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Issue 387 – March 5, 2014

Dear Andy,

Our troop will be going in a high-adventure kayaking trip on the Colorado River. One of the parents in our troop would like to bring his ten year-old daughter along. What’s the BSA policy on siblings attending high-adventure trips like this? (Karl Smith, Grand Canyon Council, AZ)

Here’s the good news: You don’t need a BSA policy to say no. This not only isn’t a good idea; it’s a crummy idea. Boy Scouting is all about boys and young men having adventures together. Boy Scouting isn’t about “family camping” and it sure isn’t about dragging along some Scout’s little sister! The whole idea of taking any non-Scout age kid—much less, a girl—along on this trip undermines everything you all are supposed to be doing for the Scouts.

Now I’m sure this dad is well-meaning, but he’s equally ignorant of what Boy Scouting’s all about. Educate him. Start the education process by telling him no, and telling him why it’s no.

Now if this means he gets himself bent out of shape over this and pulls himself or his son out of the trip, so be it. It’s his misunderstanding and his serious mistake.

Absolutely do not walk small around this one. If he wants to take his son and daughter on a camping trip, that’s wonderful. But he can do this on his own dime and time. He doesn’t get to subvert the Scouting program. This applies to any and all outings the troop has. No “family camping.” Ever. Got it? Great! End of story.
Hi Andy,

In the present routine for the Cub Scout Arrow of Light award there’s a requirement where they visit a troop and have a conference with the Scoutmaster. So I’m wondering, does the Webelos Scout have to select that troop? Also, can the Scoutmaster conference be done as a group?
Thanks. (Tom Tomlins)

The “not-so-hidden agenda” of that requirement is to aid boys transitioning from Cub Scouting into Boy Scouting.

First, let’s realize that the reason for two requirements for troop visits is so that your Webelos Scouts are presented with a choice: This troop or that troop? This is so that the boy and his parents are deciding, “Will it be Troop A or Troop B?” instead of thinking about stuff like, “Should it be Troop A or sports?”

So if a Webelos Scout wants to visit a troop he already knows (like, because his older brother’s in it, for instance), he should by all means visit that troop. But usually he and his whole den will visit a troop together! We’d hope they’ll all join up together (heck, they’ve already been together for some four to five years) and become a new Boy Scout patrol (they get to name themselves, elect their own Patrol Leader from among themselves, etc.) in a single troop, rather that splitting up into different troops. But either way is OK, because the big thing is that they become Boy Scouts, no matter what troop.

As for Scoutmaster conferences, it’s really important (and a BSA standard) that these are one-on-one (“in public” of course), so that the Boy and his next adult leader actually get to know one another. If some lame-brained Scoutmaster tries to do this in a group format, there’s no dialogue; all that happens is that the Scoutmaster blathers at a bunch of boys in blue and they don’t get to know him (or he, them) in any depth at all. Yes, the group method sounds more efficient, but it’s vastly less effective in producing the desired outcome. Further, if that same misguided Scoutmaster pawns these conferences off on one or more ASMs, he’s missing the point: Scouts (and their parents, too) want to meet the key adult in the troop; not some assistant (any more than they’d want to have a “teacher’s conference” with a teacher’s aide).

The BSA doesn’t provide “guidelines.” The BSA gives us proven effective procedures and expects us to get it right.

Thanks Andy. You’ve confirmed what I thought was the process for individual conferences and not “group chats.” One parent had a question about this, and that’s now taken care of. But here’s another aspect… Does the Webelos ask for a conference, or does the Scoutmaster ask, “Are there any Scouts who’d like to talk?” And, assuming the Scout visits multiple troops, there’s the potential for him to have many different Scoutmaster conferences, if he so chooses, yes? (Tom)

Any Scoutmaster with any smarts, seeing a Webelos (or Webelos den) visiting his troop’s meeting, will instantly introduce himself and have a chat with one Scout, then the next Scout, and the next, and so on… and since Scoutmasters don’t run troop meetings, he should have plenty of time to do this!

Unlike Ben Stein’s character in “Ferris Bueller,” he won’t ask, “Anyone? Anyone?” He’ll approach each boy and have a personal chat. When you see this, you know you’re on track to identifying a quality troop. If it doesn’t happen this way, keep on looking…
Hi Andy!

Currently I’m a Merit Badge Counselor for a few merit badges and I’d like to add Swimming to the ones I already counsel. I’ve read through the requirements and want to confirm that there’s no additional BSA-mandated training that I need to take, become a MBC for Swimming. Although YP and CPR are my only certifications at present, I’m a former college swim team and have numerous years lifeguarding and teaching swimming under my belt. Thanks! (Ginger Fearey)

Your council will have a process for listing your qualifications to take on this merit badge. Just fill out the form and submit it. No special training or certification (other than YPT, which you already have) is necessary for this merit badge. Go for it!
Dear Andy,

Would it be appropriate to wear my Scouter uniform to my friend’s funeral service? He really helped our pack several important times and the service will be held at our church, which is the pack’s chartered organization. (Terry Roggow, UC, Transatlantic Council)

It sure world! In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to have some other pack leaders attend in uniform, too. And how about the Cub Scouts in uniform!
Dear Andy,

I’m a District Executive. Our Council Commissioner is new in the position and is looking for topics for District Commissioners that they can take back to their districts’ Commissioner staff meetings. Does anything like this exist? (Name & Council Withheld)

Your newest Council Commissioner sounds like he may need some “coaching,” and this will best come from his predecessor. In addition, since he’s a member of the council’s “Key 3,” he should have direct access to the Scout Executive. He can also review past agendas for meetings of the District Commissioners, to get a sense for the topics typically discussed. For District Commissioners and their meetings with the other Commissioners in their districts, the other D.E.s in your council should be able to help with typical meeting agendas, which will show the topic areas usually a part of all meetings. Plus, of course, he can borrow topics from the Commissioners “Continuing Education” literature.
Hello Andy,

As a Scout Mom, I try to do some of the requirements for different merit badges with my son. But he gets frustrated with me and tells me that he has to do these requirements with a “Counselor.” I understand this, but how do I find out who the Counselors are for merit badges in our area? Is this only the responsibility of the Scout leaders? This problem seems to be hindering his progress toward his goal of finishing merit badges and becoming an Eagle Scout. (Name & Council Withheld)

Your son’s right: These are for him to do, for himself. I understand your interest in your son and his Scouting experience, but I’m obliged to say that it’s absolutely not your responsibility to do any requirements with your son. In fact, this actually hinders his growth and development through the Boy Scouting program. If this were Cub Scouts, your help would be just fine; but not in Boy Scouts. Please do your level best to let him do this on his own and for himself.

As for finding a Merit Badge Counselor, your son (absolutely not you) should ask his Scoutmaster for the name and contact information of one in his area or neighborhood at the same time he asks his Scoutmaster for a “Blue Card” to get started.

Scouts start merit badges by speaking with their Scoutmaster first. They don’t just find the requirements and start doing them. Everything about merit badges begins and ends with the Merit Badge Counselor. Please tell your son to talk with his Scoutmaster at the very next troop meeting.

Meanwhile, take a moment to read sections of the opening chapters of your son’s SCOUT HANDBOOK, particularly pages 12-16, 36-43, and 46-65. Then get your son a copy of the current BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS book and read pages 20-21 with him. These pages explain how he should go about earning merit badges he’s interested in. But, as you’ll see throughout, this is all about your son and his peer relationships, his relationship with his Scoutmaster, and his own personal initiative.

Boy Scouting is an opportunity for personal growth, directed by the individual boy himself. Parental support comes in the form of getting him to meetings on time, getting him to the troop’s outdoor activities, and getting him to meetings with Merit Badge Counselors. The actual work, and the fun of it, is his to do and enjoy. This is how Boy Scouting helps your son develop as a whole person, ultimately ready to face the world on his own.

You can and should support him, but in a different way from when he was younger. Now, you’re beginning to step back, to give him room to grow and to individuate himself on his own.

If you’re a normal parent (and I’m speaking from personal experience here), this is a more difficult process for you than for him! It’s tough to “let go.” It’s tough to want to always keep him safe and keep him from making mistakes. But the reward of seeing him grow and strengthen himself as an individual is worth the concerns you’ll naturally feel. Scouting is, in a sense, a place where your son can make some mistakes, in a safe place, and learn from them.

So always show your support, but in a more “hands-off” way than you did when he was younger. Take a deep breath, and know that he’ll be okay with his fellow Scouts and under the guidance of a dedicated Scoutmaster.

Allow him to go on hikes and camp-outs by himself. Resist the natural urge to always be there for him. He’ll be okay—I promise!
Dear Andy,

I’m the advancement coordinator for our Cub Scout pack. We have a second-year Webelos who has been with our pack from the start—Tiger, straight on through. Have you heard of any kind of special recognition in honor of the boys being in a single pack? (We have a couple of boys who started in packs in different states then moved to us.) (Chris Dahlen)

It’s the norm, not an exception, for boys to remain in one pack from Tiger through Arrow of Light. When these boys graduate to a Boy Scout troop, it’s a nice thing to mention, but that’s probably all you need to do.

As for boys who transfer in to your pack from other Scouting venues, this is wonderful! The whole idea—regardless of pack—is that boys get to experience the entire Cub Scouting program and then—absolutely the most important—move on to the high adventure of Boy Scouting!
Dear Andy,

As of the first of the year, Cooking is now an Eagle-required merit badge. In this regard, do you see any changes coming that would drop the cooking requirements out of Camping merit badge? I realize cooking is part of camping, but those skills are now covered when a Scout earns Cooking. (Jeff Stone)

Personally, I don’t see the Camping merit badge requirements changing anytime soon, but understand that I’m not privy to the inner workings of the national merit badge task force.
Dear Andy,

I hope you can help me navigate a difficult situation. I’m a Webelos II Den Leader with four Scouts (two are my sons) soon to cross over to Boy Scouts. I also have an older son who’s been a Boy Scout for a little under a year. The pack and troop are both sponsored by a local military veterans group. This group has been dying off (literally) for years and currently only has a few members left. The current Chartered Organization Representative is the middle-aged son of the groups head guy, and has been the CR for the pack and troop for decades—including a time, some time ago, when both units were down to two or three Scouts each. At that time, the CR wore many hats to keep the pack and troop afloat. The problem now is that the pack and the troop have returned to more robust membership (no less than 30 youth members each) with many parents eager to help out, but the CR doesn’t want to yield any so-called “power.” The pack has successfully dislodged him from his membership on their committee. But at the troop level he’s still the CR and Committee Chair as well, and he uses his CC position to keep people off the committee who he thinks will disagree with him. So right now the committee only has seven members, despite many parents who have offered to help. This situation might be tolerable if he were a good leader, but his answer to everything is “the troop has always done it this way and so it’s the right way” and if the Scouts want to do anything new, he finds reasons that make it impossible for it to happen rather than trying to find ways to help the Scouts make it happen.

There’s a group of parents who approached the head sponsor and explained their reasons for wanting a new CR and their own CC, but the head guy’s been flip-flopping between his son and these parents with the result that nothing’s changed or is likely to change. Meanwhile, the Scoutmaster—whom the Scouts adore and all the parents really like—says he just can’t put any additional energy into this issue. He’s left it to the parents to fix, or not.

The parents, tired of waiting for resolution here, approached the church where the pack and the troop meet and asked the Pastor there if he’d be interested in sponsoring the pack and troop. He said yes. But now some of the parents want to start an entirely new second troop instead of changing the current pack’s and troop’s sponsor. If this happens, we’ll wind up with two smaller troops and ill feelings among the Scouts because they’d be forced to choose between friends when deciding which troop to be in. Meanwhile, the Scoutmaster says he’d rather retire than deal with a tiny troop situation again.

It just seems to me that this is a situation where the biggest losers are going to be the Scouts, and that’s not right. Is there a process where the council can get involved to remove a CR who’s failing in his duty, or can a CR be removed from his additional roles in the troop by somebody other than the sponsor’s top person? (Name & Council Withheld)

Whittling your description down to the essentials, what you have is a Committee Chair who’s blocking Scouts from having adventures and a Scoutmaster who won’t stand up for the Scouts he’s supposed to be grooming for manhood. Both are all wet.

In the first place, nowhere in any BSA position descriptions or unit functions does it say that a CC or committee can block Scouts from planning and doing Scouting adventures, so long as there are no health or safety issues involved. In short, nobody—not even the Scoutmaster—has “veto power.” But it takes a Scoutmaster with a spine to get this point across, and committee members and parents to support him. Stop the CC from dishing out his baloney and the whole problem goes away. But you’ve got to have the gumption to do this. Do you?

Or, you can go the other route and simply transfer every Scout into a new troop sponsored by the church you all meet at, while the Cub Scout pack does the same thing. There’s no need for Scouts to have to “decide” which troop they want to be in. Transfer everybody! To do this, rally the throttled troop committee members and the unhappy parents, and request an in-person meeting with your District Executive AND District Commissioner. Tell them exactly what you’ve told me. Between them, they should be able to help you transfer both the pack and the troop to the church, as their new sponsor, with minimal paperwork or angst. But here’s one thing for sure: You’re going to need a new Scoutmaster—one who’s ready to stick up for the Scouts.

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. 387 – 3/5/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


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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