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Issue 439 – April 8, 2015

Hi Andy,

Great April Fool’s column last week… or I truly hope it was

I’ve been an avid reader for quite a well and have always found useful information in your columns. I’ve also reached out a few times with questions, and your replies were consistently prompt and to the point. One particular thing I like is you never beat around the bush and you base your answers on policy. Thanks for providing this well-needed service. (Bill Yoder, District Chair, Mason-Dixon Council, PA)

Yup, that was my April Fool’s column for 2015. A few years ago, I forgot to publish a column on April Fool’s Day and boy-o-boy did I get flack over that! I got more flame mail for missing that date than for any answer to a question I’ve ever written! Thanks for taking the time to write. It’s letters like yours that “re-charge my batteries”!
Hi Andy,

Happy April’s Fool’s! Your first one almost had me, until I read the name on the second one…then I read them to see how silly the next would be. I especially liked the “Nascar Area Council.” Scary thing is that knowing some people around here, they may have well have been real questions!

But I do actually have a legitimate question for you. It’s about Eagle courts of honor. Who is supposed to be responsible for the actual ceremony, as far as developing it, securing the site, inviting the honored guests (mayor, local state representative, etc.), applying for “congratulations” letters from civic agencies and important figures (like the president, senators, armed forces, etc.), and carrying out the ceremony? I’m asking because my nephew’s troop pretty much gave his mom a small pamphlet and, “Well, here you go. Let us know when the court of honor is and we’ll be there.” That’s it. No other guidance, and pretty much dumped in her lap.

It has been a lifetime since I had mine and I remember having something to do with the ceremony, but I don’t remember who invited the dignitaries or how I received congratulations letters. My sister-in-law has no real idea what to do so I told her “I know a guy” who would. Any thoughts or suggestions? Thanks! (Joe Sefcik, New Haven, CT)

Glad you enjoyed this year’s April 1st column! (For some added fun, go back and enjoy some earlier ones. They’re all different.)

On courts of honor… Troops run courts; not parents. Parents should be able to sit back and enjoy the evening, whether their son is getting his Tenderfoot badge of his eighth Eagle palm! Yes, I know lots of troops gravitate toward singular “Eagle” courts, but think about it: Who shows up? Maybe a third of the troop’s Scouts, if you’re lucky, plus a few random parents, and then the Eagle himself and his family and a few of his friends (both in and out of Scouting). Boo! Hiss! (This is me speaking, not the “Eagle Court of Honor” book.) Think about this, too… Making it to Eagle ain’t exactly chopped liver. It’s actually one of the most inspirational events your troop’s Scouts get to witness. It’s living proof that every Scout in the troop has a shot at this milestone, so don’t you want every one of them there, so they can think to themselves, “Hey, if Scotty can do it, maybe I can, too!”

So let’s throw out the idea of “special” Eagle-only courts of honor and include Eagles right along with every other rank and merit badge recognized at your troop’s quarterly (I hope!) courts. This makes every court of honor unique, because you get to see Tenderfoot through Star or Life at some of these and all the way to Eagle and beyond at others! And, most important, it’s a whole-troop event, with every Scout and every Scout parent there!

Drilling a little deeper, if your troop has an “Eagle Advisor” or “Life-to-Eagle Coach,” what better person to have the fun assignment of reaching out to dignitaries and such, telling them about the upcoming Eagle, and inviting them–not to send some letter that goes in a scrap-book rarely to be ever pored over again–to actually show up and shake the hand of your newest Eagle! This is what’s impressive! Letters? Just so much pieces of paper.

Drilling a little more, the “rule” of “Less Is More” absolutely applies; “more is actually “less.” Think about it… These are largely “form letters” and the more you collect the less value each has, because it’s plainly obvious to the Scout and the audience that he’s getting a bunch of machine-signed forms that have absolutely no personal meaning whatsoever. Imagine, years later, the Eagle Scout actually meets former president Obama somewhere, somehow. So the Scout says, “I’m Scotty Scout, and I’d like to thank you for that wonderful letter you wrote to me when I earned my Eagle!” and Mr. Obama is simultaneously thinking, “Huh?” Impressive? Personal? Not a bit, and don’t think the two of them don’t know it. So, unless somebody actually shows up, who cares?

And I’ll take it one final step here… Our Rotary Club (I’m a past president) presents a Rotary Certificate of Achievement to all new Eagle Scouts in the two troops in our town that we sponsor…but we never, ever mail these. We show up, describe why we give this certificate (Rotary’s motto is “Service Above Self”…akin to “Do A Good Turn Daily”), present it, shake that Scout’s hand (left-handed in every case), and shake the hands of his parents and Scoutmaster. This now has true meaning. And it shows every Scout and every parent in the troop that Eagle matters…Scouting matters! (And we do this in exactly three minutes, flat, because this is the Scouts’ night; not ours.) Would a mailed certificate do the same? Go ahead…take a guess.

Here’s one more point: Who runs the court of honor? The troop’s highest-ranking leader, of course. Who’s that? The Senior Patrol Leader! Yeah, I’m dead serious on this one… Courts of honor are the last place you want to have a bunch of stuffy old adults blather on and on from the lectern and rank presentations are little more than call the name, come up, get your badge(s) in an envelope, and go sit down again.

“Oh, but full courts of honor would take way too long!” some might say. Baloney. In one of my prior Commissioner roles, I served three troops in the same town—with a total of some 150 Scouts between them—that held three joint courts of honor a year. “Host” troops rotated. At each court, the Senior Patrol Leader called it to order at precisely 7:30 and closed at precisely 9 PM, and never ever ran so much as a minute over, whether there were no Eagles or there were—as happened one night—eight Eagles between all three troops, and every Eagle received his due!
Hi Andy,

Regarding the Distinguished Commissioner Award, do Unit Commissioners have to assure 90% re-charter of units in their district or council, or just the three or four units they’re directly responsible for? Same question on the performance standard of units. Is a Unit Commissioner’s recognition dependent on 60% of the units in the district or council, or just the ones he’s responsible for, to achieve that particular requirement? In other words what defines “your area of service” as written in the requirements for this recognition? (Dan M)

Unit Commissioners serve small groups of units; usually about three or four (at the most, we’d hope). So, in order to hit the “90%” re-charter requirement, you’d need to have all units re-charter for two consecutive years, because this requirement refers to the units you directly serve and not all units in the district, most of which will likely be served by other Unit Commissioners.

Same applies to the “60%” requirement: This means 60% of the units you serve directly: At least two in the case of serving three units, and three if you’re serving four.

As you move from Unit Commissioner to Assistant District Commissioner, then you’ll need to assure that the Unit Commissioners assigned to your oversight achieve their goals, so that you can achieve yours.

And then, of course, there’s the District Commissioner, who is charged with 90% and 60%, respectively, of all units in the district.
Hi Andy:

I’ve got some merit badge questions and concerns that maybe you can help me with…

I counsel five different merit badges, a couple of which are Eagle-required. In my sons’ troop the advancement coordinator is telling me I can’t be a counselor for my sons, “because the Council doesn’t like to see too many merit badges from a Scout’s parent.” While my sons (and other Scouts) often work with other MBCs, I’m currently the only counselor associated with our troop for a couple that are Eagle-required badges. Do my sons really need to seek a counselor for those somewhere else?

In another situation, the parent of a Scout in our troop recently challenged Communication req. 3: “Write a five minute speech. Give it at a meeting of a group.” This parent had apparently “consulted other parents, the District Executive, and several other people at the council” and claims that they all agreed that “holding a Scout to the required five minutes is too hard.” The argument continued this way: “What does ‘five minutes’ mean? Nobody can do a five minute speech. Doesn’t it mean a minimum of five minutes or between five and six minutes? And did the boys know that that was required?”

I repeated the requirement and the excerpt from the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT, which is attached to the merit badge worksheets I distribute (Page 2 and Topic Policy on Unauthorized Changes to Advancement Program), which states: “No council, committee, district, unit, or individual has the authority to add to, or subtract from, advancement requirements.” I also explained that a Scout unhappy or uncomfortable with any MBC is free to seek a different counselor at any time. I’ve always thought the requirement was crystal clear. I checked with the most current copies of the merit badge requirements and found no change to the “five minute” phrase, but maybe I’m wrong.

Can you help me with these two issues? (Name & Council Withheld)

On counseling a relative: The BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT clearly states that, so long as subject matter expertise (beyond previous counseling) can be demonstrated, there are no limits to the number of merit badges a person can be a registered Merit Badge Counselor for, and further states that counseling one’s own son, grandson, or nephew is perfectly acceptable, with no limitations.

Understand, however, that one of the two primary purposes of the BSA merit badge program is to provide youth with the opportunity to reach out to and work with adults he doesn’t know, as a way to instill self-confidence in his ability to do this. So, while you may well be a counselor for a merit badge your son wishes to earn, you can still be very fatherly when you recommend that your son work with someone else (and use you as a possible “sounding-board” for written essays that may occasionally be required by one particular merit badge or another). On the other hand, some merit badges would be silly to go elsewhere for; for instance, if you and your son enjoy angling or sailing together, and you’re a counselor for one or the other of these, then it would make perfect sense for you to be a counselor for him (and maybe a friend of his, too). So, as you can see, this is often a judgment call, but there’s no hidebound rule against this.

On your second question, the answer’s simple: Five minutes means five minutes. It doesn’t mean six, or four, or any other number. It means five. Period. “Too hard”? Nonsense. It’s a subtle way to teach discipline and prioritizing. Anybody can blather on for ten or twenty minutes or longer, and anyone can talk for two minutes on almost any subject (ever stand around that proverbial “water cooler”?). Five minutes requires thought, planning, drafting, and excising, among other skills.

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time,” is a quotation that deals directly with the five-minute speech. By the way, that quote has been attributed to T.S. Eliot, Mark Twain, Blaise Pascal, and Winston Churchill, among others and I would have told you exactly who deserves credit, but I didn’t have the time. <wink>

Our responsibility to the Scouts we’re here to serve is to help Scouts complete rank and merit badge requirements as written. Our own personal predilections have no place in the BSA advancement program.

This means, in no uncertain terms, that the erstwhile opinions of parents, “council people,” and District Executives are irrelevant to the intentions of the BSA advancement program. In short, they can all go fly a kite.
Dear Andy,

According to the BSA and the website, a Merit Badge Counselor must be at least 18 years old. How does that apply to summer camp counselors who in many cases are high school students? And, related to that, can a Scout under the age of 18 lead a merit badge class in a troop meeting setting? (Brian Glanz)

Good questions, so let’s break them down…

Yes, the minimum age for a merit badge counselor is 18. As you’ve already discovered, our website states this and so does the BSA website (

At Scout summer camps, staffers under age 18 often instruct Scouts in the knowledge and skills required to earn the merit badges offered by the camp; however, an age 18+ registered Merit Badge Counselor is the one who signs off on a Scout’s “blue card” that everything’s completed.

At troop meetings, any Scout with subject matter knowledge can teach his fellow Scouts (some rank requirements, in fact, are aimed precisely at teaching via the E.D.G.E. method). Actually, in the Boy Scout program, peer-to-peer teaching is vastly preferred over adult-to-youth teaching.

Completing merit badge requirements is never a regular part of troop meetings (refer to the Troop Meeting Plan). Therefore, Scouts don’t ever “lead a merit badge class,” although they might teach their fellow Scouts certain skills that will be useful when these Scouts actually set out to earn a merit badge by working with a registered merit badge counselor.

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. 439 – 4/8/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]


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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