For 108 years, the Boy Scouts of America’s flagship program has been known simply as the Boy Scouts. With girls soon entering the ranks, the group says that iconic name will change.
The organization on Wednesday, May 2, announced a new name for its Boy Scouts program: Scouts BSA. The change will take effect in February.
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,” he said. “We’re trying to find the right way to say we’re here for both young men and young women.”
Nita Baker, leader of Girl Scout Troop 10878 based at Riverbend Elementary in Gainesville, said she does not expect many girls to turn to Boy Scouts.
“It may happen on down the years. Who knows? Some day they might even merge, but I don’t think it’s going to happen right away. I just don’t think most girls will be comfortable in that environment,” said Baker, who herself was a Girl Scout.
The parent organization will remain the Boy Scouts of America, and the Cub Scouts — its program serving children from kindergarten through fifth grade — will keep its title, as well.
But the Boy Scouts — the program for 11- to 17-year-olds — will now be Scouts BSA.
The organization already has started admitting girls into the Cub Scouts, and Scouts BSA begins accepting girls next year.
Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia Chief Development Officer Debbie Caballero said the organization expects membership growth in the upcoming year.
“We know that Girl Scouts is the best place for girls. We’ve been at this for 106 years with programming that’s designed specifically for girls,” she said.
Surbaugh predicted that both boys and girls in Scouts BSA would refer to themselves simply as scouts, rather than adding “boy” or “girl.”
The Northeast Georgia Council, which covers 26 counties, said there are 55 Hall County groups, including Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Varsity Scouting and all other programs offered by the Boy Scouts.
“The Boy Scouts can never take the place of the Girl Scouts, because the Girl Scouts’ program is designed to make girls learn to be women in the world, to give them the skills they need to have,” Baker said.
Caballero said research has shown girls in single-gender organizations excel in areas such as academics, professional life and civic engagement.
Baker echoed Caballero’s comments, saying the girls-only atmosphere allows the Scouts to feel “safe and able to open up and be themselves.”
The Girl Scouts have added in recent years more badges and emphases in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly known as STEM, as well as financial literacy.
Another key pillar, Caballero said, is the focus on healthy relationships, showing girls how to protect themselves from bullying and other social issues plaguing young women.
“No other organization helps prepare girls for that like we do,” she said.
The program for the older boys and girls will largely be divided along gender lines, with single-sex units pursuing the same types of activities, earning the same array of merit badges and potentially having the same pathway to the coveted Eagle Scout award.
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.”
On social media, there was widespread criticism of the name change, generally suggesting it’s a misguided display of political correctness that undercuts the Boy Scouts’ legacy. But many other people dismissed such criticism as an overreaction.
“Get over it,” Kevin Aldrich, a member-at-large with a Boy Scout council in central Indiana, told The Indianapolis Star. “There is every reason to be co-ed. The Future Farmers of America is co-ed. 4-H is co-ed. Band in school is co-ed.”
Dr. Eugene Gu, a physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and CEO of a biotech company, said on Twitter that the outrage is misplaced. He views the name change as a business decision.
“With declining membership, they need the girls or it would be called Bankrupt Scouts,” Gu tweeted.
The name change comes amid strained relations between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America.
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.
Among the initiatives is creation of numerous new badges that girls can earn, focusing on outdoor activities and on science, engineering, technology and math. The organization is expanding corporate partnerships in both those areas, and developing a Girl Scout Network Page on LinkedIn to support career advancement for former Girl Scouts.
“Girl Scouts is the premier leadership development organization for girls,” said Sylvia Acevedo, the Girl Scouts’ CEO. “We are, and will remain, the first choice for girls and parents who want to provide their girls opportunities to build new skills … and grow into happy, successful, civically engaged adults.”
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 by some families that 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.
The overall impact of the BSA’s policy change on Girl Scouts membership won’t be known any time soon. But one regional leader, Fiona Cummings of Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois, believes the BSA’s decision to admit girls is among the factors that have shrunk her council’s youth membership by more than 500 girls so far this year.
She said relations with the Boy Scouts in her region used to be collaborative and now are “very chilly.”
“How do you manage these strategic tensions?” she asked. “We both need to increase our membership numbers.”
Surbaugh said BSA’s national leadership respected the Girl Scouts’ program and hoped both organizations could gain strength.
“If the best fit for your girl is the Girl Scouts, that’s fantastic,” he said. “If it’s not them, it might be us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.