he’ll be 10 years old and completed 4th grade, making him eligible to be a 5th grade Webelos II in the fall. This means that maybe he should stop doing Bear stuff right now, and go straight to earning his Webelos badge? Because it sure looks like he’s going to be eligible for Webelos II by next fall and graduating to Boy Scouts just about a year from now!

He’s the type of boy I can imagine having the drive to become an Eagle Scout by his 12th birthday and then earning all 121 merit badges in just a couple of years!

So, with him now being a bona fide 4th grader, and based on what the BSA application says…

  • · Cub Scout (including Tiger, Wolf, and Bear): Must have completed 1st grade but not 3rd grade, or be age 7, 8, or 9.
  • · Webelos Scout (I and II): Must have completed 3rd up to 5th grades, or be age 10.5 but not completed 5th grade, or be age 10 but not yet 11.5.
  • · Boy Scout: Must have completed 5th grade and is at least 10 years old OR Has completed 5th grade OR has had his 11th birthday OR has earned the Arrow of Light Award and is at least 10 years old.

…these mean that since he’s presently 10 he can still be a Bear Cub Scout, or since he’s now in the 4th grade thanks to that mid-term promotion, he can also be a Webelos I Scout right now. The tenure requirement of being active in the Webelos den for 3 months since joining it is already underway, and he can complete this requirement toward the end of April! Thus, he can receive, first, his Bear Badge and Arrow Points, and his Webelos Badge and any accompanying activity badges, at our pack’s upcoming Blue & Gold dinner!

This also means that he’d be eligible to begin working toward the Arrow of Light requirements and activity badges as soon as school gets out in the spring and he’s no longer a 4th grader! This clears the way for him to aim at Arrow of Light, and the intention to graduate in early 2010, right on the cusp of his 11th birthday.

Do I have all this straight? He can be a Webelos even though he’s 9, because he’s now in the fourth grade, right along with the other Webelos I boys? And will he be eligible, on his 10th birthday in January 2010, to be a Boy Scout, assuming all Arrow of Light achievements have been completed?

Have a good day! (Sheila Brookins, WDL, Detroit Area Council, MI)

Readin’ all that started to make my head come to a point. The short answer is: Move a boy up, if necessary, but never move him down.

Thanks for your devotion. Do keep in mind that the objective of Boy Scouting is NOT to be an Eagle Scout: In fact, advancement is only one of a total of eight methods Scouting uses to help boys and young men grow into responsible, happy citizens.

Dear Andy,

In your January 16th column, one of your readers had a question about their boy earning Bear without being a Wolf. In your answer, you broke the levels of Cub Scouting down to what grade they’re in… This isn’t always true. For instance, if a boy were in an LDS unit (LDS = Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) his place in the Scouting continuum would be defined by his age: An 8 year old would be a Wolf Cub Scout; on his 9th birthday he advances to Bear; on his 10th birthday he advances to Webelos; from 11 through 13 he’s a Boy Scout; from 14 through 15 he’s a Varsity Scout; and at 16 he becomes a Venturer (includes Sea Scouting). (Robert Schleich, SM, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Yes, you’re absolutely correct: The rank-to-grade thing isn’t universal; LDS Scouting groups do follow an age-in-years-to-program format. That’s why we had “Blazer Patrols” for a while, in fact, if you happen to remember these. Thanks for the reminder, Brother!


Dear Andy,

I have a question, but I’ve been thinking it’s just another Scouting “urban legend.” Even worse, when I was trained as a Tiger Cub Den Leader, this was what I was told…

When a boy is going through the Eagle Scout process, does he have to prove when and what ranks he earned in Cub Scouts? (The background to this is that in my pack, advancements that were filed with the paper advancement form are not showing up in online advancement, and I’m being asked to fill it in, despite my strong belief that the paper copy we submit to council is adequate.)

Right off the top, I dismiss the whole notion of keeping Cub Scout advancement records based on a rationale that they’ll be needed later, when a Scout’s going for Eagle, because a boy doesn’t have to be a Cub Scout to be an Eagle Scout, so proving when a boy earned his Tiger Cub Badge, for example, is a pretty moot point.

I’ve looked at the Eagle Scout rank application. It asks if a boy was a Cub Scout and/or a Webelos Scout. It doesn’t ask for dates or any information at all about Cub Scout ranks, and it certainly requires no proof of any sort to be attached. I’ve also looked at my council’s Eagle Scout process, and again there’s nothing about Cub Scout ranks. I’ve read the Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures guide, and I haven’t found anything there, either.

So all I can really conclude is that this might be asked about during a Scoutmaster Conference or Eagle Scout Board of Review, but to what purpose? I really don’t see why a date and proof of a Cub Scout rank would be relevant. I could perhaps see a Scoutmaster asking about a Scout’s general experiences, and maybe in an Eagle Scout Board of Review, asking about experiences is much different than proving he earned ranks. But would a Scout really be denied a rank because he couldn’t prove he was a Cub Scout? I really don’t think so. Would an Eagle Scout candidate be meeting the requirements any better by proving he was a Tiger Cub? Again, I don’t think so.

My first conclusion is that a troop committee can have some strange (and wrong) need to prove to their council that they have a Scout that “they—in their infinite wisdom” have “deemed” worthy of Eagle Scout by making him endure an unnecessary set of questions and proofs.

My second conclusion has to do with troops submitting advancement reports to council. I’m not sure what the Eagle Scout Service does to a Scout’s application to verify tenure and record of Boy Scout ranks, but why would they waste their time verifying Cub Scout ranks on an Eagle Scout application? (Name Withheld, Detroit Area Council, MI)

“Urban legend” is correct. Boy Scouts don’t need to provide evidence of their Cub Scout ranks. Troop leaders do not “decide” if a Scout is “worthy” of Eagle or not—This is totally wrong-headed thinking. No Scout has to “prove” anything, especially in a correct board of review. All of this is done beforehand, anyway, and to subject a Scout to any sort of quiz—whether it be on subject-matter, dates of advancement, or anything else—is a direct violation of BSA policy.


Hey Andy,

Is there any rule in Boy Scouts stating that all Scout outings must be used for some type of rank advancement? (Mark Fury, SM, Istrouma Area Council, LA)

Ya gotta be kidding! Nope, there’s not a darned thing that says that, and there never has been! Here’s what all Scout outings MUST be about: Fun, adventure, new hands-on learning-and-doing, team-building, and did I mention FUN!

Dear Andy,

I am appalled by the hypocritical attitude of the Boy Scouts. Raping the land by clear-cut logging all over the country, and killing endangered steelhead at Camp Pico Blanco. My son will never be a Cub Scout or Boy Scout. We wholeheartedly support Trout Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, and the Sierra Club. Your actions are completely counter to the conservation role espoused by the Scouts. Shame on you! (John Reising, Issaquah, WA)

Thanks for finding me, and for writing…

According to my brief research at, a major fire, caused by a lightning strike in the Big Sur area of California on June 21, 2008 has resulted in significant damage throughout the Pico Blanco basin area, including Camp Pico Blanco, the oldest Boy Scout camp along the central coast. The camp has been salvaged, largely by volunteers, but needs major infusions of both dollars and more volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves and return this formerly beautiful and much-utilized (by many groups, not just Scouts, thanks to a BSA “open door” policy) area to a state where humans can return safely to it.

I encourage you to learn more from the Scouting folks more closely associate with this area: Camp Pico Blanco Recovery Fund, c/o Monterey Bay Area Council-BSA, 55 East San Joaquin Street, Salinas, CA 93901, (831) 422-5338. Ask to speak with the Scout Executive (he’s the highest-ranking person in charge).

Best wishes and please let me know what you learn and—more importantly —what you all decide to do.

This URL has some pretty grisly photos…

Thanks again for writing –

Dear Andy,

One of our Scouts didn’t receive the rank he’d earned in all other ways because there were only two committee members available for a board of review for him. I’ve read the BSA guidance on boards of review, and it does say that there need to be at least three committee members; maximum six. Is that a firm rule? Or can we “borrow” someone from the pack to meet the minimum of three (provided he or she isn’t a relative/guardian and is 21+ years old)? (Bob Wright)

What a shame that the troop’s adults didn’t prepare in advance, to make sure they had a minimum of three registered committee members present for this Scout! You’d think they’d know that they’re there for just one reason—to serve the youth of the troop—and approach their responsibilities accordingly. In an emergency, of course, either of the committee members present might have pulled out their cell phone, called another committee member, and told ’em, “Hey, get on over here! We have a Scout who needs you to show up!”

What you read, by the way, isn’t a “guidance;” it’s a BSA policy. Policies are steadfast. No less than three, no more than six, committee members for boards of review for all ranks except Eagle.

Thank you for validating and clarifying my question. The troop and pack meet on the same night at the same time and we thought we could use leadership from the pack to assist the troop. We’re having difficulties with troop leadership; and my boys didn’t get their ranks again tonight… truly frustrating. (Bob Wright)

The way this is supposed to work is pretty much a straight line, and the adults are responsible to the advancing Scout. It happens in this order…

1) Advancing Scout meets with his Scoutmaster, has enjoyable and successful conference…

2) Scoutmaster immediately informs the troop advancement coordinator or chair (name doesn’t matter so much as having the right person in this slot) that the Scout is ready for his board of review…

3) Advancement chair contacts two to five other registered committee members and schedules a board of review to be held in concurrence with the very next troop meeting (or, this very evening if two to five are present)…

4) Board of review meets with the Scout; he advances.

A variation on 3) is that the advancement coordinator announces to all Scouts that next week there will be boards of review for any Scout who is ready to advance, so go talk to your Scoutmaster about how close you are, and be ready by next week and we’ll do this!

A variation on this whole procedure is for the advancement coordinator to have pre-scheduled boards of review on the same evening as the first meeting of each month. To do this, committee members sign up in advance–this sign-up is their commitment to being there and making this happen for the Scouts.

Now on an overall basis, if troop meetings last 90 minutes (which is what they should be running, and certainly not more than this, except for the PLC), and parents are dropping off and picking up their sons, what are they doing with their in-between time? Maybe what the troop needs is simply an extra room, with some decaf or tea or cocoa and some home-brought cookies each week, so the parents get the idea that they can and should “hang out” till the meeting’s end. Works like the “coffee hour” after church… Folks get to know one another, to bond, and to get “closer” to the troop. This is where “new” moms and dads get to meet others who have been around for a while! This is where your new recruits for the troop committee come from, too!

Get the parents on board and the entire “personality” of the troop will change for the better, almost overnight!

But, as Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no ‘try’.”

Hi Andy,

I’ve made it to Eagle Scout rank! My Court of Honor’s coming up very fast and I have to write a short speech. I really don’t know what to write, though. I want to say something about what walking the trail to Eagle has meant, but I don’t have any idea how to do it. Do you have any ideas or pointers for me? Thanks! (Name Withheld)

Congratulations! One of the merit badges you earned along the way was Communications. One of its requirements was “write and deliver a 5-minute speech.” Here’s where you get to take what you learned and apply it. Just ask yourself this question: What would an Eagle Scout say? The moment you do that, the answer will present itself… because you are an Eagle Scout!
Now go get ‘em!

Happy Scoutingg


Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)

(February 8, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)<=”” McCommish=”” Andy=”” ©=”” Copyright=”” –=”” 2009=”” 4,=”” (January=””>

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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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