DeKALB – During a summer camping trip several years ago, Boy Scout Troop 33 Scoutmaster Cliff Golden recalled a few young girls visiting with their families asking whether they could join the more than 100-year-old program.
The girls were informed of the individual Scouting programs for young adults that are co-ed, such as Venturing and Sea Scouting, but there were no opportunities for girls younger than 13 at the time.
Inclusion has been a hot topic in Boy Scouts of America’s recent history, whether it is lifting the ban on openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders or allowing girls to join the program as a Cub Scout and attain the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout down the road. In October, BSA announced it will allow girls to join its ranks.
Although there is concern the change will pose a detriment to the Girl Scouts of America, Golden said he is not concerned about a significant drop in participants.
“The Girl and Boy Scouts have different programs, and I don’t think one is better than the other,” Golden said. “They are both positive programs for young kids.”
According to BSA statistics, it has about 2.3 million youth members, down from about 2.6 million in 2013. Membership rose as high as 6.5 million in the 1970s.
Girls Scouts, meanwhile, have about 1.8 million youth members and 800,000 adult members working primarily as volunteers.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for girls. A lot of people have very strong reactions to this, and I think it’s because they think the [Girl Scouts] program might be dying,” Golden said. “The Girl Scouts of America has proved itself for over 100 years, and I think they’ll continue to do so. A lot of other girls might not be in a program and will think that this offers them a new opportunity.”
Cohen Barnes, owner of Sundog IT and an adult leader with Troop 33, said his family has three generations of Eagle Scouts, but he would have liked to have seen his daughter be allowed to join so they could participate in Scouting activities as a whole family.
“My son and I were heavily involved with Scouting, and she would see people go on all of these high adventure trips and really wanted to go,” Barnes said.
Nevertheless, Barnes said he was proud of BSA for taking these kinds of steps.
“It’s pretty impressive that they look at current times and go toward what’s current and what’s right,” Barnes said.
The Boy Scouts also recently announced it will change its name, effective in February, to Scouts BSA. The goal of the name change is be more gender-inclusive while still evoking the program’s history.
Michelle Bergeson, an adult leader with Boy Scout Troop 23, said she will be supportive if girls join either program.
“I’d be interested to see how it works out,” Bergeson said.
Barry Schrader, a DeKalb resident who has been involved with Scouting most of his life, however, called the change a desperate move to regain the momentum lost over the years in recruiting kids to Scouting.
He attributed this lack of interest to three things: children today seemingly more interested in their mobile devices than they are in outdoor experiences; kids often being overwhelmed with other activities to participate in Scouting; and families now having two working parents who might not be able to help them move through the Scouting ranks.
“This may be a fatal blow to the Girl Scouts of America,” Schrader said. “As a former district chairman and active in Scouting most of my life, I really feel badly that the BSA has taken this desperate turn.”
Although girls are interested in joining, Golden said starting a Scout troop poses a logistical challenge.
First, a charter organization must be found, which usually is a church or an organization such as the Elks Club. There also must be five adults and a minimum of five youths participating.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into becoming a fully functioning unit,” Golden said. “Usually at the grass-roots level, it is a test of parents to get involved, and there are a lot of women who are involved as Scouting leaders.”
Golden said the Scouting program has been co-ed around the world for years, and the U.S. is one of the last nations to uphold this trend.
“A lot of the Islamic nations still have a ban, but Canada and Mexico programs are co-ed, as well as all around Europe,” Golden said.
Troops would be broken up into single-sex units, but Scouts would pursue the same activities, earn the same merit badges and could face the exact same pathway leading up to Eagle Scout. Cub Scout groups, or dens, will have the option of integrating girls into the existing groups, creating a separate all-girls pack or remaining all boys.