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Issue 283 – January 1, 2012

As we begin this New Year, here are some thoughts at random for us to consider as we continue to move Scouting forward into this millennium:

Scouting Versus Sports

The teams of John R. Wooden (1910-2010), head coach for UCLA basketball, won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including seven in a row with a record 88 straight winning games.  One of the most revered coaches of all time, he was renowned for his short, simple inspirational messages to his players.  Here’s one quote: “Sports doesn’t build character; sports reveals character.”

Many Webelos parents today insist on their sons choosing: Scouts or sports; not both.  In creating this Solomon’s Decision for their sons, they’ve somehow forgotten that Scouting is all about building citizens of strong character with mental and physical acuity.  Somehow, they think sports will do this.  It won’t, according to Coach Wooden.  Moreover, most middle and high school sports, and even college sports, aren’t necessarily translatable into life-long ways of life; they’re short-lived activities governed by adult coaches.  Scouting, on the other hand, is youth-directed with adults standing by as mentors and life-guides.  Where sports tend to be all-or-nothing (miss practice and you can count on warming the bench, or worse), Scouting is flexible.  Where sports tend to favor the exceptional, Scouting is inclusive and accepts all regardless of ability.  Where the very nature of sports creates more losers than winners, Scouting is all about all winning at no expense to any other Scout; all have the same opportunity to cross the finish line.

Scouting versus sports is simply not a decision any young man ever has to make, because Scouting’s always there with open arms.

Eagle as a High School Graduation Present

In Cub Scouts, boys advance one rank a year, earning their final rank—Arrow of Light—at the dusk of their Cub Scouting days and just a few moments before they graduate from the program and—we would hope—move on to Boy Scouting.  Based on this experience, it would be a natural conclusion that Boy Scouting works the same way: Earn Tenderfoot at about age 11 and then continue through the remaining six ranks over the next six or so years, so that Eagle rank is earned at age 17.  Logical, yes?  But the answer’s no.  This isn’t how the Boy Scout advancement program works.  In fact, it would be perfectly normal—and it’s certainly not rare—for a Scout to go from Tenderfoot, through Second Class, and First Class as well on or even before his 12th birthday.  Star rank in a four or so more months, Life six months or so later, and the final rank about six months after than, and we have a 14 year-old Eagle Scout.  The important idea here is this: This is how it should be!

Yes, the BSA allows for Eagle rank to be earned right up to the day before a young man’s 18th birthday, and this is a good thing.  But it’s hardly the “rule of thumb” to follow, because this Scout never, ever gets to wear his Eagle Scout rank badge proudly on his uniform, and that’s unfortunate.  It’s not all that much different from completing all of one’s curriculum requirements for a degree and never getting to wear the cap-and-gown.

I’ve had the honor of sitting on the boards of review for several hundred about-to-be Eagle Scouts.  Of those who are, or almost are, 18, I’ve asked, “What advice would you, personally, give to a brand-new Boy Scout about rank advancement?”  Every one of these young men has said exactly the same thing: “If you want to go for Eagle, don’t do what I did—earn it no later than your freshman year of high school!”  (Maybe we should listen to the Scouts themselves?)

The World’s Oldest Patrol Leader

We’ve all seen him at one time or another: The Scoutmaster who ignores The Patrol Method, who runs or has something to say for each of the seven parts of a meeting when the only troop-visible moment he’s supposed to have is the “Scoutmaster’s Minute.”  He can’t resist making all the announcements, running the games, teaching the skills.

The Senior Patrol Leader’s been relegated to a “go-fer,” or worse, often with no actual leadership at all.  The Patrol Leaders are in name only; treated identically to the Scouts in their supposed patrols.  En masse, the Scouts are made to squat on the floor in submission while this, “the world’s oldest Patrol Leader,” lectures at them.

There’s only one solution, of course.  But it takes folks with the understanding that it’s not Scouting unless the Scouts themselves are in charge of themselves, and one more thing: backbones.

HappY ScOuTing!


(No. 283 – 1/1/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012)



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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