Beginning next year, girls will have the opportunity to join the Cub Scouts, and a new program for older girls will be established using current Boy Scout curriculum.
Wednesday’s announcement follows months of outreach by the BSA to discuss the possibility of expanding girls’ participation beyond existing programs, such as Venturing and Sea Scouts.
“It didn’t surprise me; I guess the only thing that surprised me was that I didn’t expect for the announcement to be made [Wednesday],” said Spencer Page, Director of the Boy Scouts of America’s Gulf Coast Council. “I thought they were still in a lot of discussion about it.”
Page and other scout leaders have been in various meetings since last December with local volunteers, and at Boy Scout headquarters in Dallas.
“We’re trying to serve all kids; make them better citizens in our community,” Page said. “[It] doesn’t matter whether they’re male or female; we want better citizens and better leaders.”
Under the setup taking effect in the fall of next year dens, the smallest Cub Scout unit, will be single-gender; either all boys or all girls. Packs, the larger units, can either be single-gender or co-ed.
“I can tell you that the calls and the initial reaction, once it hit the media, have been mostly positive,” said Page. “Anytime you’ve got change in a long-standing traditional organization like ours, there’s going to be some that don’t see the need or don’t want it to happen.”
The program for older girls is scheduled to begin in 2019, and will open the door for them to attain Eagle Scout, the BSA’s highest rank. Page, himself an Eagle Scout, has no problem with that if girls can meet these and other requirements.
“Twenty-plus merit badges, some of the required such as lifesaving and first aid,” Page said. “You have to serve in leadership roles for six months at a time; complete a service project from start to finish. And then all of that is reviewed by a board of knowledgeable adults, and you have to pass that board.”
The involvement of girls in the Boy Scouts isn’t anything new, and Page says the national leadership had begun to realize that.
“They allow little sisters, especially at the Cub Scout level, to race Pinewood Derby cars; and a lot of the things that scouting was set up for boys, little sisters were doing it too.”
Calls to the Girl Scouts of the Florida Panhandle were not returned, after an initial agreement to be interviewed.
In August, Girl Scouts President Kathy Hannan suggested that the Boy Scouts focus on recruiting what she called the 90 percent of American boys not currently in scouting instead of girls.
Spencer Page at the BSA’s Gulf Coast Council says for him, the most exciting part of the change, is that it gives them the opportunity to engage the whole family.
“Which gives us more volunteer manpower,” Page said. “Now, instead of just pulling on Mom or Dad, now we may have the opportunity to have Mom and Dad involved at the same time, if the program fits their family needs.”
Both organizations are facing a membership slide. As of last March, the Girl Scouts listed about 1.6 million members – down from two million in 2014. Current Boy Scout participation is two and a third million – down from 2.6 million four years ago and four million at its peak.