Local scouting leaders ready to accept girls in Boy Scouts

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Kelly McDonald has a 10-year-old daughter who wants more than anything to do Navy Seal survival training and all of the other awesome things that boys get to do.

“She told me, ‘I want to be able to do the same cool stuff that my brother does in Boy Scouts,'” McDonald said. “And she said, ‘I want to be an Eagle Scout like my father.”

Following an announcement from the Boy Scouts of America earlier this week, that 10-year-old may be able to do all of those great things after all.

McDonald’s 7-year-old, on the other hand, is happy where she is.

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“My youngest daughter is still in Girls Scouts,” McDonald said. “She’s enjoying it. She says she’s not ready to become a Boy Scout.”

Everybody wins? McDonald certainly thinks so. An assistant scoutmaster for Troop 1 in Portland and former cubmaster for Pack 97, he believes allowing girls to join Boy Scout troops is a step in the right direction.

“As a Scout and a parent, I think this is a great decision for the institution and for kids,” McDonald said Thursday. “I have great respect for the institution, but it has needed to be modernized. It has needed to open the doors wider.

He added, “You double the number of kids who can come participate in what I think is a really excellent program to build character.”

It’s not just a great thing for girls, McDonald says. It will also help teach boys valuable lessons about life in the modern age.

“They’re learning how to be human beings, which is not something that comes naturally to adolescents,” McDonald said. “They need to learn that women can be strong, outdoorsy people. They need to learn that women can be leaders, and women need to learn how to be those leaders.”

Donna Swinyer of Lewiston is a cubmaster and commissioner of the Pine Tree Council. She was on the voting committee that discussed both sides of the issue.

According to Swinyer, Boy Scouts in many other countries already accept girls into the program. The benefits, she said, are many. For example, in Boy Scouts, all participants have to complete training in things such as camping and community service, whereas in Girl Scouts, it varies wildly, depending on leadership.

“The Boy Scouts have a structure where the boys can’t advance without finishing all the pieces of the puzzle,” Swinyer said. “They have to learn cooking, they have to learn fire safety, they have to learn about camping, they need to learn about community service. In Girl Scouts, it’s very focused on what the leader’s strengths are. The leader isn’t required to follow a specific curriculum. If the leader is someone who doesn’t like camping, then the Girl Scout troop doesn’t have to do that.”

Additionally, Swinyer said, by joining Boy Scouts, girls can aim for the rank of Eagle, the highest achievement possible and one widely recognized by potential future employers as well as by the military.

“Girls don’t have that option,” Swinyer said.

The Eagle program may remain separate for boys and girls, Swinyer said. Details about how it will be handled are still being worked out.

With the greater potential available to girls, Swinyer said, a greater number will likely be inclined to stick around and to seek advancement in the Scouts.

“If I was given this opportunity when I was younger, I would have stayed in the program,” Swinyer said. “I was only a Girl Scout for a year or two.”

When the idea of accepting girls into the program was discussed, Swinyer said, it was overwhelmingly supported by boys and by girls who had been allowed to join the Boy Scouts in other countries.

“My biggest surprise was how vehement they were that women should be allowed to do these things, too,” she said. “It really was a united front. They were very, very adult about it. It was wonderful.”

The Boy Scouts of America said it plans to admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and to establish a new program for older girls using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts.

By and large, former and current Boy Scout leaders were applauding the decision.

“I happen to be thinking it’s awesome,” said former Lewiston-Auburn Troop 007 Scoutmaster Robert Reed, “and a great opportunity for getting more youth outdoors and away from games and TV. So many times I’ve seen young women wanting to be part of it.”

Former Cub Scout leader Heidi Sawyer of Lewiston shared that opinion. She described it as a win for boys, for girls and for Scout families in general.

“Since there will be boy and girl dens and then combined pack activities, she said, “now it can be a whole family experience, which was how our pack mostly operated, anyway.”

Over the summer, the Girl Scouts of the USA announced that they opposed the idea of mingling girls with boys. Sawyer was baffled by that news.

“I was a little frustrated by the Girl Scouts’ response,” she said. “So the boys are being progressive and inclusive, but the girls are being regressive and exclusive.”

Not everybody is in love with the idea of mixing genders, a move that some see as pointless and possibly destructive.

“There is already a program for both boys and girls,” said Michael R. Edgecomb, a former Scout with Troop 160. “Girl Scouts can step up their game and do more camping, shooting, archery and all the other things the boys do without letting girls into the BSA. The name itself says who belongs.

“There is no need to allow girls to join BSA or the boys to join GSA,” Edgecomb said. “Both organizations should work together to make sure each group is doing everything to teach both groups everything without a merger. This whole thing is asking for trouble.”

Some have argued that mixing girls and boys as they sexually mature is a bad idea.

“One group for boys to become men. One group for girls to become women,” Edgecomb said. “Now you will have chaos. And probably a few pregnancies.”

The trick, according to McDonald, will be to teach boys and girls to respect one another — a concept the Scouts already try to instill.

“We’re going to need to deal with that,” McDonald said. “I think these are challenges that can absolutely be overcome.

“I’m a huge fan of the decision,” he said. “I think it’s really going to reinvigorate the organization. I’m very excited to see how things will evolve over the next couple years.”

Boy Scout symbol

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