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Issue 544 – September 26, 2017

Hi Andy,

One of the Cub Scout packs I serve is struggling because of the lack of parent participation. I need some good advice on how to approach parents at upcoming recruitment nights and what to say. Can you help me out here? (Sten Oswald, UC, Minsi Trails Council, PA)

The smartest pack committee chair I ever worked with (I’ll call her “Mary” for this conversation) had a simple and effective way to deal with this “recruiting night” problem…

When new parents and their sons showed up, Mary would group them by age/grade at separate tables—no more than eight families per table—all of which faced the front of the room. From the front, she’d provide a brief overview of the Cub Scouting program and the pack’s activities for the coming year. Then she’d describe how Cub Scouting is volunteer-run; it’s not a “drop-and-run” program run by paid staff. Next, she’d describe what a “den” is, and how it’s organized, including how each den has a volunteer Den Leader and a volunteer Assistant Den Leader, and she’d explain the basic responsibilities of each.

Mary’s next step was to give each table of parents two BSA Adult Volunteer Applications and tell everyone that, in order for their sons to become Cub Scouts, each table needs to decide on who will be the Den Leader and who will be the Assistant Den Leader. “When you have that decided,” she’d say, “let me know and I’ll help you with the paperwork.” Then she’d walk away.

After about five minutes, she’d make the rounds, visiting each table. “Have you decided yet?” she’d ask. If they hadn’t—which was usually the case—she’d simply say, “Well, take a few more minutes,” and walk away again.

Usually, at least a couple of tables would ask, “Can we have ‘co-Den Leaders?” Mary’s answer was simple: “Nope…The BSA doesn’t have a ‘position code’ for that. You’ll need to decide who’s in charge and who’s the assistant.”

Then someone would always ask, “But none of us has the time for this. What do we do?” Mary’s reply was always, “Well then, I guess your boys won’t be Cub Scouts.”

“But that’s not fair!” some would say. Mary’s answer: “Fair to whom? If you want your son to be a Cub Scout, somebody’s going to need to make this happen.”

She always did this in a kindly and welcoming way. She never argued; she never backed down.

Yes, some parents took their sons by the hand and left. Wisely, Mary let them leave, because she knew from experience that if she cajoled them to stay, they’d never do a lick of work, and no pack can run with uninvolved parents…especially since the other, working parents would resent the heck out of these non-workers!

It sometimes took a while for folks to realize Mary meant what she said and that there was no “wiggle-room.” But once they figured out that Mary wouldn’t be buffaloed, they signed on, signed up for training, and this successful pack stayed successful!

The smartest Cubmaster I ever met (I’ll call him “Mark”) called a meeting of all pack parents, and used a community room at the local library. On the chalkboard, Mark had pre-written Pinewood Derby, Annual Pack Picnic, Raingutter Regatta, and a bunch of other special events. After parents were seated and introductions made, he pointed out that he’s just the Cubmaster–he’s there to help the Den Leaders plan their meetings and to emcee monthly pack meetings–the rest is up to parent-“champions” of specific pack events. “Each event needs a ‘champion,” Mark told the audience, “so, let’s start with the first event here. Who would like to champion the Pinewood Derby?” (Yes, all the parents already knew what this event was.) Nobody spoke up. Mark waited another moment or two, then picked up the chalk eraser, erased Pinewood Derby, and said, “Okay, nobody. Let’s look at the next one…”

Of course, several parents immediately jumped up. “We gotta have a Derby!” they shouted. Mark said, “Great. So, who’s going to champion it and make it happen?” “Well don’t YOU do that?” somebody asked. “Nope, I don’t,” Mark said, “you do, and it’s okay if you don’t want to…they’re your sons, not mine.”

Well, I’m sure you can figure out what happened. Once these parents realized Mark really meant what he said, they stepped up and made everything happen…just like it’s supposed to!
Dear Andy,

My husband and I are divorced. Because many of our pack’s outings and other events fall on our son’s “father’s weekend,” he doesn’t get to participate in these pack events. Two other boys in the same den are in the same situation. The problem is the “other” parent, who isn’t being supportive and the dates fall on “their” weekends. We now have another boy who’s just joined, and his mother mentioned a similar problem as well. Is there any way we can get our pack leaders to understand our problem and be a little more flexible when they’re deciding on dates? They don’t seem to want to change and it’s causing a problem for parents like me (and I’m definitely not alone). (Name & Council Withheld)

Having been in your situation—but in reverse—I can definitely appreciate this sort of difficulty. It’s truly a pity, and it won’t pay off in the long run, for these non-primary custodial parents to not be involved in or supportive of their sons’ Scouting lives. What do they think is going to happen when their sons reach Boy Scout age—especially if they’re the fathers? Are they going to think everything will be hunky-dory when the “decide” in a couple of years to go Boy Scout camping with their sons? The damage will already have been done and they will have deprived themselves of solid, well-rounded relationships with their sons. Best they start right now and share a portion of their weekends with their sons and their Cub Scout friends and families. If they don’t, they’ll be in for a rude surprise that’s unlikely to be mend-able.

But there’s a solution, understanding that “the pack leaders” aren’t the problem: A den can go on outdoor adventures by itself—aligning with pack events isn’t mandatory. So, start arranging for your own outdoor events and go do them as a den!

Good luck with this, and I hope some of you can convince these other parents that it’s in their own best interests to support their sons’ activities, whether it’s Cub Scouts, T-Ball, Little League, church, or anything else!
Hi Andy,

I’m a brand-new Cubmaster who needs guidance. All candid thoughts are welcome!

Our new year has started off with unexpected growth. I have three nicely sized dens plus three more dens that, in my opinion, should each be broken into two dens each, for a total of six “sane” dens instead of three huge. (I won’t say how many Cubs per den because I want to hear what you think constitutes “sane” vs. huge dens.) It’s early in the year, and the den members haven’t had gobs of time to really bond, so there should be some flexibility. What are the healthy answers to the obvious parent questions, like Why are you forcing us to separate into two? Or Our Den Leader says she can handle all of us so why don’t you let her do what she wants to do? Or just how big is a den supposed to be? And Why don’t we just stay the size we are and close to new members? Plus If there’s a Den Leader and co-leader, can we stay big? (Paul)

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first: There’s no such thing as a “co-leader.” There’s a DL and an ADL, period. To borrow from aircraft, the “copilot” is the ASSISTANT pilot (now called First Officer)—aircraft have only ONE PILOT. Same thing with ships: ONE CAPTAIN. Same thing with Cub Scout packs: ONE CUBMASTER and ONE COMMITTEE CHAIR. End of story.

As for den size, the BSA informs us that dens of eight are the ideal maximum. In my personal experiences (including as a DL and WDL as well as CM, CC, and SM), I’ve found that dens of six are perfect! They allow for growth (when two friends of the current Cubs want to join up along the way), they’re manageable for most DLs (including those with ADLs), and they’re also manageable for Boy Scouts who come aboard as Den Chiefs! Six is a near-perfect number for outings (three “buddy-pairs”), and for handling advancement activities in den meetings.

I’ve had lots of experience with DLs who want to have “super-dens” of ten, twelve, and even more…they all invariably fail because when one or two don’t show up the DL is actually thankful, a group of a dozen or more boys will automatically divide themselves into at least two smaller groups anyway, and outings become totally unwieldy. What typically happens is that a beginning den of a dozen (or thereabouts) Wolf Cubs dwindles over the next several years (boys can’t get the personal attention they need and any “troubled” or “shy” ones drop out or get lost in the shuffle anyway), and that den is lucky if it graduates four or five remaining into a Boy Scout troop.

The key is to “force” no one! Simply ask the Cubs themselves to form groups of between 5 and 7, by age/grade, with no one left out. They can do this pretty much by themselves, with a bit of “over-watching” (and sometimes guiding–but with feathers, not baseball bats!).

As for “closing” dens to new members…that’s just not part of the objectives of Scouting. We’re here to be INclusive, not EXclusive. That’s why a den of six is a very nice number…and even five can work well! At five or six, the “bonding” is a thing of beauty! Double that number and instead of bonding it becomes an exercise in greased pig wrangling.

You, as Cubmaster, and your Committee Chair, need to be united on this: You’ll need the Buddy System yourselves to deal with the renegades that want to form “mini-packs” inside the pack itself! Support one another, don’t cave in, and never make exceptions! But do this all with smiles–all the time!

PS, once you’re set up, be sure ALL of you go to training at the same time – After all, you all need some bonding, too!

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Just to me at: 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. 544 – 9/26/2017 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2017]


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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