How Do I Select A Boy Scout Troop

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Dear Parents or Guardian:

You know that joining the Boy Scouts of America is the right thing for your son. However, finding information about local troops is sometimes time consuming and frustrating. How can you determine if the Troops you visited has the potential you desire? The guide below may assist you in this important decision.

Remember: The choice of a Troop is a personal decision. Every Boy Scout Troop has a different character. There is no "designated" troop that your son must join. However, many Cub Scout programs feed into one or two Troops. It is recommended that you and your son, and his Webelos friends, visit several troops.

If you are part of a Pack Unit, it is recommended that all 2nd Year Webelos visit different Troops beginning in the Fall of the year. This should be plenty of time to select a Troop before the Pack Unit’s Cross-Over ceremony (typically in February or March of each year).

If your son has not been a Cub Scout-Webelos (1st through 5th grade) program, call the Middle Tennessee Council Office at 615-383-9724 and ask for the District Representive for the City/County in which you live.  To contact a Council outside of the Middle Tennessee area, go to http://www.scouting.org/LocalCouncilLocator.aspx and follow the instructions. 

How do I contact a troop?

Whether visiting with your Webelos patrol or with a parent, always try to call (or email) a contact person before visiting the Troop. On occasion, Troops have meetings off-site. Calling ahead will assure that you don’t miss a meeting.

Talk to your son's Cubmaster or Committee person for information on local Troops.  If the Cub Scout program you are with has a Unit Commissioner, this person is a good source of information. Every Council Area has a web site featuring contact information for District Volunteers. The District Commissioner or District Professional (DE) should have contact information listed. In Williamson County, Tennessee, call 615-383-9724 to contact a District representative to find out which Troops are available in your vicinity.

Consider the meeting facility

Most Boy Scout Troops meet in a Church or Education building. Other Troops meet in outdoor structures. Consideration should be given to the type of meeting place. Besides, you may spend the next four+ years at this site. A unique meeting place can add excitement to your youngster’s start. However, consider the long range efficiency of the meeting place and available amenities during weather extremes. In addition, do not particularly connect a Troop's meeting place with the religious organization that sponsors a particular Troop. Most religious organizations donate the use of their facilities in support of the character driven and God respected, Boy Scout Program.

What should I ask when I visit?

During your visit, there are things to ask and observe. There may not be a "right" answer to these questions. You, your son and his friends will feel comfortable known a few of the "ropes" before you select the Troop that is best.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many scouts and particularly adult leaders will be proud to tell you about the Troop. It is probably best to approach the Scoutmaster or a Committee person. Any one scout leader wearing a uniform should be able to point you in the right direction. Please arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. Once a meeting gets underway, it is more difficult to talk with the Scoutmaster.

The following are questions that you may ask when visiting a troop. Note that some of this information may be obtained from a Troop web site (though, some web site information may be limited due to security).

How many registered Scouts are in the Troop? How many registered Leaders?

While troops will vary in size, there should be a cadre of leadership appropriate to the number of boys in the Troop. Also consider that some boys feel uncomfortable in crowds while others like to be the center of attention! For these reasons, consider the size (number of scouts) and the typical size of the Patrols in the Troop.

Do the boys tend to stick with the program year to year?

Does the troop achieve the "Quality Unit" award every year? What is the age range of the Scouts? Is the Troop currently able to hold the interest of the older as well as younger -Scouts? Do they offer (or plan to offer) any "High Adventure" Scouting trips?

Younger Scouts traditionally work more intensely on camping skills during the first year(s) of enrollment advancing through the Ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class. Much of their attention in meetings and campouts is devoted to basic skill requirements. As the scouts become teens, it is typically necessary to challenge them in other ways to hold their interest.

Scouting has established several "High Adventure" programs for Scouts who are 14 years of age and older. High level backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing, scuba diving, sailing, and more are available for the mature Scout. Troops may travel to Philmont Scout Ranch New Mexico for rugged mountain backpacking, Sea Base for sailing and scuba, to a national or international Jamboree or to other high adventure sites.

Even though the younger scouts will not be eligible to participate in "High Adventure" trips until the age of 14, the Troop’s current participation in this area could be a good indication of the tone a few years from now.

Who are the Scout Leaders?

Are the Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmasters, and Committee Chairman trained? What training have they attended and when?

This is a very important part of your consideration of a Troop. A trained leader should know BSA policies on programs, safety, and youth protection. To be considered "Trained," leaders must have taken training courses offered by the district and council. They may then wear a "Trained" patch on their uniform sleeve. You may even ask what level of training the Troop leadership has and when the training course was taken. Most training courses (except Woodbadge) should be renewed every two years. High levels of training are demanded from Scouting adults. Boy Scout Leader Training offered in your Council includes:

• Fast Start (instructional videotape) The Basics of the Boy Scout Program and Patrol Method

• Youth Protection (note: this training is available for all adults in the Troop, and should be encouraged of all who camp with the boys)

• Scoutmaster Fundamentals/Adult Basic Leader Training & Essential Leader Training (weekend course including overnight)

• Woodbadge is the highest level of scout leader training: three weekends of training (campout/class sessions)

• Safety Afloat, BSA Lifeguard, Safe Swim Defense and others.

Is the Troop "Boy Run"? What is their feeling about boy leadership?

In Boy Scouting, most Troops aim to train their boys for leadership. Each troop has a Senior Patrol Leader, elected by all the boys in the Troop, who with his Assistant Senior Patrol Leader takes the helm for leadership within the troop. The Troop will also be organized into Patrols, units of 5 to 10 Scouts who function together as a small group. They will have an elected Patrol Leader and Assistant Patrol Leader.

In a young patrol, the boys will obviously need more adult assistance in running meetings, etc., but in an established Troop with older Scouts, you should see evidence of "boys leading boys". Obviously, not all tasks can be preformed by scouts. Observe how the boys interact in the regular meeting.

What is their activity program like?

Ask to see a copy of their yearly or semi-annual program schedule. (Perhaps on a web site) Notice how often outings are scheduled. The Scout outdoor program recommends 9-12 campouts per year, including Summer Camp. Do they camp in the winter? Do they participate in the District/Council activities such as Camporees? Do they offer special activities at meetings? Do they invite speakers on certain topics? Remember, much of the higher skilled activities will come later in the program for younger scouts. The younger years concentrate on team work and camping skills. Again, while the younger Scout may not take part in all of the above, it is important that the adult leadership guide the program in an appropriate direction.

What is a "typical" meeting like?

Is it upbeat? Are the boys kept busy? Is it fun? Do they show respect to the flag ceremony, to the program, to the adults, to each other? Is good discipline evident within the program? Please be subjective and consider that this is a "boy" meeting; therefore, there will likely be periods of disorganization. Many Troops provide merit badge classes as part of a meeting. Don’t expect the Scouts to plan and run everything during Troop meetings. Some Troops will have more adult guidance than others. This really depends on the ever changing character of a Troop.

What are uniform requirements?

Many troops require a uniform for all meetings and for district-council-sponsored campouts. Others require only the uniform shirt. Others have designated uniform meeting days. Others wear an activity shirt (red polo) or a specially designed Troop T-shirt. You will probably want to choose a Troop that feels the same about the uniform as you and your son. Ask if there is a uniform ‘bank’ of uniform parts available until you can get the entire uniform, or if there is assistance for purchasing a complete uniform. Also consider the purpose of Uniforming and the value it teaches.

Does the troop attend Summer Camp?

What percentage of the Troop attended last year? Where do they go? Do they always go to the same camp? How many Leaders attend camp with the Scouts? Are those Leaders trained? Is two-deep adult leaders ship always observed.

Summer camp offers a tremendous opportunity for Scouts to experience the fun and excitement of camping while affording the chance to achieve rank advancements and merit badges. Middle Tennessee’s Council operates Camp Boxwell on Old Hickory Lake, just south of Gallatin, but it is not necessary that the Troops attend this camp. Many Troops attend Boxwell every year for one week, while older boys may journey to Boy Scout Camps in other Councils of the US and abroad. Given the variety of activities possible at Boxwell summer camp, most Troops in this area attend Boxwell regularly. The Boxwell Reservation is acclaimed to be one of the premier Council Reservations in the US. A great camp that excites all ages.

How do they utilize the Advancement & Merit Badge Program?

Some Troops use the Advancement and Merit Badge Program as the cornerstone of their regular monthly meetings. Campouts and Troop meetings center on helping the boys advance within the format outlined by the Boy Scouts of America. Some Troops focus meetings on merit badge work only. Other Troops may feel that the advancements and merit badges are secondary and plan activities independent of them leaving the Scouts to earn all merit badges on their own. Clearly, either system can function well, and boys, and parents, can learn to work with either style of advancement. Historically, Troops that have a mix of activities offer the best opportunities for advancement. Typically, there will only be a hand full of boys that will be able to achieve all the skills and learning necessary to advance independently of outside help. The Troop program should offer merit badge classes and provide guidance throughout the Scout years. In fact, each Patrol should have adult guides to help each scout along the way. Ask how often the Troop has an awards ceremony.

What can a parent expect in terms of fees?

Fees vary from troop to Troop. Most Troops have an annual fee, which covers membership and basic materials, including badges and awards. The annual fee usually does not include uniform, camping fees, meals, travel or other special activity costs. You’ll want to know what additional fees will likely be charged during the course of the year.

Also try to get an idea of the cost of monthly outings. Some Troops are large enough to offer more expensive destinations. High Adventure trips for the older boys will generally cost from $500 to $1,000 or more. In many cases, trip costs can be lessened by fund raising opportunities. Each Troop is regulated to two fund raisers annually. Remember, although expensive trips are loads of fun, they are not essential to a successful Troop. Most Troops concentrate on local destinations for the regular Scout program.

How do they treat the visitors?

You’ll want to join a Troop where your son feels comfortable. Does your son need a group where he already knows some boys?

If he does not know other boys initially, do they seem like a group that will treat a newcomer well?

Sometimes - Size of the Troop - The typical Boy Scout Troop in our Country is 15 to 30 scouts. In your search for the 'right' Troop, you will likely find programs that are much larger. Mid-sized Troop programs on average have 40 to 60 scouts while large programs have in excess of 75 scouts. These larger than typical programs are well known in the community and managed by a group of respected individuals. Here is something to consider. The character of smaller versus larger programs can be very different.  If your son manages himself well in a large group setting, one of the mid to larger sized programs may be a good fit. Otherwise, the mid to smaller sized Troop may be a good fit for the Scout. Don't fall into the 'Dads-Ego' trap. Try to be realistic about you son's expectations.

What can I do to help?

In many cases, the success of a scout patrol lends to your scout’s peer group. Is your son a member of a Webelos group? Does your young scout have a friend(s) that is already a part of the Troop. While most boys will learn the ropes and make new friends naturally over time, others will feel uncomfortable at the meetings without the acquaintance of another friend from school or church.

Troops require lots of adult support and advisory. There are many different levels of involvement from leadership roles, to serving on the Committee, to helping with campouts, to driving to events, etc. We hope you can get involved with your son as he continues in Scouting. It’s been our experience that successful scouts and successful Troops have a good following of active parents that are involved in at least a few activities/outings a year.

Obviously, there are many other questions you may wish to ask of a Troop relative to your son’s interests or goals in Scouting. We hope this information gives you a starting point.

For more information on Boy Scout Troops in the Middle Tennessee District, contact the District Representative for your County at 615-383-9724 or your Pack Unit's Commissioner.

This article was compiled from a collection of articles and written with added interest for the local Council.  gp