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Issue 372 – November 21, 2013


Dear Andy,

There doesn’t seem to be a requirement for two-deep leadership at troop meetings. There’s only a requirement for trips and outings. The only additional rule is that of no one-on-one private contact between an adult and a Scout. So it seems that as long as there are several Scouts and one registered adult, there’s no problem. Is this correct or am I missing something? (Michael Harrington)

Nope, you’re not missing a thing. You’ve got it exactly right.
Hi Andy,

I recently was introduced to you—great stuff! I have three questions…

The first one should be simple, but it seems when I asked if we only needed someone who’d had Outdoor Webelos Leader (OWL) Training to go on a Webelos den outing or overnighter. Our Cubmaster as well as several at the district and council levels were split on this being sufficient. Half say we also need to be BALOO trained. Further confusing was the fact that one of my Assistant Den Leaders was BALOO trained, but because it was a few years ago and she wasn’t yet registered with our pack (we’d just enlisted her as an ADL—some years before, she’d been a DL with our pack), someone at the council level rejected our Tour Plan. There ended up being an open BALOO training session just before the overnighter we’d planned, so it worked out okay. But it was quite frustrating, especially with those divided opinion on this.

My second question’s about Den Chiefs. Much of the Webelos program focuses on bringing in a Den Chief, introducing The Patrol Method, etc. We decided from the get-go to start this Webelos I year with a Den Chief, but most other packs in our district start this in Year II. Is this not okay? I can’t for the life of me see any down-side to providing more time to “transition” the Webelos.

Last one: I’ve read that it’s not recommended to have dens larger than eight (“A den is a group of six to eight boys”). Last year, we had seven in our den, but over the summer we gained more boys and now have 13 in the den. I’m the DL, and I have two ADLs who are more than capable (both have been DLs in the past), so I’m confident we have sufficient leadership. I’ve spoken with the Cubmaster and we agreed to give it a try at this size and, if everything is still moving smoothly, to continue; but, if necessary, split. I have mixed feelings about this. The original seven have all been together for so long they’re really close, but I don’t want to let the new boys become a separate den because I’d like them to feel “included.” Any thoughts on this one in particular? (Chris Harmon)

Thanks for becoming a new reader! I’ll try to help as much as possible, and keep things as simple as possible, so here we go…

First, BALOO is the required training, according to the BSA’s Tour Plan. OWL training is recommended for Webelos, but isn’t listed on the Tour Plan. The non-registered pack leader who had taken, but was not recognized for, BALOO training is a council-related hiccup.

Second, introducing The Patrol Method is absolutely okay to do with first-year Webelos. The Webelos-Arrow of Light program is an 18-month program, unlike Tiger, Wolf, and Bear, which are each one year programs.

On your third question, a den of seven boys is just about perfect! A den of five is still okay, because this leaves room for growth. The boys that recently joined—especially since some of them came from another pack—should have brought their own Den Leader along, too. Or, if the former DL stayed behind, then among the five to ten new parents one should have stood up and become their Den Leader. Your pack absolutely has the right to hold folks’ feet to the fire on this one, otherwise you wind up in exactly the situation you’re facing: A den that’s way too big to be manageable. I suggest, at this point, that one of your ADLs steps up and becomes the DL for the new boys, and they have their own separate den number, just like all other dens. As for feeling “included,” this happens for all dens at the monthly pack meetings, while at the same time the boys will bond with one another in a smaller, more intimate group size. This also preserves the integrity of the seven boys who have been together from the outset. It’s not too late to make this split happen.

Thanks, Andy. Actually, I had asked their DL to be an ADL. We’ve bonded together as a large den, but I may talk to that ADL and possibly our Cubmaster about a potential den split. After all, we can always do some activities together, like campouts. (CH)

You’re right: There’s no reason why two dens can’t occasionally share events, but you need to look to the future… These boys will soon become Boy Scouts, and a patrol of your present size simply won’t work, whereas a patrol of seven and a patrol of five will work just fine! Remember that patrols of new Scouts are encouraged and expected to remain intact throughout their Boy Scouting experience, and a patrol of twelve will ultimately mean that (a) the size is unmanageable and (b) the size encourages attrition instead of stability and possible growth.
Dear Andy,

We’re not sure where to turn; we hope you can help. In our troop, there have been several Scoutmaster changes, and we’re noticing an alarming trend. Each Scoutmaster seems to pick one Scout he doesn’t like, and holds that Scout back on rank advancement, favoring some other Scout he does like. These Scoutmasters have even refused to sign off on merit badges when the Scout turns in his “blue card,” usually on some sort of technicality that’s 100% fiction.

Currently, we have two Scouts working toward Eagle. Instead of working on their own, they’re using troop meetings for their work and telling the next Scout in the pecking order to bear full responsibility for what they’re supposed to be doing as youth leaders. Meanwhile, since the Scouts know who’s on the Scoutmaster’s “black list,” they’ll pick on him with impunity and, when the Scout (or his parent) speaks up, the Scoutmaster brushes it off with, “He’ll just have to get used to being bullied, because that’s was part of growing up.” Is there anything we, as parents, can do about things like this? (Name & Council Withheld)

For your description, the problem seems to run deeper that merely playing favorites. It looks like you’ve got a little tin god in charge here. Merit badges, once signed off by registered merit badge counselors, are done! Nobody else signs them off or can “reevaluate” requirements or how they were carried out. The unit leader’s signature at the back end isn’t “approval”—it’s to signify that the card has been received and duly recorded as completed. End of story.

So what to do about this Napoleon… Well, you have three fundamental choices, depending on how involved you all want to get. Since your sons come first, always, one way to go is to simply find a new troop for them and immediately transfer them over—run, don’t walk!

Or, you can ask for intervention from a Commissioner, in the hope that he or she can help this troop get itself on the right track. My concern here, of course, is that people who have a Napoleon complex are rarely fixable. So here’s the third option…

ALL parents whose sons are being slighted or mistreated go straight to the head of your chartered organization and demand that this Scoutmaster be replaced. But be prepared to do this en masse and it must be in person (NO “EMAIL WARS”!), and you’ve got to have someone among you who’s willing to step up, be the Scoutmaster, and do it right.

Now it’s your pick—Talk it over with the other unhappy parents and decide which avenue you’ll all rally behind.
Hi Andy,

I’m hoping you can clarify something in regards to service projects for rank advancement. In our troop, we’ve come to an impasse on the interpretation of the service requirements for Star and Life (“While a First Class/Star Scout, take part in service project[s]totaling at least six hours of work. These projects must be approved by your Scoutmaster”). Some of us, including me, believe that this should be an independent service project that has been discussed between the Scout and the Scoutmaster and then been approved for the rank requirement by the Scoutmaster. Others, including our Scoutmaster, feel that a combination of any service projects the troop does (e.g., tree planting, Goodwill Good Turn Day, etc.) should be acceptable because if the troop is doing them they’ve already been approved by the Scoutmaster. But we have Scouts who want to count things like the annual Christmas tree recycling project. My stance is that something independent like this doesn’t count as a service project because the Scouts who do this are paid for it (People leave their used Christmas trees out and, if they choose to, place money on the door for us picking them up; then we split the money collected for this event with the Scouts. Typically a Scout will work about four hours for about forty dollars.) I don’t see that something you’re being paid for should be counted as a service project. Most of the adults agree with this, except our Scoutmaster.

I’m the Advancement Chair for the troop and certainly want to do what’s right for the Scouts, but when a Scout has his board of review and can’t tell us what he did for service, it’s frustrating to know the Scoutmaster signed off on this. We’d like to put policies in place identifying what exactly would or wouldn’t be acceptable when it comes to defining troop vs. individual service projects. Bottom line for all of us is that we want to do what is correct. Can you help us with this dilemma? (Name & Council Withheld)

The good news is that your troop doesn’t need to create any so-called policies. The BSA has already done this for you. It’s found in the language of those two requirements. The BSA tells us that it’s perfectly acceptable for a Scout to engage in multiple service projects—troop projects or patrol projects, or even something the Scout himself would like to do (like volunteering at a local hospital, or showing up on “town cleanup day,” helping out at his place of worship, or anything else)—so long as his Scoutmaster says OK (beforehand is always best). This can be a single project, or as many as the Scout would like to do, just so long as he commits a minimum of six hours to serving others.

As for a Scout’s “not remembering,” it sounds like this is a Scoutmaster conference oversight; not a Scout problem. When the Scoutmaster has a conference with a Scout ready to advance in rank, the two of them will (briefly) review the requirements in terms of where they were done, and what the Scout learned from these (of course, without this being a re-test). Then, assuming you’re running a good troop, with boards of review conducted speedily after the Scoutmaster conference (can even be the same night!), the Scout will be unlikely to have forgotten what he just discussed with his Scoutmaster.

On your final point, I don’t see for the life of me how working for pay could even remotely be considered “service.” “Service” is when a Scout mows his elderly neighbors’ lawn for them, without thought of reward; when the Scout is paid for this, it’s a money-earning job. In fact, unless he absolutely refuses a “gratuity” in the first instance above, it’s a money-earning job. But, this Christmas tree collection aside, service based on individual initiative, for worthy causes and organizations of the Scout’s own choosing, are absolutely legit!

In sum, Scouts should be encouraged to do both: Earn their own way and help others without thought of reward.
Dear Andy,

For the position of Den Chief, I’ve seen all over the place that it’s “recommended” that the Scouts be First Class or above, but I’ve not seen any BSA official policy on the requirements. Is there a BSA regulation stating the requirements? I agree that a Scout should be First Class or above due to maturity level, experience, and the fact that the leadership experience won’t count towards rank advancement until the Scout reaches First Class. Any help would be greatly appreciated. (Joe Sefcik, New Haven, CT)

Here’s the deal…If there were a specific set of requirements, they’d be stated. The BSA expects us to apply good judgment in all situations, and has provided a recommendation. The rest is up to you. As to First Class, while this is a good guideline (again, not a requirement) I can tell you from experience that there are other, more important factors, including great spirit, willingness to work under the direction of an adult (instead of a fellow Scout), the ability to relate to 8-to-10 year-olds and at the same time be the “older brother” to the Cubs/Webelos, and—most important—the ability to smile a lot! As for dangling the famous bait, “You can use this toward your leadership requirement for Star/Life/Eagle,” fuggetaboutit… The Scout who takes on this position for that reason alone is definitely not the Scout you want!
Dear Andy,

I serve on a troop committee where two Life Scouts recently presented their Eagle Service Project proposals for unit committee approval. Turns out, the projects are identical, the only difference being that they’ll be carried out at different locations on the qualified beneficiary’s property. To further complicate this situation, the committee has just learned that two of our troop’s other Life Scouts are considering the same project type for the same beneficiary. The GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT states projects don’t have to be original, but it also states that no more than one Eagle Scout candidate may receive credit for an Eagle Scout service project, and the project must provide sufficient opportunity to allow for the Scout to plan, develop, and give leadership to others.

Everything else—the beneficiary, proposals, safety issues, and nature of the service—is okay. But, in reviewing the proposals, the committee noticed that, in several sections of the two proposals, sentences were word-for-word identical. Further, these two Life Scouts are brothers, and their planned helpers—all adults, I’m obliged to point out—are exactly the same people in both proposals. What do we do? (Name & Council Withheld)

Based on your description, here are my top-of-mind concerns…

– While “originality” per se isn’t required, simultaneous duplicative work seems rather less than the intended spirit of the endeavor(s).

– When written plans match one another verbatim, this defeats the ideal of individual Scouts creating their own plans reflecting their own originality of viewpoint. They are either collaborating, which isn’t permitted, or one is copying the other’s work, which is even less in the spirit.

– The opportunity to show true leadership—a key component of any such project—is likewise compromised by having only adult helpers. Individual initiative is further compromised by the two lists of helpers being identical. Moreover, after the first project is completed, the adult “helpers” will know exactly what to do and how to do it, thereby further defeating the idea of a Scout-led project. (In effect, there’s nothing left to “instruct” or “guide”).

With no intention to pass the buck, have an immediate conversation with your District Advancement Chair (or whoever on the DAC is responsible for vetting Eagle projects). Ideally, make this in-person; try at all costs to avoid email, because you’ll need a collaborative atmosphere and unified thinking.

Now the DAC may think all of this is just fine, but somehow I doubt it.
Here’s the down-the-road problem: Let’s say the projects are approved and completed. Now it’s up to the board of review to decide whether or not leadership given has been sufficient. Should these Scouts’ projects fail this litmus test, the work, as far as rank advancement is concerned, will have been for naught. One or both of these Scouts would need to start again from scratch.

I’d proceed with great caution here. I think that preliminary conversation is going to be absolutely critical.

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. 372 – 11/21/2013 – 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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