Girl troops eager for shot at Eagle Scout in historic shift
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — For the last few years, 14-year-old Maddie Peacock watched from the sidelines as her four younger brothers had adventures with their Boy Scout troop. She helped them make Pinewood Derby cars and joined in the family campouts but was unable to earn recognition for her efforts.
"They would go off and do the fun Scouting things and I was always upset because I knew that I could do all of that stuff — I just didn't have the chance to," said Maddie, who attends Innovation Middle School in Orlando. "Eventually, I got tired of going to the campouts because there was nothing there for me."
But everything changed when the century-old Boy Scouts of America announced that as of Feb. 1 girls ages 11-17 would be eligible to join girl troops and work to earn — like boys — the highly coveted rank of Eagle Scout.
The Central Florida Council said more than 30 girl troops have been established so far — putting membership in the top 5 of the Southeastern region — but weren't immediately available to provide the number of female Scouts. The Boy Scout program's name was changed to Scouts BSA when it was opened to girls. Boys and girls are now referred to as "Scouts" under the Scouts BSA umbrella in troops restricted to each gender.
"We're one of the leaders in the country for this whole movement right now," said Chris Crowley, director of field services. "There is a lot of enthusiasm."
Last year, girls were also welcomed in the Cub Scout program for children ages 5 to 10 and more than 77,000 girls nationwide have joined so far, according to the organization.
The Venturing, Exploring, Sea Scouts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Scouts programs had already been open to boys and girls for more than 50 years, with some co-ed activities.
Maddie was too old for Cub Scouts when the program's expansion happened and after she couldn't find a female troop near the Lake Nona area to enroll in, her father, Dale Peacock, stepped up to lead as Scoutmaster of Troop 202 girls — a counterpart to an established boy troop.
"I've been around Scouting my entire life and I'm really excited to take part in it now," said Maddie Peacock, whose troop currently has 12 girls, with several more expected to join soon. "I think it's awesome that we have so many girls that are really interested and want to learn this stuff and are willing to put time into it."
The girls in Scouts BSA — not to be confused with Girl Scouts of the USA, which is a separate girl-only organization that has been around for more than 100 years — are held to the same standards as the boys for earning merit badges and ranks. Girl Scouts, however, don't offer the Eagle Scout rank. The highest achievement in the organization is called the Gold Award.
The troops are single-gender and may share a charter organization or be identified by the same number but have individual Scoutmasters and activities.
At their second meeting last month, the Scouts began to know each other better through an icebreaker game.
Many of them have a brother, enjoy outdoor adventures such as canoeing or sleeping under the stars and aren't afraid of bugs — but draw the line at snakes — and everyone has been to Disney World.
Maddie and her fellow Scouts also learned about the contents of a patrol kitchen box used during camping trips, and Dale explained that Scouts benefit from the effort they put in.
"It's your responsibility, ladies, to seek out the opportunities to study and learn the skills that are associated with the rank requirements and then come back and tell us," Peacock told the Scouts. "It's completely on you, which is really cool, because it means you're driving the boat."
RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
With the inclusion of girl troops, Scouts BSA is catching up to hundreds of other scouting organizations around the world.
The U.S. organization said it expanded its iconic Scouts programs after hearing positive feedback from the majority of parents surveyed, many of whom said it was easier to manage a family's schedule within one organization.
"We recognized a need and worked to meet it," Scouts BSA said in a news release.
But the sentiment didn't go over well with Girls Scouts, who have publicly denounced the move and sued the organization in federal court to protect its core brand, alleging that promoting girl Scouts in BSA causes public confusion.
Girl Scouts USA said it currently has nearly 2 million active members in the country, with 15,000 girls from six Central Florida counties.
Lawyers for the organization wrote in court documents that the marketing of girl troops in Scouts BSA will marginalize their movement "by causing the public to believe that (Girl Scouts') extraordinarily successful services are not true or official 'Scouting' programs, but niche services with limited utility and appeal."
Cathy Anderson, Scoutmaster of Troop 42 in the Conway area, knows both Scouting organizations well and said each program has its benefits. She and her daughter Brie, now 26, were Girl Scouts and her three sons are in Scouts BSA troops.
"I just feel that any kind of youth organization — be it Scouts or whatever — has a place in our community to provide a positive influence," Anderson said. "We may offer similar programs but maybe how they're executed is different so people have a choice."
But not everyone has been publicly accepting of both Scouting organizations offering programs for girls.
Troop 42, which currently has seven Scouts, recently gathered in a public place to sell $5 "Camp Cards" with coupons to local businesses as a way to earn money for summer camp. A few people remarked to the girls that they shouldn't have a place in the historically male organization and refused to support the fundraiser.
Anderson said the girls weren't deterred and they don't engage with naysayers.
"It tends to be generational," Anderson said. "It's typically older people that have made those comments because gender roles were very clearly defined when they were growing up, and now the line is a little blurred — as it should be."
Dale Peacock said his troop hasn't encountered any negativity but he's aware of the occasional resistance to the idea.
"I know that there are people out there who think this is crazy . . . they are welcome to believe those things — I don't," Peacock said. "I think the value that Scouting has as a program — that it gives to the families, that it gives to young men and young women, the opportunities they have to learn to be better citizens in their community, to grow mentally and physically, to experience the outdoors and to do that in a setting where they learn to be leaders — how can you not want that for your kids, whether they're a boy or a girl?"
SAME PROGRAM, DIFFERENT TROOPS
For many parents, the chance for their daughters to be able to earn the prestigious Eagle Scout rank was an incentive to join the organization. It's an accomplishment that is widely recognized and often means a job resume or college application gets a second look.
Bianca Genco-Morrison, a registered adult leader with Troop 202 for girls, said she supports the structure of the Scouts BSA program that allows girls to have the same experiences but not in a co-ed troop.
Her 10-year-old daughter Adelina is also a Girl Scout but said she is "over the moon" at the prospect of her becoming an Eagle Scout like her dad, Assistant Scoutmaster Dan Morrison.
"The programs are parallel, they are not integrated," Genco-Morrison said of the Scouts BSA troop. "To have a parallel program gives boys their space to have that leadership experience and girls that space."
Anderson said she believes the change is long overdue because the opportunities for leadership, character development and humanitarian efforts aren't exclusive to a gender.
"I think now more than ever we need to empower our girls any way we can," she said.
Earning the Eagle Scout rank is not an easy feat. Doing so includes acquiring 21 merit badges, fulfilling a community service project, participating in a unit leader conference and submitting an application for approval by the board of review.
"All five of my children, including my daughter, have the opportunity to earn that rank and in our society, in our culture, even around the world — that means something," Dale Peacock said. "And it has some very specific and some very strong meaning associated with it."
The Peacock family has a long lineage of Scouts, dating back to Maddie's great grandfather who earned the Eagle rank in the 1930s.
Maddie, a member of her school's engineering team and debate club, said she is determined to balance her academic life while working on completing the requirements to achieve the Eagle rank by her 18th birthday, the deadline.
"I'm going to have to hurry," Maddie said, "because I only got four years."
Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/