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Issue 355 – May 6, 2013

Dear Andy,

Tonight we had a troop meeting. The Scoutmaster does shift work and his wife, the Assistant Scoutmaster, attended their son’s band concert. So they asked a parent—who doesn’t know much about Scouting—to run the meeting. Can you actually have a troop meeting without either the Scoutmaster or ASM being there, or should the meeting have been canceled beforehand? My big concern is that this is likely to happen again. (Steve Robinson)

Oops! The problem with this troop isn’t the absence of these two volunteers. The problem is that troop meetings—and I’ll bet outings, too—are being run all wrong. Scoutmasters (and/or ASMs and/or random parents) don’t run troop meetings. This is the responsibility of the Senior Patrol Leader, with the Patrol Leaders directing their patrols. The Scoutmaster’s role for six-sevenths of all troop meetings is… “wallpaper”—His or her only direct role is at the very end of the meetings, delivering the “Scoutmaster’s minute” (which indeed should last 60 seconds—120 seconds at the very most). The rest of the time, while the Senior Patrol Leader’s in charge, the Scoutmaster is on the sidelines holding one-on-one conferences with individual Scouts, reviewing advancement records with the troop’s advancement coordinator, etc. That’s it! Need “proof”? Use any online search engine and take a look at the “Troop Meeting Plan,” then check out the SENIOR PATROL LEADER HANDBOOK. Get this problem fixed and your whole troop will be the better for it. Remember: It’s called BOY Scouting for a reason.
Dear Andy,

When my son joined this troop a few years ago, patrols were structured to keep Scouts in the same age groups together. Some of the Scouts have been in the same patrols for six years now! But now the troop committee wants to change it so that all existing patrols are dissolved and new patrols, with mixed ages are formed. A fair amount of the Scouts are having a hard time with this; a lot don’t even want to continue in Scouting any more. We have about sixty Scouts right now, but we’re likely to start shrinking pretty soon. Any advice? (Name & Council Withheld)

There’s a fundamental rule in sports, business, education, and beyond: When you’re losing or failing, change your strategy and tactics; when you’re winning CHANGE NOTHING! Got happy Scouts who are sticking together, advancing, and having fun? That’s a winning game!

Making this sort of change, especially when the Scouts don’t want it, is a sure guarantee for ultimate failure. WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK THE SCOUTS! They’ve told you what they like and want. Why defy success?

This troop’s committee needs to realize that not all change is progress. Don’t mess with a winning game!

Hi Andy, and thanks. We let the Scouts vote, and they voted to stick together just like they’ve been. But, after the vote, the Scoutmaster and committee decided to overrule them. This is very hard on the Scouts. What now? (N&CW)

“Overruled” the Scouts? It would have been bad enough to do this arbitrarily, but to actually ask the Scouts and then pull a “180” on them, after they’ve clearly expressed themselves is insanity. It’s as un-Scout-like as anything I’ve ever heard. Completely unfair. It communicates with no uncertainty to these Scouts that they don’t matter. Is this really what we’re trying to do in Scouting—tell young men that they don’t matter?

These Scouts need help, and lots of it—fast. If you’re up to it, rally all parents and demand that this ridiculous “decision” be reversed immediately. Yes, you all have that right. These are your own sons we’re talking about here, so demand it. If the committee and Scoutmaster continue to ignore the fact that what they’re doing is wrong, wrong, wrong then your choice is simple. Tell them that you’re all pulling your sons out of the troop and going elsewhere. That’s correct. You all have the absolute right to do this, and there’s no sane reason not to. Make it happen.

Don’t make this an “email war.” Confront these people personally, in a mass eyeball-to-eyeball meeting, and make it stick. The key is to assemble as many parents as possible and literally fill the room. Don’t take “You can’t be in here” as a weapon to silence you—You ALL have every right to demand this travesty be fixed for the irrefutable reason that THESE ARE YOUR SONS. Should you have to say “or else we’ll take our sons to another troop,” and they come back with “is that a threat?” your answer is: “You bet your sweet life it is!”
Dear Andy,

I’m a little confused on the age rules to join Boy Scouts. According to this website and, Boy Scouting is for boys age 11 up to 18. But if you look at the rules, it states a boy can join if he’s at least 10 years old and has completed 5th grade or earned his Arrow of Light rank. The way I’m interpreting it is that a boy can join at 10 after finishing his AOL or 5th grade, but he must be 11 before the start of the Scouting year in the fall. Is that correct, or can a boy actually be 10 and a Boy Scout? (Brian, CC, Blackhawk Area Council)

There are three paths to Boy Scouting: (1) Be 11 years old or older, or (2) Complete 5th grade or more, or (3) Earn the Arrow of Light rank. Any one of these works.
Dear Andy,

At our monthly pack leaders meeting I ask the Den Leaders turn in all the belt loops, activity pins, etc. that the Cubs have earned since the last pack meeting so I can have them for the upcoming meeting. I keep stressing to the Den Leaders that I love to give the boys the awards they’ve earned, but I don’t want them to learn that they don’t have to work to earn their belt loops, etc. I have several Den Leaders who’ll turn in four or even five belt loops and activity pins per Cub, for the current month. I’ve asked how is this possible, since you meet only times a month plus one pack meeting—with each den meeting an hour long, with only about thirty minutes for actual activities—so that means no more than about 90 minutes a month—but they just keep on doing this. I know a lot can be done at home, but I also know most of the parents don’t help the boys at home. Could you give me some kind of time-frame it should take to earn belt loops and activity pins? (Kenny King, CM, Middle Tennessee Council)

Ahh, the famous (or infamous) “Bling Hunt”! Belt loops are pretty much no-brainers, especially in the sports segment of the program. They’re also no-brainers for Den Leaders to organize and do, and certainly they’re lots of fun. But, by doing the “easy” stuff instead of concentrating on achievements and electives for Wolf, Bear, etc., they’re ultimately short-changing the boys in their dens. Maybe they have to find this out the hard way; maybe not. If you, the Cubmaster (with the Committee Chair by your side as your ally), can convince these easy-breezy Den Leaders that they need to re-focus on ranks and arrow points, maybe they’ll get the message. If they don’t, then you can play “hard ball” and only announce ranks and arrow points in pack meetings.
Hi Andy,

I’m a new Eagle Scout and I’m planning my Court of Honor. I’m wondering if you have to do a Charge and a Challenge, or one or the other. (Jonathan Lauinger)

Congratulations! The “charge” and the “challenge” are ceremonial niceties only—they are in no way official. Pick one or the other if you like ‘em, and if you don’t want ’em, don’t do ’em. Simple as that.
Dear Andy,

I’ve been a Unit Commissioner for about eight months. One troop I serve simply refuses to use The Patrol Method, even after several direct conversations with the Scoutmaster and troop committee. They don’t have patrols—they have four “groups.” The most frustrating aspect is that the Scoutmaster’s an Eagle Scout and knows the right way but just refuses to let the Scouts lead. Any thoughts? (Chris Overbey)

One of the most frustrating elements of being a UC is this sort of situation—when the adult volunteers of a unit you serve know what’s right and refuse to do it. Has the Scoutmaster ever described why he insists on not using The Patrol Method? Has he explained to you how he intends to fulfill his primary responsibility—to train the youth leaders of the troop so that they can run the troop? Has he taken the Scoutmaster training available to him, and—if he has—is he still refusing? Just because he’s an Eagle Scout doesn’t amount to squat when it comes to being a Scoutmaster. And it doesn’t mean “he should know better.” For all you know, he was in exactly the same kind of autocratic, Scoutmaster-as-Senior Patrol Leader troop as he’s creating here, when he was a Scout (this happens much too frequently!). Consider showing him this quote by Baden-Powell and asking him to respond to it: “The Patrol Method isn’t ‘a’ way of conducting Scouting; it is the ONLY way.”

Yes, Andy, he has had all his training. He claims he’s doing it the way his predecessor did it. His Scouts missed Youth Leader Training, too, so they don’t even know how wrong things are. While the Scoutmaster was away, I gave the remaining adults and the Senior Patrol Leader a flyer called “Patrol System Self-Assessment.” As a result, the Scouts got together and decided they wanted The Patrol Method. But when the Scoutmaster returned, he said they’re not going to do it that way. In the beginning, I’d built up the Scoutmaster and told him he was the man to start The Patrol Method and do it “the “Baden-Powell way.” I also gave him troop leadership materials and even bought some PATROL LEADER HANDBOOKS for him. Still no patrol method. I’m not very liked at this point by the adult leaders, so I’m not far away from just asking him when he’s going to start being a Boy Scout leader instead of a Webelos III leader.

When a Scoutmaster literally refuses to employ The Patrol Method, he’s demonstrating the antithesis of what Boy Scouting’s all about. Yes, ask your question (it’s right on the money) and when he says “never” it’s time to have a conversation with the Committee Chair and Chartered Organization Representative about replacing him. Consider having a heart-to-heart with the CC (and the chartered organization’s executive officer or CR, at your discretion), to talk about the need to deliver the Scouting program as written, and not according to somebody’s arbitrary whim—especially when that whim is the antithesis of the program.

Again, being an Eagle Scout doesn’t amount to doodley-squat when someone’s intent on sailing away from True North.

Dear Andy,

My son is a 13 year-old second year Scout and is just two months’ tenure as Quartermaster away from Star rank. Lately, it’s been a real issue to get him to go troop meetings, but I’ve come to understand that he’s not happy in this troop. As he puts it, the youth leaders, especially the Senior Patrol Leader and most of the “older” Scouts, don’t treat the younger Scouts well. His final straw was at last month’s Camporee. The Senior Patrol Leader assigned him to a patrol of mostly brand-new Scouts even though he’s 13 and solidly First Class. What really got him, though, was that literally every Scout in that made-up-on-the-spot patrol has a special condition—my son has a form of autism, another is partially deaf, another has a significant birth defect, and one shows symptoms of epilepsy. To my son, it felt like a patrol of “Scouts nobody wants.”

He wants to change troops without even discussing this issue with the leadership in his current troop. Can you offer a concerned father any insights on what to do in this situation? Thanks! (Name & Council Withheld)

Congratulations to your son! I just completed counseling a Scout with a challenge similar to your son’s. It was Communication merit badge and he did beautifully!

OK, Dad, listen: Your son’s told you what he wants. Honor this. Go with him to find a new troop. Let him check it out, while you have quiet conversations with the adult volunteers there. If it looks good to you both, he switches—and he takes ALL his advancement records with him! (Make sure his handbook is properly signed off, he has his “blue cards,” etc.) Be sure to reinforce to him that this isn’t “quitting”! He wants to be a Scout, and recognizes that somebody isn’t playing fair with him. He has the absolute right to be in the troop he prefers, so he can get the most that Scouting has to offer!
Dear Andy,

My son is working for the Whitewater merit badge. The people putting it together are planning a rafting trip as opposed to using either a canoe or kayak. Have the requirements for that badge changed? (Cindy)

Nope, the requirements for Whitewater merit badge haven’t changed: The requirements clearly state the use of either a canoe (tandem or solo) and/or kayak. There are no provisions for using a raft of any kind. And, as we know, nobody is authorized to alter the BSA’s advancement requirements for either ranks or merit badges—and this includes “substitutions.” This makes me suspect that whoever’s putting this together may not be a registered Merit Badge Counselor for Whitewater. You’ll want to verify that aspect, too.
Dear Andy,

We’re members of a brand new troop, with about 15 Scouts in two patrols. My son is very active in the troop and just completed his tenure as a Patrol Leader. In the most recent elections, my son chose not to “run” for a position, because I’d instructed him to let other Scouts have the opportunity to be Patrol Leader and such. My son decided that Assistant Patrol Leader would be a good position, not realizing at the time that this doesn’t qualify for rank advancement. But, as it turned out, he wasn’t chosen, anyway. Now, his Scoutmaster say’s that my son will have to wait six more months, for the next elections, and won’t appoint him to a troop position or allow him to take on a special project. So here’s my question: Is a troop obligated to provide a position for a Scout who asks for one, so that he can advance in rank? (Parent & MC)

First, let’s understand that Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leader are the only two elected positions in a troop; all others are appointed. Assistant PL is appointed by his Patrol Leader. All other positions—Quartermaster, Historian, Scribe, Troop Guide, Instructor, Webmaster, etc.—are appointed by the SPL, with advice (but not decision-making) from the Scoutmaster.

Second consideration: The idea is to move forward and upward; not backwards. Having been a Patrol Leader, your son would not logically want to move “downward/backward” into an APL slot. This is the time for him to step forward, as an Instructor, or Webmaster (if he’s into that), Quartermaster, etc.

Yes, your son made a mistake, as far as a position of responsibility that would help him achieve Life rank in the next six months is concerned. And no, a troop isn’t obliged to “find” a position for your son, even though he might want one. Scouting is one of the few places a young man can make a mistake and it’s not permanently damaging. In your son’s case, he’s learned that it’s a good idea to “do your homework” before making decisions, so that you have as much information as possible—and then you make your decision, at the time you need to make it, based on as much information as you can gather at the time you need to make it. Not a bad life lesson, I’d think!

So, what to do now… Well, maybe some creativity and initiative on your son’s part might be called for. Maybe he should take a look at all positions offered for Scouts (starting with the list I mentioned earlier) and find one that (a) the troop doesn’t have and (b) he’d have fun doing. Then, when he’s found it, he can have a talk with his Senior Patrol Leader, describing what he’d like to do for the troop and how he’d go about it, and then ask to be appointed to it. If he builds a good case for himself, and how what he wants to do will benefit the troop, the SPL would probably be a bit foolish to turn him down. But it’s still the SPL’s decision, so yes, your son will be taking a chance here. But even if it doesn’t work out, the worst that happens is he waits six months. Not a big deal, because he can start earning the merit badges he’s going to need to finish off Life requirements and then earn the one’s he’ll need for Eagle—and the benefit here is that he’ll be a “free agent,” with no leadership responsibilities (for a little while) that might over-burden him as he’s finishing off his merit badges.

Just so he knows this is far from “the end of the world as he knows it”! (And, along the way, maybe his mom and dad learned a lesson, too? )
Dear Andy,

My son’s troops always closes with the Scoutmaster’s Benediction. Can you give me some background on this? Thank you! (Brenda)

“May the Great Master of all Scouts be with us till we meet again” is a long-standing and universal end to Scout gatherings. It’s been spoken, usually with hands joined, or all raised in the Scout sign. It’s in the same genre as “May the Lord bless you and take care of you; may the Lord be kind and gracious to you; may the Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.” It’s a bond, a promise, a wish, and a hope. It’s fundamental to all Scouts everywhere, from the very beginning of Scouting.

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. 355 – 5/6/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]


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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