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Issue 310 – May 22, 2012

Rule No. 77:
• A clear conscience is usually the sign of a faulty memory.
Dear Andy,

First off I’d like to thank you for all your hard work and the great service your columns provide. Many times, your advice and clarifications on BSA policy have kept me “on track” in my troop. I’m writing today about the advice you gave on the issue of who sits on boards of review. I agree fully that only in extenuating circumstances should a non-registered adult be used in a review, but for a few years my troop had to do exactly that.

You’ve said (your column 192), “As for a board of review, if the Scout’s completed all requirements for a rank, he’s entitled to this as fast as one can be convened! The committee doesn’t have the authority or right to withhold a board of review from an otherwise qualified Scout, for any reason.” For a time we had a very small troop with only four committee members, and getting all to show up for boards of review was many times not possible, and also not having one that was a parent of the scout. Our CC (who was also doing Advancement) was adamant about not delaying a Scout’s advancement: “He did the work, he earned it, he shouldn’t be waiting for us darn it!” We would convene a BOR with just one registered MC at times! But….and here is a big but, our CC would sit down and lay out the groundwork with the non registered adults for a good 5 or 10 minutes before we talked to the scout, our CC had (and still has) a file-folder full of copies of rules and questions for Boards of Review. This way everyone knew what was expected of us and how we were to conduct ourselves during the review. Our CC took this task very seriously making sure we knew what we were doing and guided us along as well. When you have such a small troop unfortunately you just can’t MAKE people register. Since then our troop has grown, we have many good volunteers and this issue has not reared up in a long while. So, in our situation did our CC handle things OK? Or should we have waited like you recommended? (Bill Stoll, ASM, Northeast Pennsylvania Council)

In my view, what’s most important always is to understand the purpose of Scouting as well as the intent of such processes as boards of review, Scoutmaster conferences, and so on. You’re absolutely correct that we can’t force volunteer committee members to be at our beck and call; likewise, if they signed on knowing what they’ll be obliged to do, and they’re uninterested in carrying out their responsibilities–of which sitting on boards of review is one of the most significant–maybe the top one, in fact–then ultimately they need to be replaced. But the most important thing is to never deny a Scout a speedy review by competent adults, and in the spirit of that ideal, your troop’s Committee Chair acted, in my opinion, with grace, intelligence, sensitivity, and a solid sense of responsibility. I’ve said it before: The very first volunteers in Scouting are the Scouts themselves.
Dear Andy,

Sam Hencey asked you a question about just registering with a district or council but not having a specific “job.” You answered well, IMHO, but technically, there are actually folks registered with districts and councils who don’t have assigned roles—they’re the “at-large” members. (There’s even a registration code for this: 75) And yes, I’m not too fond of those, either, but they do exist. (Ron Blaisdell, ACC, Central Florida Council)

Yup, on the “at-large” positions, you’re absolutely on the mark: There is indeed even a position code, as you point out (correctly). However, even “at-large” volunteers can have agreed-upon responsibilities, and that what I was attempting to get at. The BSA isn’t like the NRA or AARP, where “membership” means doing little to nothing. Here, we need all the volunteer help we can get, and everybody needs to be pulling their weight. To simply “be a member” but making no contribution is…in a word…pointless. That said, I do appreciate your further clarification.
Dear Andy,

You may remember, back in June a year ago (our correspondence was in your Column 260: June 16, 2011), I’d been a member of a unit that didn’t have a clear vision of Scouting, and I was wondering how we were going to make it with a rookie Scoutmaster and five first-year Scouts. You’re the one who pointed me in the direction we took, and you might like to know the outcome…

We started by sticking to the handbook. The Scouts elected as their Senior Patrol Leader a Second Class Scout who started planning the calendar, with me as his guide, for the next six months. I started getting messages from members of former old chartered organization. Turns out they were suddenly interested in the troop, after years of neglect. But their message, instead of being encouraging, was more along the lines of, “Teenaged boys can’t go out do thing for themselves; not even plan camping trips!” Then they told us that our new troop and theirs were “too close together to stay healthy long-term”. (This end of our county has had just two troops to cover dozens of square miles for 40 years, despite it being one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. If troop density had been any lower, we’d be discussing Lone Scout programs instead!)

Oh, how the emails and phone calls light up the sky when someone jumps ship! Luckily, my District Executive is squared away and all the “recruiting violation” complaints were allowed to simply vaporize. On the flip side, our new chartered organization was providing excellent support and a pool of prospective leaders and Scouts…just quietly getting the word out and job done! Quiet professionalism— I love it!

Meanwhile, our Senior Patrol Leader came up with several goals for the troop. One was to have a rigorous outdoor program, another was to grow the troop, yet another was to develop and maintain boy leadership.

So here we are, a year later. The troop has almost quadrupled in size, four Scouts have reached Star rank, another four have reached First Class, we have 25 nights of camping under our belt, four Scouts were inducted into the OA, and three are headed to NYLT this summer. For the new Journey to Excellence program, we nailed Gold! I’m going to say, at this point, we’re batting 1,000!

The real irony was that other than four of our initial five boys, none of our new Scouts came from the old troop (I guess there were more “prospects” in the area than anyone knew!). More, two other new troops in the area are whistling along just fine, also without drawing boys from the old units.

Hmmm… am I seeing a pattern here? Could it be that Scouting density is a function of program quality and not geography?

Here are the three critical things for Scouts and parents searching for a troop or struggling in a troop that lost its “True North.” First, learn about the program and comparison-shop troops. Second, look for healthy relationships between committed Scouters in the troop’s “Key 3”–straight out ask what their vision for the troop is (they’ll tell you—intentionally or not). Third and final, know when it’s time to move on. Hint: It’s not when a campout goes awry or court of honor isn’t well-planned. It’s not when Johnny has an issue with his Patrol Leader. It’s when the committee is pitching the Scoutmaster position like a hot potato to unwitting dads and the Chartered Organization Representative is clueless, or there’s no real CR because the CC is doing “double-duty” to keep the charter alive. It’s when a third party is charging the troop through the nose for a meeting place and the chartered organization refuses to provide a safe place for the boys as they agree to do every recharter year. It’s when folks forget that Scouting has a relatively simple formula and doesn’t require Scouters to run the operation by the seat of their pants or cherry-pick parts of the program or—worse—reinvent it based on a skewed experience they themselves had as Scouts “back in the day.”

If anyone’s still sitting on the fence wondering—as you’ve often said—whether they should stick around and try to teach pigs to fly, don’t. Take the plunge. Rescue your son’s Scouting career, and provide him the program he expected the first night he walked in the door. Be relentless in your pursuit of a great program. He’ll thank you, for years to come. (Alex Adkins, SM, Troop 226, Central North Carolina Council)

Wow! What a fabulous testimonial! Readers, read that letter again, before you move on, here. And show it to any friend who’s been struggling with a similar situation involving their own son!
Dear Andy,

I’ve seen any number of troop websites that have very detailed bylaws that include sections on discipline and punishment, including probation, suspension, and deregistering. Yet I’ve been unsuccessful in finding a BSA policy saying these actions are endorsed or permitted. Can you tell me where I can find this? (John Cunningham, ASM, National Capital Area Council, VA)

The BSA has no such “policies” or “rules” and it’s disgraceful, in my opinion, for any Scouting to have anything like what you’re describing. In the first place, Scouting is a volunteer movement, and the very first volunteers are the Scouts themselves. In the second, Scouting is never, ever about “punishment.” Even to think along such lines is reprehensible. Consequences and learning opportunities, Yes. Punishment, never. “Discipline” is in the same category when it’s a synonym for punishment. Any adult Scouter who can’t help a young man see a better path than the one he’s taken has no business in a youth program.

No Scouting unit needs its own set of “bylaws.” The BSA has for decades provided everything that’s necessary to provide a happy and sound Scouting experience to the boys who decide to join up.

If you’re involved with a troop that engages in such practices, and they have no interest in stopping, get out. If you have a son in that troop, transfer him first, then get out.

For a description of how behavioral difficulties are to be handled, refer to the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK.
Dear Andy,

I was just in the USSSP.ORG website looking for job descriptions and leadership contracts for youth leaders at the troop Level. I can usually find what I am looking for on the USSSP.ORG website, but this time I couldn’t. Maybe you know where I can find, particularly, examples or templates for Scout leadership (e.g., Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, etc.) contracts. (Name & Council Withheld)

The responsibilities of the youth leaders in a troop are duck soup to find. They’re in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, and for key positions go to the PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK and SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK.

But there’s a reason you won’t find “leadership contacts” on our site: They’re unconscionable. Need a more to-the-point statement? OK… They’re horsepucky. They’re hardly “contracts” because there’s only one side to them—the Scout is expected to do all the work, shoulder all the responsibilities, and the erstwhile “contracts” provide him nothing. If it’s supposed to be a “contract” where is the value being offered by the troop’s Scoutmaster, including his commitment to provide formal and informal ongoing training, coaching, mentoring, and guiding? Without this side of the equation, those unfair pieces of paper deserve to be burned to crisps.

Scouts are the “first volunteers” in Scouting. Scoutmasters and other adult volunteers have signed a contract with the BSA to deliver the Scouting program as written. I’ve gone online and read a bunch of these “contracts”—There’s not one word in them about the commitment the adult volunteers of the troop have made, or are going to make, which means that a piece of paper like this, signed only by the Scout (and a parent/guardian), is utterly unenforceable, except as a “Damocles sword”. Destroy them and don’t look back.
Dear Andy,

A pack’s committee recently came up with the idea of the Cubs going to a laser tag facility. It was mentioned to the committee that laser tag is in violation of BSA Safe Scouting policy (see Unauthorized & Restricted Activities, 11). The committee is, apparently, unchanged in its intent to proceed as planned. If the pack proceeds, is there a penalty for such a policy violation, should it come to the attention of their local council? (Steve Erwin, UC & CSRT Staff, Longhorn Council, TX)

First, it’s absolutely correct that the BSA has placed “Pointing any type of firearm (including paintball, dye, or lasers) at any individual” on the Unauthorized and Restricted Activities list. It’s been there since the “invention” of personal-targeting games like laser tag. As to a penalty, that would come most directly from the chartered organization; not the BSA. What will definitely happen, should this event proceed and should there be an accident, incident, or injury, is that all of the adults involved will find themselves swinging in the wind: There is no way the council (or the BSA) will support the activity or render insurance coverage (and most likely the same will hold true for the chartered organization as well). So if these geniuses decide to go ahead anyway, they’d better plan on soloing (and maybe buying some special “wing-nut insurance” for themselves).
Hi Andy,

I’ve heard through the grapevine that the BSA is phasing out most of the Cub Scout leader awards (and square knots) in favor of a more generalized “super square knot.” Is this true? I’m asking because I want to make sure our leaders know, in case they need to turn in their progress records before they disappear. (Chris Wilson, Pack CC, Circle 10 Council, TX)

Yup… That’s the word on the street. No word on timing yet, so best not to let any grass grow…
Dear Andy,

In your column no. 308, that patrol of older scouts presented an interesting problem. When I was a Scout in the 60s, we had a similar situation with our patrol (The Flying Eagles): As we got older, our other activities increased and we didn’t always all go camping at the same time. Our Scoutmaster understood what was happening and he tried both splitting our patrol up for camping trips and adding in patrol members for camping trips. This didn’t last more than a couple of camping trips, because they really didn’t work, and they were only temporary solutions anyway. Splitting us up into other patrols, which he tried first, did have the advantage of spreading our knowledge to other patrols, but didn’t make us part of those other patrols, from either a practical or “loyalty” point of view. Then, adding new patrol members to bring us up to “strength” seemed to work better on camping trips because we were able to keep our core patrol intact, but the tossed-in Scouts weren’t Flying Eagles (and knew it)—they came from their own patrols.

The best solution for all of us was when the Scoutmaster in-filled new Scouts to our patrol, permanently (not just for hikes and camp-outs). This way, we were able to keep our patrol going, with “new blood” added in from time to time.

Eventually, The Flying Eagles (eight of us) became a “leadership pool” for the troop. Six of us were Senior Patrol Leaders at different times, seven of us earned Eagle, all eight of us became Junior Assistant Scoutmasters, and two, when they aged-out, became Assistant Scoutmasters. One of us “originals” even became the Scoutmaster of the troop! Our patrol continued to exist well into the 70s—that’s pushing ten years!

Our Scoutmaster seemed to understand what needed to be done and then did it. His decisions benefited our troop and each of us in the Flying Eagle Patrol (David Reilly)

What a great success story, and what a wonderful tribute to “patrol spirit” and a Scoutmaster who could see the lasting value of The Patrol Method!

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to 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. 308 – 5/22/2012 – 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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