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Issue 290 – February 14, 2012

Rule No. 57:
• One troop in town will constantly struggle to stay afloat; two troops in town will both succeed.


Scouters, today’s a special day to thank your own Valentines for their understanding, as they watch you trot off to all your Scouting events! Without their understanding, our movement would be so much less vibrant and smaller! (Our Honeys “get it”—They know it’s pretty difficult to get into Dutch while you’re in a Scout uniform! So be sure they get lots of hugs, always!)


This past Saturday marked the 12th ANNUAL PRAIRIELANDS COUNCIL TRAINING COLLEGE, in Champaign, IL – A day of learning, sharing, fellowship, fun, and friendship!

Glenn Overby first broached the idea of my joining his council’s Scouters for the day; by August last year we’d agreed that I’d attend, and so I did.

I’m indebted to Glenn for reaching out, and to Course Directors Ellen Kuchenbrod and Jim Dieker for making me feel so welcome, together with more than one hundred fellow Scouters, many who had traveled considerable distances to be there. Special thanks, also, to Scout Executive Tim Manard and Development Director Dan Baker for their enthusiastic welcome! Most of all, sincere thanks go to all the Scouters themselves for making our “Ask Andy” session so rich and varied, with good questions and great Scouting spirit all around!

Dear Andy,

You’ve often said that once issued, Scout uniforms are never obsolete. What about emblems? If a patrol wanted to use “old school” emblems, would that be OK? (Kevin Roszko, WDL, Great Lakes Council, MI)

Yes, the “old” red-and-black patrol emblems are perfectly OK. (Between you n’ me, I think they’re still pretty cool!)

Dear Andy,

I’ve just accepted the position of Chartered Organization Representative of my church, for a pack and troop that we sponsor. As it turns out, the Scoutmaster has had a job change and will be moving, so the troop is looking for a replacement for him. What is my role in this process, or is the troop committee in charge of this? (Ron)

The Chartered Organization Representative (aka “CR”) is a key player in this type of situation. The CR and the troop’s Committee Chair (CC) work together to identify, recruit, and support the person best suited to the role of incoming Scoutmaster. You can draw on talent from among committee members, Assistant Scoutmasters (if any), non-registered Scout parents, or a non-Scouting associated member of the congregation—whoever would, in your estimation, fit the position best. Your council service center folks can provide you and your CC with a document that describes how best to go about this. Once you’ve identified the right person and recruited him or her, you and the CC will approve the selection, help this person register as the new SM, and then encourage the various training modules required to be successful in the position.

Further, the BSA publishes an excellent booklet titled, “The Chartered Organization Representative,” and even has a “Fast Start” DVD for you! Check with your council’s designated District Executive for these.

Thanks for your insight and your resource suggestions. Does the committee vote on a Scoutmaster and present it to me, or is it a straight decision between the CC and me? (Ron)

There’s no “vote.” This is your decision, in collaboration with the CC.

Dear Andy,

Here’s a question I don’t think you’ve been asked before (I’ve read a lot of your columns, for some years now): Can a Scout refuse a rank advancement? My son is a Second Class Scout. At the most recent court of honor, the Scoutmaster informed all Scouts who were Second Class rank that they were advancing to First Class. My son was taken by surprise; afterwards, he and I looked at the requirements for First Class and he stated that he hadn’t completed them, despite being “given” the rank. Should he just accept the rank, or should we have a talk with the Scoutmaster about what he was thinking when he “promoted” my son and the other Second Class Scouts? (Scout Dad, Northern Lights Council, ND)

You’re correct that this question’s unique. What’s not unique, however, is a Scoutmaster who thinks ranks are like military “promotions,” and that he somehow has the authority to dispense or withhold them as he chooses. If your son believes he hasn’t completed all the requirements for First Class yet, then he has every right to stand by his principles and not accept the badge as if it were some sort of “prize.” It’s not. It’s a badge that signifies competence in a specific set of skills and knowledge, and he has the right to want to know and do this stuff before being handed it—it has no meaning if it hasn’t been earned. Yes, have that conversation. Make it face-to-face, and privately (no email!); keep it civil and positive. If the Scoutmaster argues or balks, go find another troop, where the Scoutmaster has the training necessary to get this stuff right. If the Scoutmaster gets it and amends, then all Scouts in the troop are the winners!

Dear Andy,

My troop and I (I’m Scoutmaster) are working very closely with a Webelos II (aka “Arrow of Light”) den to assist them with their Arrow of Light and cross-over ceremonies. The Den Leader has asked me about the significance of the arrow and should we make and give one to each boy crossing over. I’ve been away from Cub Scouts/Webelos for a long while and don’t remember the answer to either question. Can you help us here? (Jeff Einhorn, SM, Great Salt Lake Council, UT)

Arrows aren’t all that cheap these days, and this should rightly come out of the pack’s budget, as a “going away gift” to the graduating boys. The Cubmaster and you can make a join presentation, especially if all the boys are joining your troop. Just get yourself to the nearest sporting goods store that sells arrows (or find them online). Cool idea and a great “new tradition” for the pack! (My own son, who’s now in his 30’s, still has his graduation arrow!)

If there’s time, paint rings on the arrows’ shafts in different colors (’bout a quarter-inch wide, per ring), signifying Tiger, Wolf, Bear, Arrow Points, etc., etc., etc.!

Dear Andy,

I’ve read your comments about attendance requirements and have forwarded them, along with the BSA’s new 2011 GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, to our troop committee. As a result, they’ve backed off on attendance requirements for some of the Scouts, but they still want to implement some form of attendance requirement for leadership positions. Their thinking is, how can a Scout be credited with, let’s say, the Scribe leadership position if he isn’t at the troop meetings? The same attitude prevails for ASPL and other positions as well. Can you let me know what the BSA’s thinking on holding Scouts who are in leadership positions to a different standard is? (I didn’t see it directly addressed in the new guidebook.) I can sort of understand the committee’s reasoning, but I do want to follow BSA guidelines on this. (Richard Graham)

I’ve passed your thoughts on to a member of the team that contributed to the development of the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. Here’s what he has to say…

Hi Richard! As Andy’s said, I was on the National Volunteer Review Panel that assisted the BSA national staff with the writing and review of the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT and new Eagle Service Project Workbook. First, remember that the “active” and “position of responsibility” requirements refer only to Star, Life and Eagle ranks, and they are completely different requirements. They don’t have to be done concurrently. Prior to Star rank, the closest things to “active” are the Second Class and First Class “attendance at five/ten troop events” (respectively) requirements. For Star and beyond, the Scout may have specific criteria to meet in completing the “active” and “position of responsibility” requirements, based on the Unit’s established “reasonable expectations.” This means that, if a unit wants to set 75% attendance at meetings and events, it can; but if the Scout can’t meet that expectation for reasons such as other activities he is involved in (sports, band, science fairs, job, at-home responsibilities, etc.), he’s allowed to provide an acceptable description of this at his board of review. If the reviewers accept the Scout’s explanation, then he can be advanced in rank; if they don’t, then the Scout can appeal that decision at the district and/or council level. However, for positions of responsibility, requirement is different. Each such position has specific responsibilities as described in BSA literature. Again, the unit may set expectations, and they must be both reasonable and communicated in advance to the Scout. (This is even listed in the guide, in a separate “bold” box on page 23.) Some positions may have a higher expectation for weekly troop meeting attendance, such as for Senior Patrol Leaders and Patrol Leaders, while other may be less so, such as Bugler, OA Representative or Chaplain Aide, and some even less than these, like Den Chief. The key isn’t so much about attendance, but about performance of the position’s responsibilities; if a Scout isn’t fulfilling the responsibilities, then counseling and/or reassignment may be needed. Again, the same procedure applies here as applies to “active”—If the Scout feels he’s fulfilled the responsibilities of the position, he can make his case at his board of review, and has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision by the reviewers. Therefore, I don’t think the BSA is holding Scouts in positions of responsibility to any higher attendance standard. Older Scouts are typically a troop’s leaders, and we need them to run the “Scout-led” troop, so expecting them to be there on a regular basis to me isn’t unreasonable. If you do have a Scout who, for whatever reason, can’t attend regularly, then don’t put him in a position that demands this until his situation changes, or—even better—find a position for him that doesn’t require rigorous attendance. Of course, if your troop calendar is filled with cool events, and troop meeting are fun and challenging, that your Scouts don’t want to miss out on, then these requirements will hardly be an issue. (Matt Culbertson, SM & Guide to Advancement Volunteer Review Panel Member)

Dear Andy,

Shortly after I moved on from being Cubmaster, my former pack’s Committee Chair changed over to become the newest Cubmaster. He then called for a meeting with the parents, to inform them that, beginning immediately, he would be running all den and pack meetings. On being told this, some of the parents pulled their sons out of the pack, only to be informed that unless they returned they’d be fined for non-participation. When they went to our Scout Executive, he told them his hands were tied, that the Cubmaster was free to run the pack as he saw fit. The sponsor’s Chartered Organization Representative says he’s powerless to stop this, too. Is this possible? Can a pack’s leaders actually fine families for not showing up, when they don’t want their sons in a particular pack? (Name & Council Withheld)

Yup, it’s true that there’s really nothing a Scout Executive has the authority to do, unless civil or criminal laws are violated (in other words, simply being a jerk or tyrant doesn’t qualify for dismissal as a registered volunteer—at least not by the council). So, unless the Chartered Organization Representative grows a spine (he does have the authority to kick this jerk into the middle of next week), there’s not going to be a leadership change. But… These parents also need to know that they should simply ignore the nonsensical “fines” threat: It’s unenforceable. (Maybe it’s time the parents took their own sons’ Scouting destinies into their own hands and demand all together that the sponsor dump this little tin god, so they can get the pack back on the track.)

Dear Andy,

In our troop, we’ve been having many discussions about what would constitute approved service hours for rank advancement. I’d appreciate your insight and experience with this. (Larry O’Neal, SM, Occoneechee Council, NC)

Let’s start here: Service to others is fundamental to Scouting, from Cub Scouts through every other BSA program for youth. Service is best when it happens naturally, as a part of how our youth think about themselves and their relationship to others, their community, and the world at large. While four of Boy Scouting’s six ranks (Second Class, Star, Life, and Eagle) have specific service requirements, this by no means excludes other-ranked Scouts from “helping other people at all times.” The idea behind obtaining approval (in advance, we’d hope) is to encourage Scouts to think about what they’d like to do for others, whether it be for their religious institution, school, community at large, or sometimes even individuals. Moreover, only the service project required for Eagle rank excludes helping a BSA council district, or unit, which means that service rendered other than for Eagle rank can include such things as conservation projects at their Scout camp, or even something done for their own troop. The new GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (see page 22 – section provides a good overview on the subject of service.

The key is for this to happen in as natural and uncomplicated a manner as possible… It should be a “happy surprise,” rather than “show up here and get credit for hours,” which instills the notion of pay-off for service rather than providing service for the sheer joy of knowing you’re helping others.

“Approval,” per se, can be for service to others as far-ranging as helping make sandwiches at a local soup kitchen to collecting toiletries for people in disaster areas, to providing school supplies or toys for underprivileged children somewhere (out of country or around the corner), and the opportunities are endless. The only thing we stay away from is raising money for non-BSA groups or organizations. Beyond that, the door’s pretty wide open! The idea is not so much what’s done as just getting out there and doing something for others. And yes, this even includes helping little old ladies across the street!

Dear Andy,

Yesterday, our pack had its best Pinewood Derby ever, but with a hitch. One of our Den Leaders has two sons in the pack; both are very competitive. Both boys were there at the start of the Derby, but very early on, one said he wasn’t feeling well and went home (we didn’t, at the time, know he’d left). When race-time started, the other brother raced his younger brother’s car, which at the time didn’t seem like any big deal to anyone, until the car of the now-absent boy kept winning every heat. Well, you guessed it, that boy’s car took First Place.

At the time, there was no particular commentary about this boy’s car being the overall winner, but once everyone had left for the day and we were there cleaning up, I asked myself, “If that boy wasn’t there to race his own car and he hadn’t had a brother to do this for him, wouldn’t he have been disqualified?” But then I thought, “I wouldn’t want a sick boy staying there simply because he wanted his car to race and didn’t want to be disqualified.” So what to do, now? Should it be “no owner-no race”? Or leave what’s done, done? What if somebody questions it down the road? (Sue Low, Boston Minuteman Council, MA)

Well, I’m thinking that Pinewood Derby races and such are about the performance of the cars the Cubs built; not the Cubs themselves. In fact, by the time of the race, the Cub’s work is done once his car’s been entered and weighed in. (In some packs, the boys don’t even touch their cars once they’re entered… pack leaders and/or volunteer parents place the cars on the track, etc.) Suppose the boy put his car on the track for his heat, and then had to run to the boys’ room… Would his win be disqualified? Probably not. In your case, the boy said he was ill, and we’re obliged to accept this as “Scout’s honor.” So, my call would be that a winning car is a winning car. After all, a boy gets his rank badge or arrow point or whatever, even if he misses the pack meeting, yes? I think the important thing is to keep this as matter-of-fact as possible, and not engage in any “complaints” other than to say, “This was the fastest car, according to the timing device and/or judges,” and let it go at that. The bottom line is simple: This kid built one blazing-fast car that blew the doors off all the others, including his own brother’s!

Happy Scouting!
(No. 290 – 2/14/2012 – 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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