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Issue 166 – March 16, 2009

Hoo-Ray for the BSA!

Everyone makes a mistake now and again, and I’m sure no exception! That’s why I try to stay on top of things as much as I can. So, a couple of weeks ago, I re-took the BSA’s online “Troop Committee Challenge” training. Oops! There was what appeared to be a glitch. A small one, but it could have major impact. So I respectfully wrote to Texas, describing what I’d observed. Not more than about a couple of weeks later, a letter from the BSA national office arrived. Here’s the thrust of what it said:

Dear Mr. McCommish:

I have been asked to respond to your letter…concerning the troop committee agenda located at the end of the online Troop Committee Challenge training. You are indeed correct, the Scoutmaster is not a part of the troop committee and the sample troop committee agenda did create the impression that the Scoutmaster was part of the troop committee. Thank you for pointing this out to us, we have cleared up the discrepancy… Enclosed please find the updated troop committee agenda that has been posted at the end of the online committee challenge… We appreciate you bringing this to our attention and giving us the opportunity to be consistent in our publications. Yours in Scouting, Fred J. Meijering, Group Director (with cc’s to Robert Mazzucca, Chief Scout Executive; Albert Kugler, Director CSE Office; and Joe Glascock, Training Director)

I can’t speak for you, but I’ll say without hesitation: I’M IMPRESSED! That response was fast, forthright, and attempted to sweep nothing under the proverbial carpet. Most of all, it told me that they’d checked it out and fixed the problem! These guys are my heroes! I hope they’re yours, too!

Hi Andy,

Three-wheeled Pinewood Derby cars? Well let’s start here: We’ve all seen it, a Scout is getting some hands-on instruction in the field on how to put guy lines on a tent or tarp, and terms like “bowline” and “taut-line hitch” and “clove hitch” are flying past his blank and unknowing visage like MIGs in a dogfight and it’s contagious—his patrol mates seem just as clueless. He must have known these for at least a few moments, since he’s apparently made it to First Class, but if you don’t “use it” you “lose it.” So, at troop meetings, all of a sudden there are inter-patrol games with knot-tying relays and building 20-foot spans with four-foot segments logs and rope and, in no time at all, all the Scouts know enough knots to keep Houdini
after school. Why? Simple: Boys of all ages thrive on competition!

Then I read, “The Pinewood Derby is a fun event for boys, with their dads assisting only as necessary, and “winning” isn’t what this event is about.” Well, if it quacks like a duck… guess what… it’s a duck. A race is a race and exists for one purpose: Do your best to win. And that would be fairly and squarely or it’s not “winning.”

That pack with the “trike problem” made at least two mistakes: They didn’t have published rules, and they tried to make up rules on the spot. If they’re just asking now if this is a rule or isn’t means that there was no rule available to the competitors to properly construct their cars. They made another mistake by implying that people were cheating. The three-wheel thing may be a well-known “loophole” but, on the other hand, I wouldn’t expect a car made by a Cub Scout-age boy left to his own devices to have any two wheels inserted at the same angle! If there were “many angry fathers,” this simply means that, in the absence of written rules, a body of insider know-how about what makes a car perform better was generally known and accepted within the pack, except for the new Wolf parents, who hadn’t yet learned the unwritten rules. (Let’s remember that, in the first modern Olympics, the American track and field team was accused of cheating in the discus, because they didn’t throw it as depicted by the Greek statues—they just did what seemed natural. Further, the “Fosbury Flop” for the high-bar was at first sharply questioned in the 1968 Olympics, but went on to become standard for this event, totally replacing the original methods of Straddle, Western Roll, Eastern Cut-Off, and Scissors-Jump!)

I absolutely agree with you about keeping this a fun event, but I think we need to acknowledge that we can’t just unhook the Y chromosome.

First thing is to publish rules. A little time with a favorite search engine should come up with lots of good examples. Make sure the rules are fixed for next year, to head off any problems or issues that might come up. State the rules in ways that are measurable and not based on personal judgment. For instance, have a sample section of track at registration-inspection table that checks each and all wheels objectively. But, also have tools—like a drill with a spade bit and a hot-melt glue gun—at the ready, to make repairs or to fix weight situations (add or subtract)—that way, disappointments are avoided.

The second thing is to invent multiple avenues of creativity so that there are more goals than trying to enter a cast tungsten car (after all, tungsten is denser than lead) with razor wheels lubricated with nano-carbon particles! Have a construction day! This way, the dads (not to be sexist, but moms seldom have the “PD Disease”) who have all the tools and techniques can share their expertise and “legal” tricks-of-the-trade with less knowledgeable dads! This helps get the techno-disease out of their systems in a socially acceptable way. The goal should be that every boy leaves with a completed car that just needs some final sanding, painting, and TLC. (I’d encourage everybody not to add the wheels until race day.) This also becomes an opportunity to review tool safety and address some tool and woodworking requirements for ranks or electives. Plus, they’ll get a reputation as a single parent-friendly pack!

Make sure that you publicize that there will be special awards for Best Paint Job, Best Scout Theme, Most Realistic, etc., etc., etc., and then recruit some creative judges (reach out to your Commissioner!) who will determine a category for each car to be BEST in (helps keep it fun). You might wind up with the “Best Use of Legos” award or the “Mean Green Special” award—the boys love ‘em! These can be announced throughout the course of the day, as cars are positioned in the starting gate. Every competitor gets a certificate this way.

When racing, find a system that’s more “round robin”-style than “single elimination.” Keep every car running as long as possible—even if it’s not going to be the super-star winner! We want everyone
engaged and hanging around till the end, to cheer on the finalists (like when the winner of the Tigers beats the winner of the Webelos!). (Andy Kowalczyk, District Commissioner, Hoosier Trails Council, IN, former CM, Boston Minuteman Council and Northeast Illinois Council, and Sports Car Club of America-Regional Executive)
You’re right on the money—Thanks for the detail of your insights!


Hi Andy,

As District Roundtable Commissioner, I’ve been asked to include in our program a session on adult leader recognitions and awards. I’d like to include in this your take on whether it’s worth the time and effort for a Scoutmaster to earn such awards. From reading your columns, I’ve observed that you feel that earning and wearing (i.e., square knots) such recognitions helps tell everyone you’re qualified for your position and have paid your dues. Please share any other advantages you see to pursuing these, and to what degree a Scoutmaster should work on earning them. Are their other awards you’d recommend, as well? Thanks for your help. (Ernie Kuhn, RTC, Great Salt Lake Council, UT)

There are two sides to the Scoutmaster or adult leader recognition “coin.” From the Scoutmaster’s side, the more he pursues progress records for the Boy Scout Leader’s Training Award and Scouter’s Key, the more he assures himself (and his troop!) that he’s staying current and continuing to learn and deliver the Scouting program as it’s intended to be delivered. The other side of the coin is in recognitions that he can’t earn but must be nominated for. These include the Scoutmaster Award of Merit, which his troop should definitely make sure happens (only 18-months tenure required!), the District Award of Merit (which troop leaders can nominate him for, once a year till he receives it!), and the recognition by his faith (e.g., St. George, God and Service, On My Honor, etc.). This latter group of recognitions is critical because these are the ones that validate the Scoutmaster’s contribution to the development of the youth of his community and tell him that those whom he’s serving appreciate and acknowledge what he’s committed himself to—especially if his troop is sponsored by a place of worship! Finally, yes, he should wear the square knots. The Scoutmaster who declines doing this (usually with the purportedly modest statement of “It’s just for the boys…”) doesn’t get it—He doesn’t understand that, as a role model, he has an obligation to achieve for himself and to wear the symbols of those achievements with conservative and humble pride.

Here’s an “exercise” or “game” you can do at the RT: “Read My Uniform.” Have several Scouters, each with a different set of square knots, Jamboree, or other “temporary” patches (all in the right places, of course) stand up in front of the group, and challenge the group to “read” their uniforms by describing their “Scouting Bio”! (Pick fairly thick-skinned people for your examples, because reading uniforms is a pretty foreign exercise for most Scouters and a lot will be tongue-tied because they won’t know what to do! This is where you step in and do the “reading.”)

Dear Andy,

I’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation for one of my former students, who’s working to be an Eagle Scout. I’d appreciate some advice on what should be included in the letter. Thank you. (Betty Kerstiens, Bay Area Council, TX)

The key criteria are the extent to which your former student “lived theScout Oath and Law in his daily life.” (Oath & Law provided)

Now it’s probably impossible for you to comment on each and every point of these two; after all, you saw only a fraction of his total “daily life.” That’s OK! Just comment on what you do know. Not so much with “superlatives” as with, ideally, an anecdote or two to support your observation.

One page is certainly sufficient, but there’s truly no limit or expectation in either direction—short or long. Write until you’re done saying what you want to say!

Do be sure to identify yourself, your school, your position, and the class that you had this young man in, and for how long.

I think this covers it, but please don’t hesitate to write to me again if I’ve left something out, or not been clear on anything.

Hi Andy,

Do you know of any short ceremonies for charter presentations? (Ernie Giblin, UC, East Carolina Council, NC)

There’s a very nice charter presentation ceremony described, with “script,” in the Commissioner Fieldbook for Unit Service.

Dear Andy,

Is the OA sash ever worn over or with “civilian” attire? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

Nope. Tacky, to the max.

Dear Andy,

BSA form no. 34293A works just fine for reporting Cub Scout den advancements for the Sports and Academics stuff! (Ben Ward)


Hi Andy,

Our Blue & Gold Banquet’s coming up and we have five Webelos II Scouts who have finished their Arrow of Light and all 20 of the Webelos Activity Badges. But hold the applause… The Den Leaders have allowed the parents to sign off on stuff. Some of these boys got as many as five activity badges “magically” completed, and the DLs had no involvement at all! I don’t want to create a firestorm over this, since in just a couple of weeks all these boys and their families move on (they’re a den of parents we “inherited,” and we’ve never been able to get them to get in line with the program), so I’m leaning toward just letting it go and moving them on (God help the troop that get’s ‘em!), but I don’t want this to be setting the example for our current Webelos I Den Leaders. The fly in the ointment, I’m learning, is that is we have boys on two different school tracks—traditional and 12-months—so at any given time, some subset of the Cubs are “on vacation,” where their families travel, so that these boys miss meetings, so this is how they handle “make-ups.” For levels other than Webelos, this wouldn’t be an issue, since the parent is Akela and does the signing off anyway. But for Webelos, I think the answer is they can only make up whatever they missed, from the meetings they missed—they can’t just start romping, willy-nilly, through activity badges as their whims take them: That’s the compromise point I’m willing to go with, under the category of “parent signature for Webelos advancement.” Any thoughts on this?

As part of what’s going on, I think it’s disappointing that these parents have really cheapened their sons’ experiences by what they’ve done—From what I’ve witnessed, these boys really didn’t do much if any of the stuff these parents signed off for, just so they could all get all the pins, and that’s not the point of all this. (Carl Sommer, CM, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Yup, I agree… Let’s move these people out… Several villages with openings just called!

What a shame that these parents think “badges” are what’s important, and they don’t bother reading the parents’ guides. It’s also a darned shame that the spineless Den Leaders let ’em get away with it, and didn’t tell ’em flat out: No way, Jose—I sign your son off; not you! But that’s (almost) water under the bridge… Wait till they try this nonsense in “Webelos 3,” aka “Boy Scouts.” <wink>

Yes, all incoming and remaining Webelos Den Leaders need to know that the only person who can sign off on activity badge requirements is them, and there’s no provision for “substitutes” (like, a parent). BUT, let’s get these WDLs to recruit activity badge counselors, from among their den parents—these counselors teach-show-guide the boys on subject matter and then the WDEL signs off. They all publish schedules in advance. Boys show up. They qualify. There’s maybe a make-up session or two, and then that’s it. If the counselor wants to get a boy who’s been gone up to speed, that’s a case-by-case call and volunteers can’t be expected to be “open for business” whenever the wayward parent decides to get around to it.

This requires, first, WDL coaching. Then, each WDL meets with his or her den parents and orients them, too, on how the Webelos program works. That way, there’s no room for excuses and there’s a much better chance this won’t happen next year!

Dear Andy,

Can you provide a definition of the word “Scouter,” as in, “Here’s news for all Scouts and Scouters…”? Thanks! (Fran Minakowski, Baltimore Area Council, MD)

Good question! A “Scouter” is a registered adult BSA volunteer—the key words are “registered” and “adult.”

Dear Andy,

Besides Youth Protection and Weather Hazards training and event-specific training such as for swimming, boating, overnight camping, and so on, and the requirements for each leadership position to earn the “Trained” patch being required for registered adult leaders, what are the minimum training requirements for a leader to work with boys, or to meet the BSA minimum standards. (Bill Yoder, Mason-Dixon Council, MD-PA)

Youth safety and protection are two areas where a local council may set its own policies, so long as they meet or exceed national policies; therefore, your best answers will come from your own council’s risk management committee and, possibly, your council’s training committee.

Dear Andy,

I wrote to you a few months back, about my troop’s merit badge policies, and again I’m faced with a problem I’m wondering about… I volunteered to be the Merit Badge Counselor for Communications, but then I was told by the troop’s other leaders that I can’t counsel any Scouts who are not at least Tenderfoot rank, since this merit badge is Eagle-required. Now I can understand letting Life or Star Scouts have first crack at this, as they need this merit badge for rank advancement, and I can understand talking it over with a younger Scout and maybe suggesting to him that he may want to do some less intensive merit badges before starting in on the Eagle-required ones; but I’m worried about turning away young Scouts who are eager and excited about this merit badge solely on the basis of their rank. I think it would be more damaging to dampen their enthusiasm and willingness to push ahead. Basically, a case-by-case approach seems better than a blanket prohibition. At worst, a Scout may get into the merit badge and say, “Whoa, this is over my head!” and decide to wait a bit. But if the reasoning is that Eagle-required merit badges are “too hard” for younger Scouts, then shouldn’t we extend this rule to Electronics, Nuclear Science, and Motorboating, among others? But maybe I’m missing a BSA policy that says Scouts need to wait till they’re Tenderfoot or higher to start any Eagle-required merit badges. I’m just worried, because I’ve had several bright young Scouts who even at an early age already have long-range goals that they want to start on, and I don’t want to see their drive deterred by what might be nothing more than an arbitrary rule. (Sarge Morrison, Circle Ten Council, TX)

Let’s start here: Your troop’s home town, Plano, Texas, is among the state’s “top ten” cities in size, at over 222,000 population. Plano’s also just a short huck o’ chew from Dallas and in a Boy Scout Council that has over 70 thousand youth and over 10,000 adult volunteers. I’m mentioning these aspects so that we can agree that you all aren’t exactly the only game in town, with no surrounding support system of considerable magnitude… My little way of sayin’ y’all ain’t out there in the middle of the Sahara, no more than a zit on a camel’s back. With me so far…? Good.

Merit Badge Counselor lists are maintained by all BSA councils and their operational districts, and every Scoutmaster in a typical council is given a copy of that MBC list, so that when a Scout wants to work on a specific merit badge, the Scoutmaster gives him, simultaneously, a signed “blue card” and the name and contact information for at least one MBC relatively nearby. (This is described on page 187 of the Boy Scout Handbook.)

The Boy Scout Handbook also tells all Scouts that they can decide to go after any merit badge any time they want to. Check out the front-end of that book. Also check out the BSA’s Boy Scout Requirements book, which also says specifically that there are no restrictions whatsoever on what merit badge or badges a Scout may earn, whenever he (and no one else!) decides.

Your troop’s job is to deliver the Scouting program the way the handbook tells the Scout he’s gonna get it. Otherwise, it’s like him readin’ all about how to play baseball, and they you guys toss him a football, helmet, and shoulder pads. So, bottom line: Your troop needs to deliver what you all signed on for.

It’s absolutely silly to even waste time talking about what merit badge might be “too hard” for a Scout, any more than talk about what ones might be “too easy” for a Scout. They are what they are, and every Scout is eligible to go for all 120+ of them! Anytime they want.

Next bottom line: No “troop rules” on this stuff! You don’t need “troop rules”—The BSA’s already given you all the rules you need. Time to start followin’ ’em!

That said, every boy who joins your troop should be a Tenderfoot Scout 31 days after he’s joined, and if you all aren’t making that happen, there’s where you’re likely to be all messed up! Fix that one and I’ll bet a lot of other stuff just goes away.

I’m looking around at other troops right now…maybe ones that don’t make arbitrary rules. To this troop’s credit, they do have a good Tenderfoot program, with “Tenderfoot Olympics” starting right after the crossover. But that may be about the best I can say, because otherwise I think that their merit badge program has a lot of problems and a lot of unnecessary rules.

I appreciate your thoughts and insights. Right now, I’m preparing to take a stand on this issue, and I want to make sure that I wasn’t wrong in challenging this issue. Having the BSA policy in writing right there in the Scout handbook is going to help a lot! (Sarge)

Think about it… Merit badges are totally, 100% at the Scout’s discretion! “The troop” has nothing to do with merit badges, other than providing MBC’s names when asked! That’s it! For much more information, of course, there’s the Scoutmaster Handbook and Advancement Committee Policies and Procedures (BSA No. 33088).

Dear Andy,

We seem to have some problem with packs in our district saying they can have their own pack-level Webelos day hike or Webelos-O-Ree, but then they just go to the local park, roast some hot dogs, and call it done. We’ve now come up with a policy in black-and-white that we can give our packs. Would you please take a moment and see if this is correct, or if you have anything else that would help us? Here’s the statement: “Per national guidelines, Webelos Woods can only be sponsored by a district or council, since sites for the activity must be approved and meet all health and safety guidelines per the BSA and the local council. The Cub Scout Outdoor Program guidelines state that the Webelos-O-Ree will also require site-approval sponsorship and staffing by the local district or council. Units are not permitted to hold these activities on their own.”What’s your input on this subject? We’d like to get everyone on the same wave-length. But the same question keeps getting asked by several of our packs: Why can’t we do our own Webelos Woods at the ward or stake level? Thanks. (Kathy Tibbs, WW Chair, Palmyra District)

There’s more than one “Palmyra District,” so I can’t tell… Are you in Utah, or are you in Pennsylvania? I’m guessing Utah, given your reference to stake and ward. If so, you do need to appreciate that the religious strictures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints mean that what would be a “normal” Saturday-Sunday weekend event is going to of necessity be a bit different.

Next, let’s get this straight: “Webelos Woods” may be a phrase coined by somebody in the national office, and there may be a nationally-available program guide or outline, but I’m not so sure there’s a “national policy” about Webelos Woods. Here are just three of many, many WW descriptions I found on the Web…

“Webelos Woods is designed to give first and second year Webelos Scouts and their parents a preview of the Boy Scouting experience. The program reinforces Boy Scouting values, procedures, methods and skills. It is an introduction to Boy Scouts being a “boy led” program versus the “adult led” program used in Cub Scouts. Also, there is the thrill of camping in the outdoors at a Boy Scout style camp, which will foster a desire to continue Scouting. This is an excellent time for each troop to show the Webelos in its area what the troop does and to recruit new Scout for the troop. Likewise, this is an excellent time for Webelos to visit with a variety of troops from your area, and learn which troop may be the best to join…”

“A little about Webelos Woods. This program exists in many states but varies from council to council. Our program is quite unique. For one weekend the young men in your den get to experience what boy Scouting has to offer them. This is not just a taste: any closer and they will have to fill out a registration card. Weeks before Webelos Woods your den will put their den number aside and select an identity. They will have to pick a patrol name. We will call them the “Flying Dragons “ and till crossover they will be known as “the Flying Dragons”. It doesn’t stop there; they will be creative and make a patrol cheer. Patrol cheers create a sense of belonging and pride the cheer is to be used when ever the patrol meets and competes. When more patrol participates in patrol cheer it creates a whirlwind of Scout sprit. Wait and see. For the sake of time let say the boys come up with “Fly, Strike, Win – Flying Dragons” then there is the Patrol Flag. This is the most enjoyable of them all rules for the patrol flag competition is on our web site along with many other handouts. If each boy participates in making the flag it brings the patrol together as a team rather than individuals. (Mom and Dad PLEASE let the boys make the flag: Believe me when I say that the outcome is less than positive when you make the flag. Sure it looks great but the boys don’t come together as if they had made it. Last is the patrol patch. In Scouting the patrol will either make a patch or purchase a pre-made patch depending on the name and availability it will up to you. Then in November the Flying Dragons will learn Scout Craft Skill and compete using these skills. The best part is that this entire weekend is what Scouting is all about “BOY RUN” There is a staff of about 30 Scouts ranging to the ranks of Scout to Eagle that will be helping, teaching, leading, and coaching your Webelos. Don’t despair there are adults present at teaching sessions and roaming at the events but they serve as a health and safety only. Please help the BOY RUN PHILOSOPHY do not interfere with the boys and what they are doing…”

“Webelos Woods is a special program designed to help Webelos-level Cub Scouts (fourth and fifth graders) prepare for the more rigorous outdoor camping activities they will experience when they move up to Boy Scouts. With assistance provided by parents and Scout leaders, the Webelos boys are required to pitch their own tents, bring their own food and cook their own meals for the weekend. Webelos Woods is unique to other Scout camping because it draws together a team of local professionals – PhDs, MDs, expert technicians and instructors – to teach the Scout activity pin sessions and permit boys to earn two different pins in one weekend. Experts were available to teach Geologist, Handyman, Readyman, Forester, Naturalist, Scientist and Engineering badges. The annual Webelos Woods event is held during the first weekend in October each year. The event is open to all registered Webelos Scouts…”

Now none of these suggests that there’s some sort of nationally-mandated program that must be followed to the letter, but they all certainly suggest that their big purpose is to strengthen the bond between Webelos Scouts about to determine their Scouting futures (i.e., becoming Boy Scouts by joining a troop) and the Boy Scouts and troops in their area (or district). So, let’s focus for a moment on the goal of Webelos Woods: To further the Webelos-to-Scout transition.

I can’t tell you whether the statement you want to issue is correct or not. I’ve certainly never seen it before, but then there’s still lots of stuff “in writing” that I haven’t yet seen (I research for the answers each and every time I’m asked a question, and I only mess up when I don’t do my research thoroughly). If you tell me where you found that statement, I’d be happy to go to the same source and verify it for you. Meanwhile, you may want to simply ask your council’s camping committee to publish a similar statement and be done with it!

Finally, did you know that there’s a “Palmyra District” that runs a Webelos-Ree and makes this statement: “Due to the growth in the Palmyra District it has become necessary to split the participants into two groups. The LDS Stakes will attend the sections specified; non-LDS groups can contact Stephen or Charles for their dates. We cannot make exceptions for whole wards that wish to attend at different times; however exceptions may be made for the individual boy whose 11th birthday may occur before the date assigned to his Stake. These exceptions must be cleared and approved through Stephen or Charles.” Now if this is your Palmyra District, it seems like there’s already a method for handling LDS and non-LDS Webelos and troops; if not, you may want to borrow from them, because the LDS administration of the Scouting program has very precise regulations on the ages of boys and young men (remember “Blazer Patrols”?) because Scouting is—quite literally—the male youth group for this church.

Hi Andy,

As I recall, Youth Protection Training is good for two years from the training date. We’re re-registering our Merit Badge Counselors and updating the list, to distribute a current copy to our troops at re-charter time. In our council, at year end MBC’s re-register for the coming year. If a MBC completed Youth Protection Training prior to year-end 2007, then they may be current with YPT now, but it could lapse between now and when we do this again next year. Is it reasonable to require MBCs to refresh their YPT early, so that they’ll be current through the entire coming calendar year? (Paul Reins)

Check with your own risk management or training committee—they’ll give you the exact answer on training renewals for your home council (yes, it can vary council-to-council sometimes). They can also tell you if Youth Protection training is a requirement, in your council, for MBC, or more in the category of “suggestion” or “recommendation.”

Dear Andy,

I’m a new Cubmaster, although I’ve twice been a Tiger and Wolf Den Leader, so I’m actually in my fifth year of Cub Scouting. In these five years, our pack meetings have always included an opening flag ceremony, a raffle, awarding belt loops and pins, skits, a closing ceremony, and then snacks and clean-up. Each den has different pack meeting responsibilities each month, for the opening, closing, snacks, raffle items, and skit. Our Blue & Gold Banquet has centered around rank advancement ceremonies, which means that all dens had to complete their rank advancement programs by February in order for their Cubs to be awarded their ranks. Though the program has been consistent, it’s a bit dry. I’m trying to change this by adding games, songs, chants, different applauses, and so on. One of the things I’d like to reduce or change is awarding the belt loops. With 60 Cubs in the pack and some of them earning two and three belt loops at each pack meeting, calling the boys by name and naming each loop gets boring! I need to know what the policy is regarding this kind of recognition. We only meet for an hour, and I’d like the boys and their families to get to know each other a little better though games, songs, and FUN. Please let me know what you think. (Name & Council Withheld)

First, my hat’s off to your keeping your pack meetings to an hour! And for wanting to incorporate more fun stuff! These are certainly not supposed to be “mini-courts-of-honor,” but for Cub Scouts instead of Boy Scouts! They’re absolutely supposed to be FUN! BUT, that doesn’t mean you drop recognizing achievements entirely—That would be a huge and grievous error! In fact, I’m going to tell you flat-out that you’re not presenting enough recognitions!

Did you know that the ranks—Tiger, Wolf, Bear, etc.—are absolutely not to be done “en masse,” or in lockstep, or just once out of the whole Cub Scout year? Did you know that they’re supposed to be presented as soon as they’re earned, and then their Arrow Points and activity badges (for the Webelos) after that. That’s right: They get presented at the soonest pack meeting possible, with a ceremony, as soon as they’re earned! And, Wolf and Bear and their arrow points are earned outside of den meetings!

So, for the belt loops (which are pretty much no-brainers), how about having the Den Leaders give these out in their den meetings, as soon as they’re earned, and save the actual ranks, arrow points and Webelos activity badges–which are not parts of a “supplemental program” as are the belt loops and pins—presented ceremoniously in the pack meetings! That will go a long way to getting things back on track for you!

Oh, one more thing… The rank and Arrow Point ceremonies should definitely include calling the parents of each advancing Cub up to the front of the room for the ceremony, and they should definitely not include the classic “here’s your Zip-Loc bag o’ patches, shake hands, sit down, next…”

Thank you so much. I knew that Tiger, Wolf, Bear, and so on are supposed to be awarded as they’re earned, but change takes time. I’ll definitely start implementing some of these things. One more question: What are my responsibilities as Cubmaster and how much say do I have in planning what goes on at the pack meetings. Am I beholden to the pack committee? Thanks again!

While, ultimately, the Cubmaster “reports” to the committee, it’s not in the sense of “taking orders from.” You don’t take orders from the committee and they don’t “vote” on whether they like the pack meeting program or not. If they truly don’t like the way you’re handling things, and they’ve expressed this to you through the Committee Chair (only!) and you’re unwilling to change, they can shut up or fire you—there’s no middle ground.

Meanwhile, the pack meeting program is determined, and planned, exclusively by the Cubmaster and Den Leaders, in a monthly meeting of their own, separate from the pack committee meeting. The CM and DLs have total responsibility for pack meetings, and call upon the committee and its members for help, such as filing the pack’s advancement report and going and buying the patches that are needed to present, recruiting folks to bring refreshments, contacting the mayor of the town for a special presentation, let’s say, inviting the head of your sponsoring organization to say a few words or do an invocation at the beginning of the meeting, and so on—all “support” responsibilities. Think of the CM and DLs as Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, and the committee as the roadies. Got it now? Good!

Hi Andy,

I’ve looked through our Webelos Handbook to see what we need to do to earn the Heritage belt loop, and I’ve also done a web search. Is this belt loop awarded once the requirements are done? My son did a science project about a year ago, before he was a Cub Scout. Can he present it again to earn the Geologist badge? Lastly, my son did a poster for the Citizenship badge, so can he just modify it to “Leave No Trace” for the LNT badge? (Melynda Fuchs)

If your son is a Tiger Cub, he can do the belt loop requirements with you and when he’s completed the three requirements for the Heritages belt loop, you’ll inform his Den Leader and he or she will make arrangements for him to receive the belt loop. If your son is a Wolf, Bear, or Webelos, he can earn this with you, or but it’s far more likely that he’ll do this in his den with his fellow Cubs and his Den Leader.

The Webelos activity badges are done within your son’s den, with his Den Leader; he doesn’t do these at home with his parents any longer. So, as far as specific requirements for specific activity badges are concerned, his Den Leader will let you know what can count and what he’ll do with his den.

Do keep in mind that the Scouting program—regardless of whether it’s Cubs, Boy Scouts or whatever—isn’t about “getting badges.” These are nice mementoes of things done, but they’re not goals in themselves. The journey’s much more important!

Hi Andy,

In BSA adult training I’ve learned that a troop’s Senior Patrol Leader serves in that capacity at all troop functions and activities during histerm of office. This tracks with my long-ago experience as a Scout. However, in our troop, the elected Senior Patrol Leader is in charge of troop meetings and PLCs, but he’s not in charge at any campouts, service projects, or other troop activities. For these types of events, various Scouts “volunteer” to be the “SPL-for-the-day” at the event, so that each event has a different Scout in charge of it. This practice started, so they say, a long time ago, and its rationale is that it gives all Scouts leadership experience. I wonder if any other troops do this sort of thing, and, if so, if you know of any guidelines to use for this sort of practice. (John Japs, ASM, Northern Star Council, MN)

Bottom line: This is malarkey and it undermines the SPL; plus, it deprives him of his responsibilities and the learning that goes along with that. This little nonsensical ritual needs to be shot and buried as fast as possible. Leadership is a honor accorded by one’s fellow Scouts and doesn’t happen just because it’s “your turn in the barrel.” Scouts “get leadership experience” when they’re chosen to be APL by their elected Patrol Leader, or ASPL by their elected Senior Patrol Leader, or they’re elected PL or SPL, or appointed Scribe, QM, Instructor, Troop Guide (for new Scout patrols), etc. Your folks need to go back and RT*H! They’ve already damaged the Scout program enough with their quirkiness. They didn’t “make it better” although I’m sure this was their desire and motivation, and I do believe they’re good, sincere people, but they’ve screwed it up and it’s time to fix it.

Thanks! I agree, and will work on getting things back on track. As background, on further investigation I found that this practice was started a couple Scoutmasters ago, to satisfy req. 5 for Star and Life Scout rank advancement, where Scout is to “Serve actively (or carry out a Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project to help the troop)” and the Scoutmaster felt that several Scouts had not sufficiently served actively in their “position of responsibility,” so he denied advancement till he felt the requirement was satisfied. Thus, in a compromise with the troop committee, and so as not to single out specific boys perhaps unfairly, the “Scoutmaster-assigned leadership project” of being “SPL-for-the-day” was born. Your initial comments are definitely sufficient to motivate me. However, I’m all ears if you have any input about “Scoutmaster-assigned leadership projects” as might relate to this Star-Life requirement. For what it’s worth, I’m also working on JLT to help make sure the “positions of responsibility” are understood and meaningful. (John Japs)

Nope, I really don’t have any suggestions in this arena! And that’s because there are simply too many existing Scout leadership positions available, often not restricted to a single Scout (e.g., new Scout patrol Troop Guide, Instructor, Den Chief, etc.), that the need for the alternate “leadership project” (as differentiated from a “service” project!) is so remote as to be the proverbial needle in a haystack! What you all need to stop doing is short-changing the elected Senior Patrol Leader! Look at it this way: True Scouting’s supposed to take place outdoors, and meetings in buildings are only the in-between, “practice” stuff, so what you’re doing with this silly scheme is cutting the meat away and tossing the Senior Patrol Leader the bones.

Dear Andy,

Just a brief comment about your mention of Theodore Roosevelt as the “first Chief Scout”… He wasn’t. Lt. Gen. Robert S.S. Baden-Powell was the first Chief Scout of the UK (later first and only Chief Scout of the World); Ernest Thompson Seton was the BSA’s first Chief Scout (but not the only one–we had two more). Theodore Roosevelt did hold the honorary position of Chief Scout Citizen, so you were close. With the upcoming 100th Anniversary of American Scouting, I really hope the BSA does a good job of educating Scouts about our history and these important people. (Michael R. Brown)

Thanks for being a long-time reader, and for catching my glitches! Much appreciated! I think, in all humility, that when it comes to “educating Scouts about our history and these important people,” we are “the BSA”!

Dear Andy,

Where is the Arrow of Light award placed on the Boy Scout uniform? (Boy Scout, Minsi Trails Council, PA)

In your handbook, on the inside of the front cover, there’s a diagram of what goes on and around the left and right pockets of the Scout shirt. Do you see the Arrow of Light badge? Well that’s exactly where it goes!

Yes I found it. Thank you.

That’s good! Here’s the deal… 99% of what you need is right in that book! Read it, then read it again, then again! Wear it out! To my way of thinking, the best-looking handbooks have always been the ones that are practically falling apart from being read and read and read!

Happy Scouting!



Got a question? Have an idea? Send it to (Please include your POSITION and COUNCIL NAME or TOWN & STATE)(March 16, 2009 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2009)

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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.

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