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What WNY Scouting officials think of letting girls join Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts

The decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow girls into the organization inspired a mixed response in Scouting ranks in the Buffalo Niagara region.

The head of the region's largest group for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts said he thought the change would be well-received by parents of a daughter who wants to follow their brother into Cub Scouts.

A veteran Northtowns Boy Scout leader, however, said he wasn't sure how troops would adapt to the new policy.

And the head of the regional Girl Scouts council said girls are better served by joining the single-gender organization that has long had their interests at heart.

"We just believe the Girl Scouts is the best place for girls, period," said Judy Cranston, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Western New York.

Girl Scout Troop 30714 sells cookies at Walden Galleria in a 2012 file photo.  (John Hickey/News file photo)

The announcement that the board of directors of the Boy Scouts of America had voted unanimously Wednesday to allow girls into the century-old organization stirred a range of reactions online and in Scouting organizations nationwide.

The Boy Scouts of America said that, beginning in 2018, girls will be allowed into its Cub Scout program, which had been limited to boys in the first through fifth grades or between the ages of 7 and 10.

Officials will announce details on a separate program for older girls next year. It is expected to be available in 2019.

Russell Etzenhouser, scout executive and CEO of the Greater Niagara Frontier Council, which represents Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in Erie County and the western third of Niagara County, said girls had joined some Cub Scout packs in other parts of the country in recent years, though he wasn't aware of that happening in his council.

The council serves slightly more than 3,000 Cub Scouts and a little more than 2,500 Boy Scouts.

Etzenhouser said the new policy grew out of popular demand. "There definitely was a pull from parents to move in this direction," he said.

The national group, in the spring, floated the idea to Etzenhouser and other regional council leaders at a national meeting. In the summer, Etzenhouser hosted a series of meetings with adult leaders of all of the Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops in his council, where the leaders watched a video prepared by the Boy Scouts of America that talked about the proposed policy change.

"Overwhelmingly, the feedback we got at these meetings was that this was the right thing to do," Etzenhouser said.

Starting in fall 2018, leaders of Cub Scout packs can choose to operate as boy-only, girl-only or for both boys and girls, he said. In the latter case, the full pack would serve both genders but each den within the pack would serve only boys or girls, Etzenhouser said.

If a girl tried to join a pack that was for boys only, she would be directed toward another pack that served girls, he said.

"It's just about giving families options," he said.

Little is known about how the Boy Scout program will work. The Boy Scouts of America still are figuring out the details of that arrangement, which won't be available for two years.

Don Hourigan, who has served as Scoutmaster of Troop 104 in the Town of Tonawanda since 1975, attended one of the policy preview meetings.

He said the change appears to put a lot of the onus on individual troops to put in place new organizational structures when they accept girls. That can be difficult for the volunteer leaders and the institutions that host the troops.

"Most Scout troops are kind of seat-of-the-pants things," Hourigan said.

He also said the presentation he heard focused on how to bring girls into meetings, and most Scouting activities involve camping and other activities.

Can girls mix with Boy Scouts on campouts? Exploring and other groups are co-ed already, of course.

"It's not impossible, but I see it strewn with landmines," said Hourigan.

The decision comes nearly two months after the Boy Scouts was harshly criticized by the president of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. for what she said was a “covert campaign to recruit girls.”

"We're not really attempting to compete against the Girl Scouts in any of this," Etzenhouser said.

Cranston, the local Girl Scout leader, said she's not concerned about losing membership. She said her group, which covers nine counties between Buffalo and Rochester, has 15,000 girls from kindergarten to 12th grade.

She said Girl Scouts has longstanding programming geared toward girls. She also said research shows single-gender programs benefit girls, who can pull back sometimes when mixed in with boys.

"I think our results speak for themselves," Cranston said.

Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts announced a change to its membership requirements, paving the way for transgender boys to join the group.

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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