A boys’ club no more, Bainbridge Island’s Cub Scout Pack 4496 is among the pioneers in the new nationwide initiative to welcome girls to the world of Scouting.
“I think it’s great,” said Pack 4496 Cubmaster Steve Grossman.
“I spent 11 years in the Navy, I was in the submarine force, and right as I was leaving we started integrating women there and that made the Navy better and this is going to make Cub Scouts much better — and I think put us in line with the rest of the world,” he said.
Coed Scout troops are already common elsewhere, Grossman explained.
“In England, it’s just Scouting,” he said. “They don’t have Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts separate. It’s just Scouts.”
The Boy Scouts of America announced their intent to accept girls, a historic revelation for the century-old organization, late last year, with an optional early roll out for desiring Cub Scout Packs beginning now. It will be followed by a more far-reaching coed encouragement initiative — called “Family Scouting” — to start in the fall.
Many questions arose in the wake of the historic decision — with some details still being worked out — but Pack 4496 was all the way on board right away.
“I haven’t heard any of the boys being upset or any of the parents being upset,” Grossman said. “I think there’s probably some amount of nostalgia from parents who did the whole program, were Eagle Scouts growing up, and it’s different.”
National leadership has left much of the transition in the hands of local Pack leaders, Grossman said, in keeping with what he believes is the often misunderstood customizable nature of Scouting.
“I think maybe one of the myths is that Scouting is a sort of hierarchical, nationally controlled organization,” he said. “It’s very local.
“Within our group it’s great; there are so many girls in the Pack whose brothers are there and they’ve gone on the camping trips and do all the activities, they just don’t get to wear a uniform. It’s going to be better. It’s going to be better all around.”
Eager to sign up
Four girls, mostly sisters of active Scouts, signed up as new Pack members almost immediately, with several others expressing serious interest at a recent outreach event.
“We had a group of girls who wanted to do it and we wanted to figure it out,” Grossman said. “The families think it’s the right thing to do and we want to empower our daughters as much as we’re empowering our sons.”
Admitting girls is just the latest in a series of progressive adjustments the Boy Scouts of America have made. Headline-grabbing decisions include a 2017 announcement that they would accept transgender members, and, in 2013, lifting the long-held ban on openly gay members. Also, in 2015, they stopped barring participation of openly homosexual Scout leaders as well.
Accepting girls, however, may be the most revolutionary move yet. It is, after all, called the Boy Scouts of America (no plans to change the group’s title have yet been announced).
“As far as I know we’re the only Cub Scout pack in Kitsap County that got in, in time,” Grossman said. “There’s an early adopter program. It’s meant to start for all Cub Scouts in America in the fall, and we were able to get in early to start enrolling girls starting right now.”
The early adopter program is only open to girls in grades K-4 so as to, according to official Boy Scouts instruction, “avoid the situation where a girl does not have a troop to crossover into after advancement.”
The act of “crossing over” is a Scouting term referring to the transition from the ranks of Cub Scouts to the more advanced Boy Scouts.
A program for older would-be Scouts is reportedly on tap for 2019, which would give female Scouts an unbroken advancement path to the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.
“That’s, I think, one of the most exciting things,” Grossman said, as achieving the rank of Eagle Scout is a well-known, recognizable accomplishment for young people to include on college applications and resumes.
A real first
According to an October 2017 New York Times article: “The Boy Scouts has offered girls limited access to some programs before, but it has never before welcomed them into its core Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs.”
Further more, such gender-blind inclusivity will remain an individual option for each pack, with no organization-wide mandate forcing pack leaders to accept girls in effect.
“Every chartered partner chooses which Scouting programs to utilize for their community, and each unit should work with their chartered partner to discuss which approach is best for the youth and families they seek to serve,” according to Boy Scouts’ instructions. “If a unit wants to remain an all-boy pack with all-boy dens, that decision is entirely welcome.”
Going coed was obviously the right move for Pack 4496, Grossman said. Though, the ideal Pack structure will intentionally leave room for single-gender groups initially, at least for the youngest Scouts.
“National Scouts have said, ‘Hey, troops have the option of staying all boys,’ and nobody [here] was arguing for that,” Grossman said. “The idea is that it’s going to be single sex at some level.”
Pack 4496, one of three Cub Scout packs on Bainbridge, has about 55 members, ranging in age from kindergarteners to fifth-graders. Packs are broken down into “dens” by grade level, Grossman explained: Lions, Tigers, Bears, etc.
“At least in the first iteration of this they want to have the smallest group, the dens, be single-sex,” Grossman said. “Nothing is to stop them from doing stuff together, but there is some belief that at the smallest level there’s going to be some benefit to having a group of boys and group of girls and then doing stuff together as a pack.”
Not everyone is in favor of the change, however. Some have criticized the Boy Scouts for reluctantly adopting more progressive policies as a way to attract members in light of lagging participation stats.
From the New York Times: “For the Boy Scouts, the change is also a chance to boot its sagging membership. The group says it has 2.3 million members between the ages of 7 and 21 and nearly a million volunteers throughout the United States. At it’s peak in the 1970s, the organization, incorporated in 1910, was closer to 5 million members.”
Also skeptical of the shift are many with the Girl Scouts of America, the best known all-female Scouting option in the country.
“Girl Scouts of Western Washington believes strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides,” said Girl Scouts spokeswoman Jaycie Wakefield. “Every day, we hear from our 25,000 girls and their families about the value of the experiences we offer, including in STEM, outdoor, entrepreneurship, and life-skills programming.
“We help girls tap into their leadership potential by reinforcing and extending the skills they learn in school in a supportive, encouraging environment in which they have space to just be themselves.”
Kids OK with change
Despite the opinions of adults, many of the actual Scouts of Pack 4496, girls and boys alike, were overwhelming underwhelmed by the change.
“I don’t really know what other kids feel,” said Bobby Dunn, 11, who just recently crossed over to the ranks of the Boy Scouts. “I know what I feel. I feel that I don’t really care if they come in or not, but it’s actually kind of nice to have them there.
“My mom said I think some girls don’t really like Girl Scout as much, but I know some girls think, ‘Oh yeah, Boy Scouts is really fun — we should join it.’”
Among those girls is Bobby’s sister Annie Dunn, 7, who said it was watching all the stuff her brother got to do — especially during the recent pinewood derby — that got her interested in Scouting.
“I like that you earn badges,” Annie said.
It was unfair, she added, that girls were kept out of the Cub Scouts for so long.
“They were kind of excluded,” she said.
Maddie Grossman, 6, was also first enticed into the world of Scouting by the pinewood derby — which she won, as a “non-Scout” participant last year.
This year, she’s looking to claim the official championship.
“I think it’s better,” Maddie said about the troop going coed. “It’s basically doing the same stuff but separate, kind of.”
Oscar Aitchison, 10, said he thought having girls in the Troop would be “a good experience,” and had heard none of the boys complaining.
“I think they’re OK,” he said. “No one’s yelling ‘No!’ So I think everyone’s OK.
“I think it will be cool to be the first Pack in the Kitsap district to have girls in our troop.”
One for all, all for one
Pack 4496’s Co-Cubmaster Fritz von Ibsch said the program was never specifically designed for boys alone anyway, and there were no great changes required to include interested girls.
“The program is just good core values,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, boy or girl, they can all benefit from it.
“We’ve evolved as a society at this point and it just doesn’t make sense not to.”
His own daughter, Gretchen, 10, was one of the first girls to sign up, von Ibsch said.
“As quick as this has happened, us being one of the first packs, we were able to get my daughter a uniform yesterday and they had shorts, skirts designed for girls already there,” he said.
Gretchen, in fact, wore that uniform to her first meeting as an official member of the pack recently, von Ibsch said. Things could not have gone better.
“I as a father, I was really nervous about that,” he said. “But there was one little boy who came up and he looked her over up and down and he just [gave a] thumbs up, ready to go. That felt really good. I was really worried last night, [her] being one of the first girls in full uniform, thinking somebody would say something.”
Instead, Gretchen even led the Pack’s closing ceremony, standing “in front of 100-plus other people, mostly boys,” her dad said. “There was nothing but acceptance.”
Gretchen herself had no strong feelings about what it meant to be one of the first female members of the Cub Scouts. A pragmatist of few words, when asked why she thought it was a good thing for the Cub Scouts to begin admitting girls Gretchen just smiled and said, “Because I get to do it.”