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Issue 316 – June 22, 2012

Rule No. 82:
• Some volunteers are sort of like Slinkies… not really good for very much, but you can’t help smiling when you see one tumbling down the stairs.
Dear Andy,

This is more of a comment rather than a question; however, I’d like your thoughts on the matter…

The BSA’s Activity Consent Form (permission slip) isn’t specific when it asks to complete the emergency contact information:

This past winter, a troop was out on a snow-shoeing hike. There were several Scouts (all 14 or older), two adult leaders, and a guide. While snow-shoeing, one of the adult leaders collapsed. Ultimately, he died…a tragedy. Not that this would have saved him, but the emergency contact information on his son’s form was this same father. This made it very difficult to contact the family back home.

Until this tragedy occurred, my own troop didn’t require permission slips from Scouts whose parents were attending the activity—neither for the Scout nor the accompanying parent. Now, we require not only a permission note but a non-participant’s emergency contact number for all Scouts and every adult on an outdoor activity.

So my question is: Why do you suppose the BSA national office excluded this crucial information on its form? (Name & Council Withheld)

I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not certain that I can agree that the BSA’s recommended form omitted anything. It would seem that the BSA has provided all necessary space for the proper and complete information regarding the emergency contact: Name, two options for phone numbers, and even email address. I’m not a risk management expert, but I sure can’t figure out what’s “missing” here.

The obvious mistake made on the snow-shoe trip you cited is that the parent didn’t understand that an “emergency contact” needs to be someone not on the trip, and whoever it was in the troop who was to keep such forms in a binder or folder while on the trip didn’t spot this hiccup. It’s a pity, but the BSA certainly can’t be considered at fault when someone incorrectly completes a form.

I’m also surprised that the man who collapsed had no information in his wallet that would readily lead to a home phone number, and that apparently the son didn’t know how to reach another family member. But, of course, I wasn’t there, and I’m the first to recognize that hindsight is always 20/20.

That said, your own solution is excellent: Emergency contact information for everyone along on a trip—be it a day-hike or a multi-day-and-night trek—is vital!
Dear Andy,

My 16 year old Life Scout son has an approved Eagle project and is in the fundraising stage. He transferred troops about a year ago. Although his new troop seemed fine at the start, it’s become clear that the Scoutmaster is a close-minded, tyrannical leader. The “rules” he’s imposing keep accelerating. Rules like a Scout can’t go on a campout if he hasn’t been to the two previous troop meetings, putting age restrictions on rank advancement, and the list goes on. As a registered committee member, I’ve brought these sorts of things up at committee meetings, but they all shrink from doing anything, including the Committee Chair. Calling it “improving the program,” the Scoutmaster claims he has “Scoutmaster’s discretion,” and everybody buys it!

In the case of my son, his troop elected him to the Order of the Arrow and he’s been recommended by last year’s NYLT staff to join them on staff this year. Meanwhile, the Scoutmaster refuses to recommend him and has made comments such as, “I see you want me to approve this. Well, what are you doing for me?” My son’s actively been attending meetings—eight out of ten, on average—and served for nine months in the Troop OA Representative position. But in the meanwhile, he’s had knee surgery, and is under doctor’s orders to refrain from such activities as hiking and camping for a minimum six months. Even though he presented a physician’s letter stating this, the Scoutmaster nevertheless told him he’s not active enough if he’s not camping. This is despite his having over 100 days and nights of camping (and he’s held qualified leadership positions in the troop for almost three consecutive years).

Our son isn’t the only Scout being treated this way; many Scouts are discouraged and parents upset, but the Committee Chair continues to endorse the Scoutmaster.

It appears that our only choice is to vote with our feet and get out, but our concern is with whether another troop will accept a Life Scouts this close to Eagle, and support him through his project without his having been in the troop for so short a time. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations? (Name & Council Withheld)

If your son is the norm, this Scoutmaster’s treatment of Scouts is a disgrace and his tin god behavior is reprehensible.

Yes, vote with your feet, immediately. And tell your son to tell his friends in that troop where he’s going and how to join up. You do the same with parents you know. That’s a sick ship, and you all need to get your sons off it as fast as you can.

Now, how to do it… Go “troop-spotting.” Your son and his father, ideally (or an uncle if his father’s not available), visit a couple of troops in the area. But don’t just look around (although that tells you a lot!). Your son should talk with the Scoutmaster, tell the Scoutmaster where he is on his road to Eagle, and ask if it would be OK to transfer. It’s Dad’s (or his uncle’s) responsibility, in a separate conversation at the same meeting, to reveal why this young man wants to change troops… Not every gory detail, but enough to make it clear that what he’s getting isn’t the Boy Scout program.

But, before you go out looking, go back and read my January 12, 2012 column (Issue 288) on “Troop Spotting”—This will give you clues on what to look for.

Finally, tell your son that, by changing troops, he’s not a “quitter” or a “rat” or anything else—He has the absolute right to walk away from people who are misusing the BSA program. And, if you care to, you can tell him that, when I was a Scout, it took two “misfires” before I found a troop that got it right! That third troop was the charm, and that’s where I stayed and earned my Eagle!
Dear Andy,

I’ve been reading your columns for years, and appreciate all of your sound advice. I’m my troop’s advancement coordinator. We had a Camping Merit Badge counselor who recently resigned, leaving a number of Scouts in the middle of that merit badge. Now, an issue has arisen regarding the meaning of “long term camping experience” and using a maximum of six of those nights for req. 9a. One Merit Badge Counselor allows only Scout summer camp to count for those six days and nights. So, if a Scout, for instance, did a Philmont trek, all of that time would be counted toward the badge as well. A second Counselor is of the opinion that a “long term camping experience” is anything over three nights, so, for him, a Scout would get six days and nights credit for either summer camp, or a Philmont trek, or a week-long troop camping trip; beyond those six days/nights, the other 14 would have to come from campouts of a shorter duration.

So I have two questions. Here’s the first: What do you interrupt to be a “long term camping experience”? Do you draw a distinction between summer camp and something like Philmont, or are they the same thing for purposes of the requirement? The second is this: How should a difference of opinion between two Merit Badge Counselors be handled? Should we give a scout credit for the camping nights the first Counselor was willing to accept, or does the second Counselor’s interpretation prevail, since his final signature goes on the blue card? (Name & Council Withheld)

The point that’s being overlooked here is that long-term camping is in no way mandatory. If, for instance, a Scout has camped all 20 days and nights under the stars or in a tent he helped pitch, he’s completed that requirement! The “long-term camp” thing is an “allowance”—the Scout is allowed to count up to (but not more than) six days and nights of long-term camp toward the 20 specified. Now, let’s say he’s camped 17 days and nights under the stars or in a tent he’s pitched and he’s also spent a week at a council’s summer camp– then just “borrow” three of those summer camp days/nights, add ’em to the 17, and this requirement’s done. Got it now? Good! And if the second MBC doesn’t get this, then it’s time to find MBC number 3!

That said, if the first MBC has already signed off on req. 9a., the second Counselor would be considered a bit on the unreasonable side if he attempted to retract a requirement that’s already been signed off.

In the future, the best people to speak directly with about issues like this are your district’s advancement committee, because they play a role in the vetting and training of Merit Badge Counselors.
Dear Andy,

I think you folks need to revisit one of your answers on your “Merit Badge Fact or Fiction” page. On this statement—“The Scoutmaster can withhold his signature on a Scout’s merit badge application if he feels the Scout isn’t “ready” for a particular merit badge”—you state that it’s the Scout, and the Scout alone, who decides what merit badge he wishes to earn, and that neither the Scoutmaster nor anyone else can arbitrarily withhold approval of a Scout’s desire for a particular merit badge.

Look at the BSA rule, as shown on your webpage for this “myth.” It does say “(A)ny registered Scout may work on any (merit badge) at any time,” which would make you think a Scoutmaster can’t withhold his signature. But the rule goes on to say “as long as he has the approval of his unit leader.” This tells me that a Scoutmaster can refuse to sign and issue a blue card.

Where I think the confusion comes in is that after a Scout has completed the requirements and has them signed off by a registered Merit Badge Counselor, the Scoutmaster can’t refuse to honor it by not signing the blue card the second time. (Once a counselor says a badge is earned, it’s earned; the only point of the Scoutmaster’s second signature is to indicate that the troop has received the Counselor-signed blue card and will add this into their records as well as with the district and council.

Thus, I think your answer is incorrect. A Scoutmaster can refuse to allow a Scout to work on a merit badge by not giving his OK and by not issuing a blue card. I think your answer only considers the first half of the BSA rule, not the second. I’m interested in hearing your reply, as we have a Scoutmaster who is refusing to sign and issue blue cards. (Name & Council Withheld)

The 12th edition of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK is silent on the process a Scout would follow to begin a merit badge; however BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS is specific: “…and Boy Scout…may earn any (merit badge) at any time… Pick a Subject. Talk to your unit leader about your interests… Your leader will give you the name of a person from a list of counselors… Get a signed Application for Merit Badge (aka “blue card”) from your unit leader.” Notice that it does not say or imply, “If your unit leader deems your worthy…” or anything else that would suggest the unit leader’s “opinion” holds sway over a Scout wanting to earn any merit badge. This means that your claim that “A Scoutmaster can refuse to allow a Scout to work on a merit badge by not giving his OK and by not issuing a blue card” has absolutely no basis in fact.

Further, the BSA’s national advancement team has stated clearly and without equivocation that a Scoutmaster cannot “decide” to withhold his signature from any registered Scout seeking to begin any merit badge, at any time. The “approval” means only that the Scout is indeed a registered youth member of the BSA; it means nothing more. No Scoutmaster is permitted to apply “judgment” regarding any Scout’s age, abilities, rank, or interest. He is to sign the merit badge application and provide the Scout with name and contact information of a registered Merit Badge Counselor. End of story.
Dear Andy,

I’m curious about your own thoughts on the “canned den meeting” plans in the DEN & PACK MEETING RESOURCE GUIDE that the BSA put out a few years ago. In some of your earlier columns you’ve mentioned that den meetings aren’t for advancement, yet this new delivery method now seems to place most if not all of the advancement burden on the shoulders of the Den Leader. I’m now seeing instances where parents shirk all of their responsibilities and have taken the position that since their son attended all of the den meetings he’s ready to advance, even though they themselves haven’t completed any of the requirements that must be done at home with parents. I’ve asked to see a number of Wolf and Bear books, and none of the parents are initialing and checking off achievements. Most of parents now seem to have the attitude that it is all the Den Leader’s responsibility. Isn’t this akin to Boy Scout troops holding merit badge classes during troop meetings? Aren’t we setting these Cub Scouts and families up for failure when they leave this sort of hand-holding behind and the Scout must now contact Merit Badge Counselors on his own? Plus, who’s going to hold onto the “blue cards” for these boys when they graduate to Boy Scouts, and who’s going to keep track of their rank requirements and advancements?

Another issue that I’m seeing is how often a den meets as a group. I guess that I’m “old school” in that I recommend weekly den meetings. From my experience in Scouting, sports, music, and life, the weekly activity is necessary to build teamwork and develop a cohesive team, whether that be a den, patrol, team, band, etc. I’m now seeing many adults developing the perspective that since the new delivery method recommends two meetings a month, that’s all they do. Since the Cubs end up working only on achievements twice a month, they then don’t have a song or skit for the pack meeting and then the pack meetings suffer because it’s then no longer a show where the Cubs are the “stars”!

When I was a Cub I clearly remember doing things in den meetings to prepare for the upcoming pack meeting, and I did all of my Wolf and Bear achievements and electives with Mom and Dad, and I remember only a few occasions where we worked on an achievement with the entire den. (Ed Custer, UC, National Capital Area Council)

Yes, from what I’ve been reading, the Cub Scout den program has definitely changed. Rank achievements and electives are now done in den meetings, under the guidance of Den Leaders. This is certainly a significant change from the days when the Cub Scout program was designed to strengthen the bonds between boys and their parents. If I have the story right, the change is based on several interwoven factors, including lack of parental involvement resulting in lagging rank/arrow point achievements, boys drifting away from the program due to lack of advancement, and probably a host of other factors as well, including cultural.

In the days when I wrote strongly about achievements and electives not belonging in den meetings, that was consistent with the program at that time. Now, it’s evolved into a new format and content. Will it be more or less successful than before? I suppose that part of than answer lies in what the ultimate goals of the Cub Scouting program are, these days.

Thanks for taking the time to express your observations and thoughts about the current program. Without commenting one way or the other regarding its merits, I’m going to stick to a fundamental principle here: Our responsibility, as volunteers committed to the youth we serve, and as commissioners to the units we serve, is to do our best to deliver—and help our units deliver—the program we’re charged with!

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. 316 – 6/22/2012 – 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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