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While Boy Scouts go coed and Girl Scouts pursue lawsuit, Howard families say choices are welcome

Six-year-old Amy Baumert had a choice: join Girl Scouts or Cub Scouts.

She chose the latter, and says she likes sleeping in cabins, making s’mores, eating ice-cream sandwiches and making friends. She had a lot of fun watching a rocket she made shoot into the sky at a rocket launching event.

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Her mom, Sarah Baumert of Ellicott City, is a former Girl Scout troop leader who has five children, four of them involved in either Boy Scouts of America, Cub Scouting or Girl Scouts.

“I have everything,” Baumert said.

Her son Owen, 8, and Amy are both members of Cub Scout Pack 361, a “family” scouting pack where boys and girls are both invited to join. Pack 361 has 61 registered scouts, 51 boys and 10 girls.

“They can’t wait for scouts,” Baumert added. “They are always asking if it’s a scout week.”

In 2018, the Boy Scouts of America began allowing girls to join the previously all-male Cub Scouts. Children can join single-gender “dens” — all boys or all girls — which then become part of the larger coed “pack.” Children in kindergarten through fifth grade can participate in Cub Scouts.

This week, Scouting takes another step toward its coed future, when the movement’s signature Boy Scout level officially begins allowing girls to advance to Boy Scouts.

The program’s name officially changes to Scouts BSA on Feb. 1, marking the acceptance of boys and girls ages 11 to 17 to join and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout. Girls will be in single gender troops but will have the option to “link” to a boys troop and participate in certain activities together. The move stems from a 2017 decision by Boy Scouts of America to broader its base.

“Our decision to expand our program offerings for girls came after years of requests from families who wanted the option of the BSA’s character- and leadership-development programs for their children – boys and girls,” the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement. “We believe that we owe it to our current and future members to offer families the options they want.”

For the Baumerts, the move to coed family scouting has made easier to balance family time and extracurricular activities.The family moved here from Minnesota in 2015 and has been involved in scouting since 2007.

“Scouting time is family time,” Baumert said. Another daughter, Anna, 11, is a Girl Scout who comes along to family events such as picnics or camping — but wants to stay in Girl Scouts.

“[She] loves Girl Scouts and has no desire to change,” Baumert said.

Baumert is happy there are scouting options for children. If her daughter Amy later decides to choose Girl Scouts, “I’m glad she has that option … it doesn’t make sense to me that there should be one option for a child or their family.”

Tradition and transition

Manny Fonseca, deputy scout executive and chief operating officer for the Baltimore Area Council, says 115 of the council’s Cub Scout packs have opened up to the family scouting program. In 2018, the council had nearly 700 girls sign up for Cub Scouts. Nationwide, 77,000 girls enrolled last year, according to a spokeswoman for the national organization.

Twelve Scouts BSA girl troops are poised to launch within the first week in the Baltimore Area Council, with a total of 38 troops committed to accepting girls within the first year.

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Fonseca said the numbers grow daily, and the reaction from troops has been positive. There have been a couple that are not ready to accept girls, he said, but those troops are not against the move to a coed program; they want to see it unfold and “get all their ducks in a row” before committing,

“I pose the question to individuals: ‘Do you believe that young women and girls should have the same opportunity for leadership development skills as boys?’ and 10 times out of 10 the answer is ‘yes,’” Fonseca said.

The Baltimore Area Council, Boy Scouts of America was established in 1911, and covers Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

The council currently serves 44,000 adults and youth, according to Fonseca. In 2018, it had 253 Cub Scout packs and 244 Boy Scout troops. It also included 50 coed Venturing Crews and six Sea Scout units — both of them longstanding Scouting programs that already allowed female membership. Venturing Scouts are between ages 14 and 21, and cannot become Eagle Scouts.

With both the family scouting program and Scouts BSA, staff and volunteers for the Baltimore Area Council held webinars, conference calls and town hall meetings with their local-level scout leaders and others to get the message out about the changes.

The change has not been accepted by all, however. In November, Girl Scouts of the USA filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in New York against the Boy Scouts of America. The organization claims that “BSA does not have the right under federal or New York law to use terms like SCOUTS or SCOUTING by themselves in connection with services offered to girls, or to rebrand themselves as ‘the Scouts,” according to the complaint.

The case is ongoing. Last week Boy Scouts of America filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, according to court records.

Violet M. Apple, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, said in a statement that “the all-girl environment [of Girl Scouts] is powerful in terms of girl leadership and girl development. Research shows that this is the environment that girls learn best in, an environment where girls always come first.”

Girl Scouts offers STEM programs, outdoor activities including hiking, horseback riding and archery, one-on-one mentoring from women professionals, entrepreneurial experiences through selling the iconic Girl Scout cookies and opportunities to earn awards — Bronze, Silver or Gold, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting.

Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, established in 1962, serves 24,000 girls between 2,000 troops in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, according to its website. Apple said membership has remained steady over the years, and its Daisy, Senior and Ambassador levels have grown, she said.

Apple acknowledged, however, that “for years girls have chosen other organizations when Girl Scouts was not the fit for them.”

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had more than 110 million Americans participate in various Boy Scouts programs. Today, the organization has more than 2.2 million active youth participants and nearly one million adult volunteers.

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In recent years Boy Scouts of America has made other changes, including accepting openly gay and transgender youths and gay Scout leaders.

In its response to the Girl Scouts lawsuit, Boy Scouts of America contends that when surveyed, 90 percent of non-Scouting parents showed interest in a program like Cub Scouts for their daughters, 87 percent were interested in a program like Scouts BSA for their daughters and 90 percent of girls aged 11 to 18 years old were interested in joining a Scouts BSA-type program.

Staying active

Chris Lynge of Ellicott City has been cubmaster for Pack 361 for the past two years. Three of his children are involved in scouting. Son Daniel, 12, is in Scouts BSA, while Reece, 8, and his 7-year-old daughter Kara are both in Pack 361.

“The whole reason for scouting is to give youth, whether a girl or a boy, the opportunity to experience different things… a chance to develop leadership skills and learn outdoor skills,” Lynge said.

Pack 361 serves children in Columbia and Ellicott City and meets at First Presbyterian Church of Howard County in Columbia. It has been accepting girls since June 2018. Currently it has girls between kindergarten and the third grade, and more keep signing up as the school year progresses, Lynge said.

“It’s promising because the scout [pack] has never been this big before,” he said.

The pack made a decision, based on a shortage of adult volunteers, to not yet open up scouting to girls who are in fourth and fifth grade, Lynge said. The pack plans to add those grades within the year.

Caitlin Christy, district executive for National Pike District — a subgroup of the Baltimore Area Council that includes packs and troops in Howard County — said while finding volunteers is difficult, parents do sign up.

“Once parents see the success that their children are having in scouting, they are willing to step up and volunteer, whether in a small role or a den leader,” Christy said. Parents “know that is something [their daughters] want to do and see the importance.”

Howard County currently has 39 Cub Scouts packs, 17 of them being family scouting packs. In Scouts BSA, there are 35 troops in Howard, but more are coming with the acceptance of girl troops.

“We will definitely have five girl troops starting Feb. 1 … [and] within the first quarter or half year that will go up to seven,” Christy said.

Eight-year-old Cora Ogg of Ellicott City was a Girl Scout but joined Cub Scouts in Pack 361 to be with her 10-year-old brother Elliott. She said she enjoys activities and is looking forward to camping, making s’mores and hiking.

This month the pack held its annual “camp in,” where Scouts bring sleeping bags and learn about camping, cooking, merit badges, how to set up a tent, becoming an Eagle Scout and participating in High Adventure, an outdoor experience including backpacking, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and rock climbing.

Pamela Ward, of Ellicott City, has a son and a daughter in Pack 361. Natalie, 6, “wanted to do what her big brother did,” Ward said. “She’s much more hands on, she wants to be outside… it just seemed like a better fit for her.”

Ward thinks girls should have a choice between Boys Scouts of America and Girl Scouts.

“If they could do both, why not?” she said.

Lynge said it doesn’t matter to him if a child enrolls in Scouts BSA or Girl Scouts — as long as they stay active and encouraged.

“I wish boys could join Girl Scouts and learn about entrepreneurship,” he said. “I want the youth to have the ability to develop skills, build character and become leaders. I just want them in scouting, that is the most important thing.”

Fonseca agreed, saying he hopes opportunities for young women can expand through both Girl Scouts and Scouting BSA.

“It’s not a competition of us or them,” Fonseca said.

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