WILKES-BARRE — The Boy Scouts — the 108-year-old program for 11- to 17-year-olds — will now be called Scouts BSA to become less gender-specific because girls will participate in more activities.
The organization has already started admitting girls into Cub Scouts, and Scouts BSA begins accepting girls next year, it was announced Wednesday.
Mark Barbernitz, Scout Executive/executive director at the Boy Scouts of America Northeastern Pennsylvania Council in Moosic, said the boys and girls will still have separate troops, but that both genders will now be able to participate in all scouting programs.
The NEPA Council serves six counties — Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Wayne, Susquehanna and Wyoming.
“This doesn’t mean that the program will become co-ed,” Barbernitz said. “The boys and girls will be in separate troops. There will possibly be times that they will both attend certain events.”
Barbernitz said the decision to allow girls into the program was announced last October at a scouting conference. He said girls were welcomed into Cub Scouts — kindergarten through fifth grade — earlier last year.
Barbernitz said that Scouts BSA is not affiliated with the Girl Scouts program.
“Girl Scouts is a separate organization,” Barbernitz said. “That program still exists. We are not trying to put them out of business.”
Barbernitz said a lot of girls wanted to participate in the same program as the Boy Scouts, which he said is a different programming model than what Girl Scouts offers. He said the Scouts BSA program focuses on outdoor activities, adventures and camping.
“And in our program, girls will be able to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” Barbernitz said.
He noted there has not been much feedback since the change was announced.
“It will take several generations for people to stop calling us the Boy Scouts,” he said.
On the Times Leader website, there were several comments on the Associated Press story that was posted Wednesday afternoon:
Shellbell: “Can’t we give boys and girls their own spaces to develop anymore? If it’s needed, then the parents of the children who want to join a mixed gender club can go form their own. I was glad my daughter joined the Girl Scouts and learn to form bonds with other girls that to this day, 20 years later, she still cherishes. Each need their own spaces.”
Area 51: “Just more politically correct bulls##t.”
Marius Pudzianowski: “Seems like ‘Scouts’ would be the simpler name. And, by removing “BSA” altogether, there is less chance that some super-sensitive someone will have hurt feelings about what those letters stand for.”
‘Here for both’
Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh said many possibilities were considered during lengthy and “incredibly fun” deliberations before the new name was chosen.
“We wanted to land on something that evokes the past but also conveys the inclusive nature of the program going forward,” Surbaugh told the Associated Press. “We’re trying to find the right way to say we’re here for both young men and young women.”
Surbaugh predicted that both boys and girls in Scouts BSA would refer to themselves simply as scouts, rather than adding “boy” or “girl” as a modifier.
Surbaugh said that having separate units for boys and girls should alleviate concerns that girls joining the BSA for the first time might be at a disadvantage in seeking leadership opportunities.
So far, more than 3,000 girls have joined roughly 170 Cub Scout packs participating in the first phase of the new policy, and the pace will intensify this summer under a nationwide multimedia recruitment campaign titled “Scout Me In.”
The name change comes amid strained relations between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America.
In the AP story, Girl Scout leaders said they were blindsided by the move, and they are gearing up an aggressive campaign to recruit and retain girls as members.
The Girl Scouts and the BSA are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from sports leagues, a perception they are old-fashioned and busy family schedules.
The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.3 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.
The Girl Scouts say they have about 1.76 million girls and more than 780,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle. The Associated Press contributed to this story.