Shutterstock image purchased by Mike Walton
She's happy. Her peers are "high fiving her" on her accomplishment. She will probably go home, and after a long hot bath or shower, a change of clothing and maybe some rest, go out and celebrate with her family and some of her friends and maybe be in a couple of selfies or photophone images she'll share with some brief comment like "I DID IT!" or something like that...
I am talking about this gal, but multiply this gal by perhaps several hundred or so, and you'll see what the hoopla -- and the concern in several quarters -- are all about.
The cap pistol has NOT EVEN BEEN RAISED YET, let alone fired to start this two-year sprint, but there are people betting and rooting and figuring out "shortcuts" and "easy paths" toward something which has never been done before (well, it HAS been done before but not by "natural females" -- females which were born female and will perhaps accomplish the sprint as a female).
What I am referring to is the "sprint" which starts on 1 February 2019, as thousands of young women -- and their families and friends -- will line up in front of BSA local Council offices, applications and money in hand, and will register for the first time in the history of the Boy Scouts of America as SCOUTS. Not as Explorers, which have been admitting female youth since the late 60s. Nor as Venturers, which have been admitting female youth in their program for 20-plus years.
No, these young women are starting a sprint to get registered, raise their right hand in the Sign of the Scout, and attempt to -- or outright REPEAT FROM MEMORY the Scout Oath or Promise -- a set of words which guided millions of young men since the early 1900s. They will "swear" on their honor, that they will do their best for God, country and their community and abide by a Law which has never changed in the 100-plus history of the BSA. These young women will agree to help other people at all times and to keep themselves physically, mentally and morally fit. They will grip the hands of a Scout Executive, sign their names, and be greeted by groups of girls AND boys as true, official members of the Boy Scouts of America.
Then the race will truly start. They will become members of Troops with just girls -- the BSA has no intention of "mixing the boys and girls up" for convenience sake. No, girls will compete against and work with other girls as a member of female Scout Troops. They will interact with boys alright -- just like their Exploring and Venturing older peers have -- but their trek toward each Scout rank -- Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and eventually to Eagle -- will be their own trek. They are running their own race, and like the boys, they have a limited time to reach Eagle before the "timer" buzzes.
The BSA was careful in its redesign of their traditional "boy scout" program, relabeling it simply "Scouts BSA" -- a ploy to make their brand of Scouting unique, communicative and trademarkable. Whether male or female, they are called simply "Scouts." No "boy scouts and girl scouts" -- the latter is a trademark of the Girl Scouts of the USA, and besides, those young women want to be and known as SCOUTS, not "girl scouts." Some of these young ladies have been waiting TWO YEARS since the BSA decided to bring itself into the current century and to stop what some Scouters called "doing Scouting on the down-low" with regard to girls participating.
"We simply were tired -- and that's what I wrote when the BSA asked ME," said a longtime Scouter, his Wood Badge proudly suspended from his neck, along with three rows of knots on his upper chest. "We're tired of sneaking our daughters and their friends to Scouting things and pretending that they are just there because we had no childcare, or because they just wanted to be with their family over the weekend. The fact of the matter is they WANT TO BE THERE doing the very same things that our Scouts are doing -- fishing, orienteering, hiking, cooking, camping -- and loving it! The only thing which was left was for them to actually EARN and RECEIVE the things that the boys get out of it tangibly...and the BSA could do that with the swipe of a pen!"
The BSA did this, after talking in person, in focus groups, their own National Eagle Scout Association, Venturing Officers Associations, and their Order of the Arrow honorary, talking with national partner organizations -- churches, community organizations, fraternal organizations, and even with their "competitors" -- 4H, YMCA, Trail Life, and yes, the Girl Scouts of the USA. They sent surveys to volunteers and leaders at all levels, asking pointed questions like "do you favor girls earning the Eagle Scout badge?" and "What would be issues, if any, with girls being a part of Scouting?" and sifted through thousands of emails and letters, both pro and con. It led in part of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-Day Saints accelerating their exit from a full national partnership with the BSA. "Nothing personal," the "Mormons" seem to say, "but this is a good time for us to leave and create our own national youth-serving organization for our youth."
The BSA moved forward, missing their longtime partners and others, letting them know that they are welcomed back at any time while wishing them well. Once the decision was made nationally to admit girls, a three-step process was implemented.
The first step was to assure EVERYONE that the program will remain as it is -- that Scouts, both male and female, will advance using ONE set of standards and ONE set of requirements, but the actual path toward Cub Scouting's highest rank, called the Arrow of Light; and Scouting's highest rank, Eagle Scout -- will remain uniquely up to each Scout to chart their own path as it always has been. There will be NO "girl requirements" and "boy requirements." Just "requirements." This was important to communicate because many, upon hearing that the BSA will admit girls, started in on "yeah, and now those earning Eagle will have watered down stuff because we have girls..." That first step also assured parents and those organizations which partner with the BSA to provide the program that the Scout program -- still without a name until last fall -- would NOT be a "junior coed" program" like Venturing is, and that chartered partners can "opt out" and continue to operate male-only units as they have traditionally done for decades -- no harm, no foul. Finally, that first step was to inform youth and adults that the same youth protection standards which have done the BSA well for over 30 years will continue to be enforced, with a couple of minor changes to allow females to serve as Scoutmasters of female Troops and that EVERYONE -- as opposed to just those working directly with youth -- at all levels of the organization -- will undergo the BSA's enhanced Youth Protection training, period. Don't do the training -- don't expect to be registered with and covered by the BSA.
The second step was to provide a "family Cub Scout program" which started last summer. Cub Scout packs -- which traditionally are all male -- now can remain all male. They can also be all female. They can also be a "hybrid" -- with male Cub Scout Dens and female Cub Scout Dens, each under their own leadership. They will come together monthly for a Pack meeting to have fun, receive awards and recognitions, and to be inspired by Scouting volunteers. Cub Scouting is a family program by tradition, and the impact of bringing young girls and their families have turned out to be an awesome way to get families involved in a program which has been suffering from "lack of parental involvement." I attended several of those first Pack meetings of "hybrid Packs" and talked with some families before and afterward -- and they were energetic about being able to be a part of their son - and daughter's Scouting experiences, even if it was nothing more than sprints around the room in a large cardboard box made to look like a racecar.
Which leads me back to the third step, which I explained above in the first several paragraphs. Since the BSA announced the name -- Scouts BSA -- and the launch date -- 1 February (a Friday, by the way, a school day for many youths around this nation), young women AND their families are scoping out Scout Shops(TM), the BSA's trademarked official markets for their equipment and uniforms. Some places are already sold out of female versions of their standard field uniforms -- which the young women officially cannot wear until that fateful Friday morning a few weeks from now. My buddy at REI (a camping and outdoor equipment chain store) in the Twin Cities wrote to me last week and said "you would not believe the upturn of girls -- little girls, big girls -- GIRLS -- coming in here buying up camping and hiking stuff. Boots, jackets, tents -- those little flashlight things -- what is going on?" After I explained that many of them are looking for a bargain since the BSA's supply stores, don't always have the cheapest, most durable things to buy -- she wrote me back and said: "yeah, that's what I'm hearing too from some parents."
The title of this piece is "Why are you Racing?" I explained why -- because there are literally thousands -- the BSA says that they estimate that their numbers will jump up this spring by 73, 000 youth, girls AND boys; and that we would have some 11, 000 adult volunteers, mostly parents, but others to also join the Boy Scouts of America. But there's another more important part in why I wrote this -- and here's the cautionary piece which I've been spending time explaining to parents, partner organizations and those "in the pews" -- currently a part of the BSA's program in some way or fashion.
Let's first dispel the concept of the "first ones." The first male Eagle Scout appeared before the BSA's national leadership in the spring of 1912 and made himself examinable by a national outdoorsman and campcraft expert, a man who spent the majority of his life knowing about flora and fauna, and the executive representing and leading the young Boy Scouts of America. It was told that after their hour-long interview with the young man, who was not accompanied by his parents nor his Scoutmaster for this interview in New York City, he was deemed this nation's first Eagle Scout and was pinned his medal by the Chief Scout Executive, Jim West. The first female Eagle Scouts, unfortunately, won't have that kind of a review, thank Goodness -- but instead will have interviews with Scouters and other adults representing their communities with a volunteer representing the local BSA Council and the Boy Scouts of America. The interview -- called a Board of Review -- will be the seventh one each young woman will encounter between this year and the next up to 2 years. Some will say "oh, she'll be an Eagle Scout sooner than that" and that's part of the precaution.
Let each Scout -- male or female -- progress at their OWN rate and speed, keeping in mind that the "race to the line" (not a finish line, but the line denoting that they have earned the highest rank in Scouting) is NOT to "see who gets there first" but rather "to COMPLETE and ACCOMPLISH the race." The "First" female Eagle Scout was already "crowned" by the BSA. The Scout earned the Eagle Scout rank as a male; transitioned to a female and petitioned the BSA for credentials in her new name and gender. The BSA granted that about 20 years ago now. So if there's a "race" for the "first female Eagle Scout," it will be perhaps the "first female Eagle Scout in X or Y town or city or county or even local Council." A good honor. But people miss the impact when they are looking at the "first" anything -- the mere fact that she is an Eagle Scout is what is ultimately important.
Along with that -- it does NOT help anyone -- the BSA, the local Council, the community where the young lady lives and especially those in the young woman's Troop as well as herself -- if she did NOT complete the requirements just like any boy would have completed the requirements.
"Oh, she doesn't have enough camping time before 18". Yes, she will have just as much time as a boy who entered in at the same time. The BSA informed local Councils that the same "grace period" given to male Scouts for "circumstances beyond their personal control" will also apply to female Scouts in the same or similar circumstances.
"Oh, she did all of that before she joined Scouts." Doesn't count. The starter pistol fires on 1 Feb, not today, nor last month or last summer. It's great that she became a Venturer or an Explorer and had some opportunities to camp or do other Scout-like things...but they don't count for SCOUT advancement. Different program, different requirements, and circumstances. Everything STARTS when the pistol "fires" on the morning of 1 February. See, you can't even input the accomplishments in her official BSA record until 1 Feb -- and it doesn't "go back" to last summer or any time before 1 Feb 2019.
"Oh, she can't earn that merit badge because the requirements were written for a boy." Actually, the requirements for ALL of the BSA's merit badges were written by men and women and designed so that ANY YOUTH can meet with a counselor, work the requirements, and earn the badge. The BSA did a review four years ago, while the BSA was still working through "can we really do this?" with regard to bringing girls in the program (they've been working on this for a decade now -- I know this personally, because that's how I got hooked into all of this back in 2008) and looked at all of the requirements for ALL of Scouts BSA's 114 (at that time) merit badges. They could ALL be met by a male or female between 12 and 17 years of age, regardless of where they are located at in the United States (there are some difficulties with earning some merit badges while living in Hamburg, Germany; Cairo, Egypt; New Delhi, India; or Camp Humphreys, Korea. But they can be overcome through their local Councils -- just as we have been doing for the last century).
Fairness and adherence to those words found in the BSA's Scout Oath/Promise and Law should be the overwhelming importance as those first female Scouts start their sprint toward Eagle; and as those first female WEBELOS Cub Scouts earn their Arrow of Light in a few weeks and into the next couple of months.
I wish each of them well, and I look forward in attending Courts of Honors, Blue and Gold Banquets, and receptions in which those young women will be able to stand beside their friends -- female AND male -- and receive those honors they have earned and had fun working toward. Their beaming faces will be enough for me. Have lots of good tasting food, and remember -- I can't do coconut.
(The Boy Scouts of America (BSA)'s program for young men and women aged 11-18 previously called "Boy Scouts" will be relabeled "Scouts BSA" on 1 February with those members, male and females, simply referred to as "Scouts" ("male Scouts", "female Scouts"). The corporate name "Boy Scouts of America" will continue to be used as the national name of the organization. The values of the BSA, as demonstrated by thousands of youth around this nation and world, and encapsulated in the Scout Oath or Promise and the Scout Law, has not changed --nor will it. )