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How Do You Stop a Runaway Troop?

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This is in response to a comment Bob White made, and first, I AM NOT MAD AT BOB. Bob makes excellent point about the logistics past 60 scouts, But how do you unrecruit?


At this point we have 90 scouts in our troop. We have grown to this size since I and my son have been with the troop. It had about 20 when we started 5 years ago. With a combination of being boy lead and a very active program, and a few other unique factors (our adult leadership features a Pediatrician, a Dentist, A Physicians Assistant specializing in Critical Care, A liutenant in the Fire Dept, a Housing Supervisor RN, a member of a Search and Rescue team who often brings his search dog with him on outings (both did time in Sept. at Ground Zero) and a whole bunch of other talented and motivated people.)


Anyway, a year ago we had 23 Weblous bridge, this year we had 26 bridge. The question is, how do we slow things down? Weblous visit us and see our program and the parents see our adult skils roster and want to join us. How do we say no? Every year we get 3-5 transfers from other troops because those boys want to be in a more active troop. We have toyed with the idea of splitting the troop, but admittedly the adults all like each other too much to split up and the fight for custody of our committee chair would define the word ugly.


BTW, We have spun off a Venture Crew of 20 as well, currently 10 members and three adults are in Virginia doing a week at a Habitat for Humanity site. Then on July 28th the crew leaves for an Adventure in Maine that will include Whitewater rafting the Kennebec and Dead rivers.


Does BSA have parameters for refusing membership to a troop? Its most painful to even ask it as it goes against all scouting principles. I wonder about the quality of experience we are offering, but they come anyway.


We always tell new parents how big we are so they are not surprised and the response is usually along the lines of yes, you are big, but no other troop we have seen does all you do. If the other troops in our area rivaled us in program, I know our numbers will drop, but until/unless the other troop improve, what do we do?


Again, I am not Mad at Bob White for his comments on troop size, he raises very valid points.

(This message has been edited by OldGreyEagle)

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Where is Bob's post? What are the drawbacks?


Currently, my sons' troop is approaching 60. We are not quite on the scale as OGE's troop, but we do share many of the same characteristics. We're pretty active (have at least one or two outings each month), have a large talent base of adults, and seem to be getting bigger every year (24 Scouts bridged up for 2002). This year our troop will be attending summer camp with some 40 boys. Four other boys are working as CITs at the same camp. This year we're supporting high adventure trips that include a two-week hiking trip around the basin of Mt. Rainer and a sailing base trip in the Florida Keyes.


I am asking for the following reasons:


1) As it stands now, there doesn't appear to be any problems. We have a Scoutmasters Corps that includes over a dozen ASMs. It appears that we could support more kids if we wanted to do so. Our bank account has remained at a healthy level for years (hovering around 5K usually).


2) Our troop has discussed slowing down our growth, but we have some fears about that...What if we slow down, and then suffer some unexpected attrition? What if we can't start the growth up as easily as we shut it down?


3) If we climb above 60 and start approaching 90 (like OGE), what kind of problems can we expect?


4) Who officially makes a decision such as this - Committee? CC? COR?


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First, keep referring to the new recruits as "Weblous." As a Webelos den leader, I would steer my boys away from a troop that did not recognize our rank. I would look at a troop that was trying to recruit Webelos Scouts!


Please, the above was meant to be satire first and educational second.

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Rooster, the wonderland trail? You will love it. Stunning scenery. If you are driving down to the keys be sure to stop in Jacksonville, Florida and we will be glad to host you for an evening. (there will be food involved nudge, nudge)



That invitation is open to all of you out there.




For me to grow our troop any more I will need to have much more adult involvement. Currently we have about 40 scouts. Last week we went to summer camp with 4 adults and 31 scouts. Let me tell you, it was almost solid work for us adults. If the math remains the same then when we get to 80 we will have 8 adults. I would definately like more help than that.


The logistics of camping would become very difficult also. Most places around here limit you to about 20 people. I'd have to reserve the whole park to get that many guys in.


But with adequate planning and foresight most anything can be overcome.


I would think like almost everything else the decision would be one for the committee to make.

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Thanks for the invite.


Actually I haven't been directly involved with the high adventure stuff...maybe next year. Our Scoutmaster (an officer in the Coast Guard), along with one of the other ASMs, is leading the hike on the Wonderland trail with six boys. Our Committee Chair (and former Scoutmaster) is heading the Keys trip. I haven't had the energy or the funds to explore that kind of stuff yet.


I will be heading off to Summer Camp with the boys (my ninth year in a row). Fortunately our troop does have plenty of adult help. We had to turn away several parents of the new Scouts. We have six parents coming to help with the new Scouts (two for each group of eight). They will be working their way through the "Brownsea" program (designed for first year Scouts). Another four adults are coming along to make sure the rest of the boys stay out of trouble (which usually entails us sitting around the cabin, cracking jokes and complaining about our jobs). Actually, with exception to the parents assisting the first year Scouts, summer camp is pretty easy duty. We have a "Medicine Man", a "Banker", and a few other small jobs, which gives us something to do, but for the most part we're just watching the boys have fun.

(This message has been edited by Rooster7)

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Well Acco40, you will be happy to know that I do very little recruiting, our Scoutmaster served on the District training staff for Cub Scouts so I am sure the Webelos are correctly addressed. On the other hand, maybe I should recruit more?


Rooster, look under the heading THE PATROL METHOD, thread "How do you use patrol method in a troop thats only as big as a small patrol?"


And again Bob, I didnt mean to take your name in vain, I think thr troop runs well,but I agree, the leadership experience for the boys suffers when you get huge, its tougher and tougher not to overwelm them.(This message has been edited by OldGreyEagle)

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I would absolutely love to have your problems. I'm pretty excited that my troop is now in double digits for the first time in several years. I can't imagine having that many kids and adults around.


My first thought when you get that many kids is to split the troop. Over the years (at least for the past 16-18), I've checked out other troops in our area (due to my involvement in the OA) and talked to other people about how their home troops operated. From what I've heard over the years, the ideal troop size is about forty Scouts or so. With that many, you have a good range of ages as well as enough of each age group so each Scout has a group of guys he feels comfortable with. Also, the troop is large enough to conduct high quality contests and activities while everyone is still able to know everyone else.


One of the adults I knew from the OA was SM of a troop that has hovered between 70-100 Scouts for twenty plus years. He has said that would have preferred to get the troop to about fifty kids because he always felt that fifty was the number of kids that he could get to know at one time. He always felt that there were kids he never got to know unless they were in the troop for more than a couple of years because there were so many. He conducted all SM conferences himself (delegating a lot of other things to his 18-20 ASM's), but commented that the only time he came in contact with a lot of the kids was at SM conference time, so they weren't as quality as they could have been (ie: the First Class SM conference was the same feeling of unfamiliarity as the Boy Scout SM conference with a brand new Scout).


Also, there is a troop in our area that usually has 60-70 Scouts. They tend to cross over 25-30 Webelos a year (from 5 or 6 different packs), much to the chagrin of us smaller troops who could use the 3-4 kids from one of those packs to help us put together a second patrol. Then tend to lose 1/2-2/3 of those Webelos by the fall (a higher percentage than most of us lose during that time).


I know a couple of the older Scouts (age 17) from that troop and both have told me that they wish the troop were smaller. Apparently, the troop is run by a very few people and everyone just kinds of goes along for the ride. No effort is made to spread the leadership around.


I do know of one troop that had about 100 Scouts and felt they needed to split because they had become too large. They got a group of 7-8 Scouts (along with several leaders) to go to the new troop. Their church sponsored the new troop as well and the troop committee gave the new troop some equipment and money to start off. They held joint activities on a regular basis for the first couple of years. Also, in regards to recruiting, they had six packs that normally fed into them. They had two of the packs continue to feed into the older troop, while the other four would feed into the new troop for a few years. After a few years, the old troop was down to a very solid seventy Scouts and the new troop had about 40-50. They were very similar in a lot of ways (same equipment, sponsor, history) but eventually developed enough uniqueness about them so that they could be distinguished from each other.


If you have a strong leadership development system that allows the troop to run smoothly and make sure kids don't feel lost, then keep the troop large. However, if you are getting to the point where you feel you are losing kids because of a lack of a personal touch, ten you need to take steps to set up a second troop or encourage kids to join other troops in your area.

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A very successful troop in our area limits their size by limiting the number of Webelos they take in. One could be nasty and say they are being too exclusive, but it is hard to argue with success. If you are going to limit your intake you need clear priorities for your intake. In the troop I just mentioned, they have two priorities, (1) youth whose families belong to the church that is the CO, and (2) siblings of boys who are already members. Beyond that, it is pretty much first come first served, until the recruiting quota is met.


There is nothing inherently wrong with limiting your growth. Our troop will be facing that decision next year. Personally, I would put the optimal size closer to 50.


One important reason for limiting membership is the limitation placed on the number of participants who can go on an outing. Here in California we have many accessible places for significant expeditions in the mountains, and the permitting authorities typically limit the size of the group to minimize impacts on the wilderness. If you have a troop of over 50 really active members, it could become difficult to accomodate everybody on an outing who may be interested in participating.

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No offense taken. I enjoy our exchanges very much.


Just to recap for those who missed the other string. BSA now recognizes the optimum troop size to be 30 to 60scouts. The reason is that beyond that size either the patrols will be too large for a boy to lead 9more than 8) or the number of patrols will be too large for the SPL to manage in a PLC (more than 8). These numbers were determined after years of studying youth and evaluating troop operations. Not to say that there arent units larger than 60, however the scouting objectives of youth leadership become extremely difficult. These super troops often end up being run by the adults even when the intention is there to let the boys run it. It is simply to large an operation for the methods of scouting to be employed consistently.


Now back to OGEs question, the problem has handled in many different ways. Some charter organizations have helped other local organizations start new troops to fill an obvious need in the community. Others have referred the scouts away explaining that they are not able to accommodate more members at this time. Another option that I have seen is a divisional troop where the patrols are divided into a Red troop and a Blue that meet on different nights of the year each lead by an ASM. Each unit operates as a separate entity with its own committee that shares a Committee Chair and Scoutmaster. The SM job becomes one of training and coaching the ASMs.


My personal experience has been that the best solution is more charter organizations. More charter organizations have greater stability, greater total membership potential, able to meet a variety of family schedules, allows for families to join a scout unit sponsored by their own school church or club, helps families who might have a personal conflict with unit leaders maintain a scouting connection for their kids. Smaller troop also have an easier time recruiting new scoutmasters. (and if every unit followed the program, scouts from different units would have a consistent scouting experience and result)


As afar as how big should the troop get? That should be the decision of the units 3 key administrators. The SM, the committee chair, and the charter organization rep.. They are in the best position to determine, what the program will support, what the committee can administrate and what the sponsor can support.


As others have pointed out there are a variety of problems that arise in over-60-member troops, youth leadership, too much adult participation, camping limitations, meeting room limitations, transportation problems etc. but the one that concerns me the most is the lost boy. A little fish in way too big a pond. It is the SMs responsibility to know and understand the needs and characteristics of every boy in the troop. How many of us currently know the personal needs and characteristics of 60 or more people?


So OGE, I would sit down with your units key 3 and determine the best course for the good of the scouts and the stability of the scouting program in the community you serve. Im confident that you will find a solution that fits your community.




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Out troop started in 1952 it quickly had over 100 scouts, so the first scoutmaster started a secound troop. It also grew to over 100. He stayed on as scoutmaster of both troops for many years. Today both these troops still have over 50 scouts each and they are located within a few miles of eachother. Just think what one man did 50 years ago has brought scouting to thousands of boys in our community.

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As a parent I would be concerned about my son joining a troop that had over 60 kids in it. Most of the reasons have already been addressed by previous posts. How well the scoutmaster can know the kids. How many kids get a chance at troop leadership. How can the kids know each other.


I think Bob has a good idea about perhaps a new CO. I know in our area one of the local churches was wanting to charter a new troop. I would think that most churches would want to charter a troop as an extension of their youth ministries.


Are their nearby troops that have very low membership numbers? Maybe working with them, they could learn the "secrets" to your troop's sucess and take on some of the boys.


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I am not sure if we want to reveal our secrets to success to just any one mom, I mean, having an active outdoor program (One campout a month along with at least one other activity) following the patrol method and being a boy lead troop, Dedicated Dad(s) who enjoy each other's company. I mean if we let that secret out, it could change the face of scouting, but thats just my opinion, I could be wrong...


One nearby troop is quietly dying, hasnt had a new scout in 3 years, the scoutmaster complains about it alot, we encouraged him to have a few scouts be den chiefs at the Cub Day camp, no one went, we encouraged him to have a few scouts turn up and help the Cub Fall and Winter events, no one came. We were there and we got cross overs, go figure huh?



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Bingo, OGE. You hit the nail squarely on the head. Controlling a troops growth can very much depend on whether your troop is the "only game in town". A troop really doesn't want that if there's a large pool of potential Scouts. We faced that years ago in our troop. There were, and still are, two troops in town. Ours was growing leaps and bounds. From what we heard from the in-coming parent corps, our troop had the structure and program that parents were hoping their kids would pick. Obviously, they did. Our numbers climbed while the other troop in town stayed stagnant for a while, and then started to decline. Nothing we could do made a difference. We feared stepping on toes by going to the other folks and trying to help them out with suggestions. We did try making those suggestions as "asides" during conversations with the leaders at summer camp and roundtables, but almost all our help fell on deaf ears. We were becoming overwhelmed by our own success. We never had more than 7-8 boys per patrol, but we had a lot of patrols. And we kept our head above water, and kept the program up, too. But we saw problems if things didn't change. The numbers were too big. At cross-overs, we'd usually get all but one or two boys from the two large (100+ Cubs) packs in town.


Then, out of the blue, the leadership in the other troop began to change. The new leaders got themselves trained, (a blessing for all), and they started to become active in their program, and their interactions with the Cub Packs. They even came forward and asked us for "suggestions". We breathed a huge sigh of relief, and the floodgates opened. When they realized that we were in fear of becoming the only game in town, and that we were hoping, praying actually, for an equal split at cross-over, they really set to working with us to get their own troop up to par with ours. And it worked.


Since that time, both troops have been able to maintain their own, the cross-over split is usually 50-50, or 60-40 one way or the other. And the retention in both troops is remarkable.


Of course, if you're the only troop in town, then, as others have indicated, working with your Council to get another troop started may be the best route.


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