ST. ANTHONY — Several years ago, Olivia DeSchamp, 7, of Jasper, watched her older brother Austin, 12, participate in Cub Scouts, and told her mom, Beth, she wanted to be a Cub Scout someday. This year, Olivia got her chance.
Beginning this year, the Boy Scouts of America began opening its programs previously reserved exclusively for boys to girls. Cub Scouts, which covers ages 5 to 10, began the transition. Boy Scouts, which covers ages 11 through 17, will allow girls to join in February 2019 and change its name to Scouts BSA. Whether or not to allow girls to join is up to each local organization. The DeSchamps’ pack — Pack 189 in St. Anthony — opened its program to girls, and Olivia jumped at the chance to join. She’s one of 18 girls participating in Boy Scouts programming in Dubois County.
“Boy Scouts is fun,” Olivia said. “You get to do activities and outings.”
At a pack meeting before Thanksgiving, Olivia arrived decked out in her Tiger Cub uniform, smiling from ear to ear. She hurried to add her name to the prize drawing for scouts who remembered to wear their uniforms to the meeting.
Boy Scouts of America first offered programs to girls in 1971 when it made its Exploring program co-ed. The Venturing, Sea Scouts and STEM Scouts programs have also been open to girls. As with the co-ed programs, boys and girls in Cub Scouts and Scouts will follow the same programs with the same requirements for patches and other rankings, such as Eagle Scout.
According to the organization’s website, the decision to open the Cub Scouts and Scouts program to girls as well came from feedback from participating families, potential participating families and local organizations that sponsor scouts groups that said opening the programs to girls would make the activity more appealing. The change is meant to make Boy Scouts of America a one-stop shop for families when it comes to scouting activities.
To accommodate the change without making Cub Scouts and Scouts co-ed programs, Boy Scouts of America allows packs and troops to decide at the local level whether they want to be boys only, girls only or family troops. Family troops include both boys and girls. Just like single-sex troops, family troops are further broken down. At the Cub Scout level, for example, a pack consists of several dens. For family-style packs, dens are either all-boy or all-girl. According to the Boy Scouts’ website, the organization model allows programs to be open to both boys and girls while maintaining the benefits of single-sex groups.
The change hasn’t come without criticism. At the national level, the move created some friction between Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts USA, the all-female scouting program. Writers penned opinion pieces about the importance of maintaining all-boy and all-girl programming, and how the Boy Scouts’ change might hurt the program. At the local level, Chad said, he heard some of the same concerns.
“People were worried about the boys not having just a boy thing or not learning tradition,” he said.
But for Pack 189, allowing Olivia, Leigha and Madelyn to join hasn’t been a huge adjustment. The girls were already around due to their brothers. Now, they’re just getting credit for the activities, and have the opportunity to earn patches and other Scout recognitions. For the three girls, it doesn’t seem to register that they’re participating in an activity originally reserved for boys. To them, they’re just there with their peers.
“A lot of girls don’t hang out with boys, but I like it,” Madelyn said. “A lot of my friends are in [Pack 189].”