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Issue 291 – February 19, 2012

Rule No. 58:

• If “the fine print” were your friend, it would be printed in large.

Hi Andy,

I’m starting work on my College of Commissioner Science doctoral thesis. One idea I got from reading your column…

In Ask Andy Column 281, a Scouter asked about Roundtables for Senior Patrol Leaders and Brent Bomer of Erie Shores Council, NY, and Mike Scotto of Monmouth Council, NJ, responded. So, may I make a request? Would that original writer and anyone else who has thoughts on Boy Scout youth Roundtables please contact me about any ideas they may have, so I can look at the viability and need for a thesis on this topic? Thanks! (Dave Mountney, UC, Patriots’ Path Council, NJ – email: – phones: 908-526-3208 and 908-672-5360)

I’m happy to oblige. Here’s your message. Folks, can you all help this Commissioner out?

Hello Andy,

I’m the Committee Chair for a Cub Scout pack. Last week, our advancement coordinator, a committee member, announced his resignation from the committee, effective next week. But then, after a few days, he apparently had a change of heart and is making noises about retaining his committee position. Some of the committee members feel we’re actually better off without him. As CC, I want to do the right thing and follow BSA guidelines, which I’ve searched but can’t seem to find a concrete answer for our situation. Is the committee member who resigned allowed to change his mind and come back on the committee, or does he need to be re-voted back on? (I’m asking about this because he may not receive the necessary committee votes to continue in his position, if in fact voting is required.) (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re Committee Chair: The buck stops with you. It’s 100% your call, my friend. The committee has no “vote.” So here’s the deal… What were the “vibes” surrounding the resignation. If not so wonderful, then accept the resignation, and it’s done (there’s no recourse for reentry through the district or council, and if you’re also registered as the Chartered Organization Representative [Code: CR], then there’s no way back in through the sponsoring organization, either). But if it was an inadvertent hiccup or momentary error of judgment and this person has generally been a real contributor to the success of the pack, then accept his recant and move on.

Hi Andy,

In reference to Scout patrol size and makeup, yes, I do know that incoming Webelos dens can become new-Scout patrols. I’ve just seldom seem this work well. When I joined Scouts a bunch of years ago, our troop did everything by patrols. My patrol had two 11 year-olds, three who were 12, two 13, and our Patrol Leader was 15. On my very first camp-out, the older Scouts in the patrol started teaching me, one-on-one: Knife-and-ax, fire safety, knots, how to sleep warm and dry, and so on. When I tried to thank them, they simply said, “No need man, you’re a Cobra– one of us!” It’s amazing how proud that can make an 11 year old geek feel! By the time we competed against the other patrols, I had some skills to offer, and from then on could do something other than haul water or wash dishes.

Contrast that with a new-Scout patrol on a rainy spring camp-out, huddled together, cold, wet, and hungry, while their Troop Guide tries to cut some wood, light a fire, put up a tarp or tent, all while trying to teach, and let the Patrol Leader lead!

“If you’re going to lead, you’d better be out in front,” said Green Bar Bill! Scouts aren’t stupid—newbies or not—and it takes them about ten minutes, most, to figure out that their Patrol Leader doesn’t know any more than they do—so why go to him with a question or problem; in fact, why listen to him at all???

Plus, it’s hard to be proud of being a member of the (Whatever) Patrol when you get stomped on, in every single inter-patrol contest. A patrol of 10 and 11 year-olds has little or no chance against a patrol with Scouts in the 13-to-14 age range. As one new Scout summed it up, “This just plain sucks!”

I’m not making this up and, as best as I can, look into my own heart; I’m not stuck in the “that’s the way we did it when I was a Scout so it’s the only right way” mentality. But if I’m missing something here, please let me know. So far, I’ve worked with four troops that tried it, over the past 15 years, and all four gave it up as a bad idea (Jim Kelley) (BTW, LOVED your Christmas story!)

Glad you liked “A Winter Tale”! It’s one of the main stories that made me want to become a Boy Scout. But, moving on, although my columns aren’t a “forum,” I’d like to offer a bit of feedback on your commentary…

You described a Troop Guide cutting wood, lighting a fire, and so forth—in effect doing the Scouts’ work for them—while the new Patrol Leader he’s supposed to be coaching just sits around. Obviously, the Troop Guide needs coaching, himself.

As for the new Patrol Leader not getting cooperation from the patrol members who elected him, again, it’s the responsibility of the Troop Guide to coach him, and maybe even to have a chat with any patrol members who just don’t “get it.”

I’ve personally witnessed brand-new Scout patrols enter a competitive Camporee for the first time (just about two months into their new Boy Scout duds) and clean the clocks of “older” patrols because their newly-learned Scout skills were fresh in their minds! In fact, one particular patrol took top honors in the skills competitions that included simple first aid, compass-reading, signaling, knots and lashings, tent-pitching, and fire-building! That’s not to say these new-Scout patrols didn’t have their struggles on their first couple of camp-outs; but they overcame their problems and learned from their experiences—as a team, with their own, elected Patrol Leader!

I’ve also seen a Webelos den of boys who’ve already been a “team” for four years become a Boy Scout patrol and stick together straight through to their 18th birthdays (six of the eight made Eagle, BTW).
So, bottom line, I’ll take a new-Scout patrol any day of the week!

Yes, “learning from the older Scouts” is important, and this is what the Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders Council can do, right alongside the troop Guide (and “guardian angel Assistant Scoutmaster, who’s one step back of the TG). Scouts learn by doing; not by getting it perfect the very first time because somebody else made sure they made no mistakes.

The responsibility of the Patrol Leader—new or not—isn’t to “know more than his fellow Scouts.” His job is to develop a sense of togetherness and teamwork among his fellow patrol members. It doesn’t take either a genius or know-it-all to do this; it takes a boy who’s had instilled in him a sense of fair play, the ability to delegate, and the sense to know when to get up front and when to back off.

In the final charge up Kettle Hill during the Spanish-American War, “newbie” Colonel Theodore Roosevelt didn’t shout, “Go there!” — He called, “Follow me!” ‘Nuff sed.

Dear Andy,

Youth Protection guidelines and policies talk about separate showers and bathrooms for youth and adults, but say nothing about bunk rooms. Are separate bunk rooms for youth and adults? (Joe Krsnak)

You’re talking about cabin camping, I imagine. If I’ve got that right, no, you don’t need separate sleeping rooms, assuming you’re talking about a group of several Scouts (the GTSS states four as the minimum) and a couple of adults (the GTSS states two as the minimum); however, the GTSS goes on to state that genders may not be mixed, in the same room.

Thanks. But what about privacy in changing, with everyone in the same room? Is there a separation in bunk spacing that needs to be observed?

The BSA reasonably assumes you’ll apply good sense. Not “common” sense; good sense.

Dear Andy,

If headgear is “optional” for adult Cub Scout leaders, why is it given a uniform inspection point value? As a Den Leader, am I considered “less uniformed” when I’m not wearing the optional headgear, or are these points only deducted if I’m wearing headgear inappropriate to my position (e.g., a Bear hat on a Tiger leader, or vice-versa)? (Michael Buck)

Like the Uniform Inspection Sheet for leaders says, headgear is optional. So, if you all, as pack leaders, agree to leave the caps home, then either forget the 5 points or give all of yourselves the 5 points… Either way, it all comes out in the wash. Anyway, do keep in mind that, if you’re indoors, you all (boys, too) uncover, unless you’re a member of a ceremonial team (like a color guard) and then you take off the headgear when the ceremony’s over.

Dear Andy,

In your last column, someone asked about arrows for their Webelos II Scouts, at graduation. Here’s some contact information for folks we’ve obtained hand-made arrows from, in case this might help someone. (Allen Frierson)

Vicki Cruz (vicki@quallaartsandcrafts.orf): Arrows 32” long, made of river (arrow) cane, with feathers and flint tip. The maker is Stan Tooni, a Cherokee and a member of Qualla Arts and Crafts.

Dear Andy,

I’ve just stepped into the Scoutmaster position for a troop I’ve been serving in other capacities for close to three years to date. We have an Eagle Scout Service Project “situation” that maybe you can steer me right on… The past three to four Eagle projects have been the same “bench-building” project recycled over and over again. I’ve finally said, “No more bench-building projects; we’re better than the same old, same old project re-churned time after time. A quick scan of on-line search engines can yield about a hundred different project ideas in about 10 seconds.” Now I have an upcoming Life Scout whose brother just did one of those bench-building projects a few months ago, and I’m getting push-back and general grousing. Can we, as a troop, impose a “moratorium” on this sort of stuff, or are we stuck in this rut with nothing that can be done about it? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re on the right track: Boring, boring, boring! However…

Eagle service projects have a great deal to do with the Scout’s own interests. As his “project counselor,” so to speak, you might want to sit down with this young man and talk with him about what he likes doing. Is it computers? Is it band or music in some other form? Does he have an interest in handicapped kids or adults? Does he connect in some way with the American Legion, VFW, or other retired military group? Has he spoken with his priest, pastor, rabbi, or bishop about what his religion’s “physical plant” might most benefit from? Has he spoken with his principal about what might be done at his school? These are the points of origination for ideas; not, “Well, I’ll build a bench or two, just like Johnny.” Now don’t misunderstand: Originality isn’t a requirement, neither is non-duplication. But let’s see if we can’t get the Scout to think a little deeper, so that his project has real meaning to him as well as to the ultimate beneficiary!

(Meanwhile, maybe have a quite, private, heart-to-heart conversation with the recipient of all these benches, so that, when the next Scout goes to him or her and says, “How about I build a bench or two” the answer comes back, “Thanks but no thanks; we have enough of those.”)

Dear Andy,

As we’re reviewing Scout summer camps to attend this year, I was shocked to see several in our area that impose restrictions on younger Scouts being able to take Eagle-required merit badges. Imagine my horror, after spending (too many) years “educating” knuckle-headed Scoutmasters and Committee Chairs that they need to stop making up their own rules, only to find council-run camps doing the same thing! Have I missed something? When did we come to this revelation that a Scout can’t comprehend “Eagle work” until he’s at least 14 years old?

Of course, our own solution was simple: We chose a camp that doesn’t play these games. But I’m still concerned. Fully half the camps within driving distance impose restrictions on Scouts under the age of 14. What are your views on BSA camps making up their own rules on merit badge availability that don’t jibe with any published BSA policy? (Paul Napoli)

Start by re-reading Andy’s Rule No. 1.

The problem you’ve brought up usually, but not exclusively, happens at the waterfront—That’s where it’s usually most crowded. The typical “solution” is just as you’ve described, which is certainly unfortunate, especially when this is what Scouts most often want to do! Your solution to the problem—finding camps that don’t impose these sorts of unilateral edicts—is probably going to be the best solution until councils and camps are better-funded and can expand their highly populated activity areas. Meanwhile, though, there are four individuals you might consider having conversations with, in ascending order: The Program Director, the Camp Director, the council’s Camping Committee Chair, and the Scout Executive. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make this problem go away, but until Hermoine Granger lends me hers, I don’t think this problem will be going away anytime soon, without the funds to expand high-interest program areas.

Dear Andy,

We have a Scout in our troop who has a phobia against swimming. He has every requirement to pass First Class rank completed, except the BSA Swim Test. A veteran Scouter mentioned to me that if a Scout has a phobia against swimming there is a possibility for completing an alternative requirement without a doctor’s notice. I’ve looked everywhere, but I’ve not found documentation on this. We’ve tried many options to try to convince this Scout to complete the swimming requirement, but without success. How can we help this Scout get to First Class? (Scott Rosengren, SM)

An affliction, whether mental, physical, or emotional, does require confirmation by a licensed medical practitioner before alternative requirements can be developed and considered. That’s why you can’t find documentation of the claim by that “veteran.”

But, since you say he’s only the Swim Test shy of completing all requirements for First Class, this begs the question: How did he get in the water to complete Second Class (effectively, the “beginner” level of the Swim Test)? Since this Second Class requirement is apparently completed, are you dead certain that we’re dealing with a debilitating “phobia,” or is this more in the realm of a boy simply not liking in-water activities? I can’t answer that one, of course, but it’s worth considering, I believe.

But, regardless, here’s the bottom line: This isn’t for you all to “fix.” If we’re truly dealing with a clinical “phobia,” it’s important to keep in mind that you all are volunteers; not licensed professionals in either medicine or psychiatry. In light of that, you might consider a private conversation with the boy’s parents, to learn more about what’s actually going on here. Ultimately, it’s up to the boy’s parents to seek therapy, if necessary, for their son. You all are in no way obliged to find a solution or “work-around” to this problem. Yes, it’s a pity, but it’s not our job to deal with something as profound as aquaphobia, if that’s what it is. That said, if, instead of seeking therapy, the parents are willing to have their son’s condition certified per BSA guidelines, then in collaboration with the parents and your council’s advancement committee, you might be able to develop one or more alternative requirements. But the beginning and key decision is in the hands of the parents.

Hi Andy,

Does a Camp Commissioner need to have National Camping School training? (Bill Yoder)

NCS shouldn’t be mandatory, in light of what a Camp Commissioner’s responsibilities typically encompass. However, this would be best double-checked with the council operating the camp.

Happy Scouting!
Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to me at Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 291 – 2/19/2012 – 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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