Welcoming girls: How Boy Scout leaders on Delmarva are reacting to the decision

The Boy Scouts of America's recent announcement to welcome girls has local leaders and parents waiting to see how the transition will settle on Delmarva.

Although they are not outraged, the decision has many in Delmarva's Scouting community looking for details on how the intricacies of a coed program will work. 

This decision came from several meetings among local Scouting groups during the summer, said Bill Garrett, Scout executive of the Del-Mar-Va Council of the BSA.

Garrett said nearly 270 councils met throughout the country to discuss the change, knowing the BSA would ultimately have the final say.

“I can’t say that everyone agreed, but overwhelmingly a number of people thought this was a great thing,” he said.

Garrett explained the new change is largely an answer to years of requests by families and girls.

"I can tell you that's been going on in my career, of 22 years, it's been going on for quite some time that young ladies have wanted to join our scouting programs," he said.

This decision follows a number of major changes for the BSA, including opening its doors to transgender Scouts and ending its ban on openly gay adult leaders and members.

Under the new plan, Cub Scout dens, the smallest division, will be single-gender — either all-boys or all-girls — by the start of 2018.

Larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single-gender or welcome both genders.

The new program for older girls will be based on the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts. Intended to begin in 2019, the program will allow girls to earn the rank of an Eagle Scout — the highest achievement attainable in the BSA.

These changes will exist separately from the BSA's "Venturing" — a coed program in which young adults, ages 13-20, travel nationally and participate in activities ranging from zip-lining to summiting.

In an announcement, the BSA's Board of Directors explained this decision does not mean gatherings will specifically include both genders, but the details surrounding the rollout are still developing.

“This decision is true to the BSA’s mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law,” said Boy Scouts of America’s Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh. “The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women.”

The national leadership of the Girl Scouts of the USA said they sought unsuccessfully to dissuade the Boy Scouts from making this decision, according to a statement from the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Their statement also criticized the initiative, suggesting the BSA’s new plan was driven partly by a need to boost revenue after falling memberships and past settlements paid by the BSA in sex-abuse cases.

On Thursday, the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay released a statement, urging their base to remain resolute.

“Now more than ever, girls need Girl Scouts,” the statement said. “The single-gender environment offered by Girl Scouts creates an inclusive place where girls are free to explore their true potential and take the lead without the pressures that can be found in a coed environment.”

What's next

John Facer, a Scoutmaster from Troop 149 of Salisbury, was in attendance at a July meeting when the plan to include girls was introduced.

Facer said a BSA representative explained that they have a lot of boys in Scouting with sisters who wanted to participate but couldn’t.

“I believe there is a scouting organization that does provide an experience for girls — that would be the Girl Scouts of America,” Facer said. “My daughter is in the Girl Scouts of America, she has her own Girl Scout troop that she participates in. She loves her troop.”

Facer was told at the meeting that research claimed that the Girl Scouts of the USA has “underserved their demographic,” while the BSA has successfully served its demographic.

“I think that if there are problems with the Girl Scouts, it seems like that would be where the focus would be — to try to bolster up the Girl Scouts, rather than include girls into Boy Scouts,” Facer said. “That would just remove girls from the Girl Scouts.”

Still, Facer said, he’s still mulling this change over.

“I’m sitting here having an interior dialogue with myself,” he said with a laugh.

For William Woodward, the father of a Weeblos 1 — the Cub Scout level for fourth graders — and daughter who often tags along to meetings, there are still a lot of questions surrounding this decision.

Woodward and his family are part of Pack 834 of Pittsville.

“From a parent’s perspective, I’m not going to put my daughter in something until I know exactly what the standpoint of the Boys Scouts of America is,” he said.

Jeff Donoway, the Cubmaster of Pack 834 of Pittsville, said he’s waiting on guidance from the church.

The BSA requires every Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop to be sponsored by a chartered organization, which could range from a church to a local fire department.

Donoway, whose pack is sponsored by Ayres United Methodist Church, described the relationship between a Cub Scout Pack and its chartered organization as a dynamic similar to a franchise business and its owner.

While the BSA can introduce changes, it is the chartered organization’s decision to adopt those changes.

This is why The Church of Jesus Christ of  Latter-day Saints was able to reject transgender boys who sought to join a Scouting program, despite the BSA’s decision, Donoway said.

Also like a business, Donoway said, the BSA is concerned after years of declining memberships and interest.

“Cold numbers don't lie," he said. "As much as they want to pretend like they're trying to progress — they're really not. It's treated just like a business — they're just trying to get more customers. They're gonna do what they need to do to increase their margins.”

Donoway said that, ultimately, “coed dens” might not be too much of a change for his Pack.

“During a lot of our den meetings, because we’re a small town, there already a lot of sisters that come and actually participate,” he said. “It’s not like the dens have ever said, ‘No, you can just go sit in the corner.’”

But, Donoway said, Girl Scouts is very present in their town and he doesn’t see that changing.

“There’s already a strong Girl Scout program out there,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of them jumping ship and going from Girl Scouts and coming to Boy Scouts.”

To Michael Price, Scoutmaster of Troop 1 of Lewes, putting girls and boys together in the context of Scouting is a bad idea.

“When you put them together, it doesn't always work out,” he said. “When we go camping, we work on programs. We don't just go camping and sit around the fire. We go camping and our troop designates programs the boys want to work on."

Price said he is only in favor of girls coming aboard if they stay in single-sex troops, but how this will be implemented in the next two years is unclear.

“It's not broken, so why try and fix it?” he said.

DelmarvaNow


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