By Tom Holmes
Just two months ago, on Oct. 11, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) released a small statement with big implications: "Today, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into its iconic Cub Scout program," Scouts said.
In a move to provide busy, single-parent families one program for sons and daughters, as well as respond to minority interests—"Many groups currently underserved by Scouting, including the Hispanic and Asian communities, prefer to participate in activities as a family," the organization said in a statement—the Scouts will allow the introduction of girls in local packs, starting at some point in 2018.
Forest Park parents will have three options for how to get girls involved in the Scouts. Chartered organizations can choose to establish a new, all-girl Cub Scout pack; establish a pack that consists of boys and girls; or remain an all-boy pack, according to the Boy Scouts website. By 2019, the Boy Scouts will also create a program just for girls, using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts.
But what about the Girl Scouts?
"The Boy Scouts' house is on fire," Girl Scouts of the USA told ABC News on Oct. 12. "Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA's senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls."
The Girls Scouts declined to comment to the Forest Park Review about any plans for local expansion, or about how Boy Scouts now including girls could impact their membership.
Regardless of where Forest Park-ers stand on the Boy Scouts versus Girl Scouts debate, local Scout leaders must now decide the future of their troops. Matthew Brown, who has served as Scoutmaster for Troop 107 since 2013, said he's not sure what will happen with his Scouts. Troop 107 meets every Thursday at St. John Lutheran Church.
"The only guidance that I have received is that Scouting will provide a path to Eagle for young women," he said. "Whatever that path ends up being, I think that we need to embrace it as another avenue for our young women to grow into leaders and active members of our communities."
To him, including girls in Scout packs makes sense from a practical point, too. If a family has both a son and daughter, he said it makes sense to have them participate in one program, rather than enrolling one in Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or another organization.
"Different events, meetings, fundraisers, trips happening at either different times, or even at the same time in different places. By opening up Scouting to all youth, it gives another option for those families, and another path for the young women to join Scouting," he said.
Jill Wagner, who has served as the Pack Committee Chairperson of Cub Scout Pack 109 since 2009, pointed out that women have been involved in Cub Scouting for years. Every year, Cub Scouts host the Pinewood Derby, where boys are given a block of wood, four wheels and nails and expected to design a car. Individual cars are then raced against one another. As part of the competition, Scouts host a "Mouse Scout" sibling and sister competition with the derby every year, she said.
"The Boy Scout program has relied on the leadership of women for decades, it seems natural that they would open the program to youth who are girls," Wagner said. "I hope that this program expansion increases the number of families participating in Scouting."
Wagner added that, while she would love to see a local, all-girl pack, it will take time to develop.
"Scouting is volunteer-run and takes a tremendous amount of commitment and determination to start a Scouting program," she said.
Kevin Leonard, Cub Packmaster of Forest Park's Pack 109, said he believes the packs should become integrated.
Leonard acknowledged that some, what he called "traditionalists," might oppose including girls in Cub Scouting. But he said too many organizations and institutions today remain exclusive. He believes this creates barriers between people.
"I think allowing girls into the program is a move in the right direction," he said. "We live in a ever-changing world. Institutions, organizations, philosophies and ideas that don't change with it are subject to extinction."