Clovis News: Sports

Boy Scouts may have to change to survive

Monday evening, in a classroom inside the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building, Wesley Her learned how to tie a square knot.

Right over left. Left over right.

Her even got it on the first try.

"That was good," said the fifth-grader at Dry Creek Elementary.

It was Her's first Boy Scout meeting as a member of Troop 60. Learning the square knot is one of the the basic requirements to attain the entry level rank of Scout.

If Her, who turns 11 in April, grows up to be a doctor, he'll use a square knot to tie off sutures.

If he grows up to be anything else, says an outdoors writer, he'll learn that square knots aren't good for much besides tying plastic garbage bags and short shoelaces.

"Boy Scouts have a reputation for teaching good character and values," said Mang Thao, Wesley's mom. "He didn't want to join at first, but after he saw the slideshow they showed at recruitment day, he was like, 'OK, I'll try it.' "

Wesley probably doesn't realize this, but he's going against the trend.

The Boy Scouts of America turned 100 years old this month, which should be cause for celebration. Except it's really not. With enrollment in steady decline for decades, how can it be?

According to the BSA's own figures (which some believe are inflated), the current membership of 2.9 million is half what it was in 1972. And since 1998, membership has dropped 12% in Boy Scouts and 25% in Cub Scouts.

With declines like that, it's fair to ask whether Scouting will survive the next 100 years.

I don't say that flippantly or without a tinge of sadness. Because even though this Eagle Scout staunchly disagrees with the BSA on the two issues that have brought the organization gobs of negative attention -- its discriminatory stances against homosexuals and atheists -- my own experiences could not have been more positive.

Scouting was more than camping and cooking in the outdoors. It taught me how to be environmentally responsible and engaged with the natural world.

Scouting was more than good deeds like helping old ladies across the street. It taught me about volunteerism and good citizenship.

Scouting was more than working with other boys my age. It taught me leadership skills I probably couldn't have learned anyplace else.

But that was a long time ago, when this country wasn't quite so polarized.

Remember the 2000 Democratic National Convention, when some California delegates openly booed a Boy Scout color guard? My, how times have changed.

So to get a better sense of what Boy Scouts are up to today, I attended a few scouting functions.

And you know what? They all felt comfortingly familiar.

Troop 60 meetings begin with a presentation of colors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a group recital of the Scout Oath and Law. (The Oath contains the praise "duty to God" and the Law includes "reverent" as one of its 12 points. Though the exact nature of God is never defined.)

What followed wasn't a discussion about religion or morality but something much more tangible: this weekend's outing to the Kingsburg Gun Club, where the boys will work on the shotgun shooting merit badge.

The evening also included elections for Order of the Arrow (a Boy Scout honor society), a spirited game of Steal the Bacon and much adolescent chatter and fidgeting.

In short, it was exactly how I remembered.

Here's the aspect of Boy Scouts that its detractors often forget: National policies, which are unduly influenced by conservative groups like the Mormon church, whose members make up nearly 20% of all Scouts, don't necessarily trickle down to the local level.

In short, there's a troop out there where anyone will feel welcome. Unless, of course, you're homosexual or an avowed atheist.

There can be no doubt that Boy Scouts are a reflection of society. And some segments will always be resistent to change.

But for this invaluable organization to survive another 100 years, it'll almost certainly have to.