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Issue 503 – October 18, 2016


(This conversation is from early September…)

Hi, Andy,

I’m a Den Leader entering my second year and having a grand time. My den has grown to a good size—12 registered and about 10 showing up regularly, and continuing to receive inquiries from prospective new members, too. Problem is, I’m not eager for this den to get any bigger than it is, already.

Right now our Pack has 3 Tigers, 12 Wolves, 3 Bears, so we are rather out of balance.

It seems that the options are to either start a second den with its own Den Leader (keeping my current den of 12 intact) or divide my den into two. (If we chose the second option, I’m concerned that there could be great heartache over who gets to stay in the den with me and who goes to the new den.) I’m also considering referring the new inquiries to either or both of two other packs in our neighborhood running healthy programs.

An overarching problem, however, is that our pack’s Committee Chair wants me to accept more and more and more boys! I get it that, as a volunteer, I don’t have to simply accept this, to the point of winding up with a completely unmanageable den that becomes the size of a small pack!

So how do I diplomatically avoid becoming a “super-den” (staying friendly with my CC) and what do I do with my den now and even with a couple of additional boys? (Anna Tomical, DL)

Your problems have already begun… You have 12 and you’re sorta happy if 10 show up. Actually, in light of the new Cub Scout advancement program, they ALL need to show up! Even with “just” 12, this puts a pretty large burden on your energy and time, especially when they move to Bear and beyond in the next couple of years. The greatest likelihood is that you’ll lose one or two each year, and you won’t be terribly unhappy with this eventuality—it’s a natural reaction to your burden getting lighter!

So, since dens are supposed to be never larger than 8, and can be very effective when slightly smaller, DIVIDE THE DEN RIGHT NOW: 6 and 6.

This begins with an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation with all den parents—at least one parent (two is better) per Cub. Tell them that the den is too large and, so that some boys don’t get left by the wayside, the den can be very manageable when it becomes 2 dens. Each Cub will get the attention he deserves, and the burden on the Den Leader is minimized. Plus, since there’s a likelihood that the dens can now grow instead of shrink over time, 2 boys per den can be added down the road.

Have a straightforward conversation with your Cubmaster first, and get his or her support, including their attending your parents meeting to support both you and the goal of a division sooner rather than later. Between the two of you, you need to get one more parent to say, “Okay, I’ll be a Den Leader, too!”

That new den will meet at a different location or time or day—anything to assure that you don’t wind up with some sort of “super-den” with two Den Leaders sharing responsibilities. This DOESN’T WORK. (In this regard, don’t cave in to the idea of “co-den leaders”—this doesn’t work either.)

If the parents are reluctant, you may have to resort to “drawing names from a hat” with the first six names picked (“blind” pick, of course) becoming your new den and the balance becoming available to form that second den.

Yes, I know this will seem difficult to do, and the very notion tugs at your heartstrings. So think about how you’re going to feel two years from now, when the den of 12 is now down to 6 to 8 boys as a result of attrition. And remember this: As a VOLUNTEER, you have every right to limit the work you’re willing to do! This is YOUR LIFE and you MUST be fair to yourself and your family.

As for your CC, you’re 100% correct: You are absolutely NOT in any way obligated to take on more and more boys. Frankly, it’s the responsibility of the CC and CM to make certain you’re not overburdened, and that’s why, if they have some smarts (which I’m sure they do!) they’re going to do everything possible—including finding a second DL—to create that second very needed den!
Hi Andy!

Here’s a question a parent recently posed to our troop committee: Can a 17 year-old Scout still register to go to summer camp as a scout if his 18th birthday is on the final day the troop’s at camp? (Darnell Powers)

Thanks for the question—It’s an interesting and certainly unique one!

I suppose it’s technically possible, because he’ll be returning home on his 18th birthday, so no worries at camp about being an adult tenting with one or more minors. But there’s a lot of information missing in that question… For instance, is he the troop’s Senior Patrol Leader or JASM? Or is he in a patrol of other 17 year-olds?

This makes me wonder about something else, too… If he’s not the troop’s top youth leader or in a patrol of peers, why would he want to do this?

In my experience, a 17 year-old young man—Scout or otherwise—usually wants to hang with guys the same age or older than himself; rarely with boys age 11-16. Wouldn’t he rather be on staff at that camp, enjoy the “outdoor life” with guys (and gals) his own age, and get paid for the experience to boot?
Hi Andy,

I’m wondering about the whole merit badge process. I understand the “individual initiative” aspect of the process, in which Scouts choose the badges they want to earn, contact the counselors, etc. I also get it that troop meetings aren’t for “merit badge classes” (but if the meeting happens to cover merit badge elements, I guess that’s OK). But what about merit badges run by troops outside of troop meetings? Some merit badges, like Personal Finance, may require some “classroom” type instruction for concepts that a Scout may not be able to grasp on his own. How are these any different from merit badge days or fairs are run by a district or council, or merit badges taught at summer camps, for that matter? (Joe Sefcik)

The bottom line is this: No matter where they’re run, “troop-run” merit badges get in the way of the BSA Merit Badge Program process and goals.

If, however, a Merit Badge Counselor is invited to a troop meeting, provides a 5-minute description of his or her merit badge, and tells Scouts that, he or she would be happy to start working with Scouts who are interested (completely voluntary) in that subject matter, and that all they need do is get a “blue card” from their Scoutmaster along with his or her contact information, the Scouts can just make the phone call to set up a time to meet and get started, that’s just fine. Should one or more Scouts indeed make that phone call, it’s also perfectly alright for that counselor to set up gatherings that take place at a reasonable time in front of future troop meetings…for instance, if troop meetings start at 7:30, the merit badge gatherings could begin at 6:45 or 7:00, and could be held as frequently as needed.

Doing it this way conforms to Merit Badge process guidelines, and Scouts can benefit. But we need to leave the decision to begin or not in the hands of each individual Scout.

Similarly, if a “Merit Badge Fair” is going to happen soon in the district or council (or even a nearby council), it’s equally alright to inform the Scouts of the date, time, and location, as well as a list of badges offered. But there it stops. The decision to register and show up, or not, is left for each Scout to decide for himself.

Let’s always keep in mind that our overall objective is not to “create Eagle Scouts,” but to give every young man in the troop a positive experience over a seven-year duration, regardless of whether, by age 18, they’re Eagles or not.

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. 503 – 10/18/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]


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.

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