“Fall in!” came the call in the Troop 417 scout house, by the Sykesville-Freedom volunteer fire company, the boys in rank for the opening ceremony of their Thursday, Feb. 28 meeting. And with the following, “Color guard, advance,” a mix of boys and girls marched in across the red carpet, flags in hand.
For there are two Troop 417s now, and for the first time, girls were participating in khaki and olive Boy Scout — now Scouts BSA — uniforms. Nine girls make up the first all-female troop in Carroll County.
“Boy Scouts of America is the same as BSA Scouts, now they are just including the girls in their adventures,” said Stacy Zile, assistant scoutmaster for the girls’ troop. “We are linked together and the girls are working side by side with the boys.”
The Boy Scouts of America has embraced “family scouting,” first integrating female dens into Cub Scouts in the summer of 2018, and allowing female troops at the Boy Scout level beginning Feb. 1, according to the organization website.
But girls have been in scouting for much longer than that, according to Jim Cornwell, district chair for scouting in Carroll County and a committee chair for Troop 417.
“We have had girls in the Boy Scouts of America for close to 30 years. We have them in Venturing, Sea Scouts and Exploring — those are all part of Boy Scouts of America,” Cornwell said. “Feb. 1, we changed it to Scouts BSA; it’s still Boy Scouts of America, but it’s Scouts BSA.”
That’s not an entirely new name, either, according to Cornwell.
“The green uniforms we had in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, they said, ‘Scouts BSA,’” he said. “It wasn’t until the ’80s when they changed it over to ‘Boy Scouts of America.’ So now it’s going back to Scouts BSA.”
And beyond female participation in scouting as a whole going back decades, it’s not as if girls weren’t present in Troop 417 activities long before they officially took their scout oaths.
“My daughter has been hanging around scouts every since her older brother joined Cub Scouts and she loves everything they do,” Kelli Geist, who handles membership for the boys and girls troops, said of her son Xander and daughter Aubrey. “She says, ‘I’m a member of this troop even though I’m not officially a member, I am a member. I do everything that they do. She couldn’t wait to join.”
“We’ve made her technically the honorary Boy Scout when it was still Boy Scouts, and now that it’s Scouts, it’s like nothing has really changed,” said Xander, 13. “Just another Scout. Always been there.”
Under the new program, any group of at least five girls with a chartering organization and committee can form a stand-alone, all-female troop, or an existing boys troop can add a linked all-female troop, as Troop 417 did, according to Chad Geist, scoutmaster for the boys.
“They voted on it. They had a part in the decision,” he said. “We said, ‘Gentlemen, this is what we are thinking about. We want to know if you’re open to it,’ and every one of them, to a ‘T,’ said yes.”
Several other troops may soon be forming in Carroll County as well. Jeff Barnes, scoutmaster for the boys of Troop 393 in Westminster, said they have five girls interested and need only turn in their paperwork, while Randy Wineke, the charter organization representative for Troop 9 in Upperco, said his organization is on the lookout for girls interested in forming a linked troop.
As for the question of Scouts BSA versus the Girl Scouts, Cornwell points out that they are separate organizations, with different approaches, and some girls may choose to participate in both.
“I’m in Girl Scouts still right now,” said Aubrey Geist, 12. “I actually have a mall sleep-in this weekend.” She said she likes the extra camping focus of Scouts BSA in addition to Girl Scouts activities.
At least one other girl in Troop 417 plans to continue in Girl Scouts in addition to joining the new Scouts BSA, to which Kelli Geist asked, why not?
“They each have something to offer girls. They both teach about leadership,” she said. “It’s different, but they are great. Both programs have so much to offer girls, so I feel they can co-exist.”
When it comes to leadership, that’s both a challenge and opportunity for new all-female troops, according to Kayla Kelly, 16, the elected senior patrol leader for the new troop. Girls can now, like boys, proceed through the ranks — from Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and finally to Eagle Scout — but with a mandatory amount of time to be spent at the higher ranks, older girls like her have their work cut out for them.
“Starting as of Feb. 1 I have almost exactly eight months to get through Scout to First class. Then I have the rest of 16 months to get through Star, Life and Eagle,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty narrowed down, especially compared with some of the boys who have eight years to do it — I have two.”
And any other girls troops considering forming?
“Just go for it. Just dive straight in,” Kelly said, or, “Just come join us. We will do the best that we can to incorporate you and if you haven’t ever learned scouting before, we can help you with that.”