Wesley Chapel just got a serious dose of girl power.
As of last year, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) began accepting girls into its Cub Scouts program, designed for ages 5-10, in the hopes that more families will get involved in the 107-year-old program that fosters leadership and outdoor skills.
The Boy Scouts program that has traditionally served boys 11-17 years of age officially changed its name to “Scouts BSA” in February to reflect the program’s first-ever inclusion of girls, who can now “cross over” from Cub Scouts in February at age 11. The change also allows girls to be eligible to become Eagle Scouts, a coveted title which boosts college applications and offers scholarship opportunities.
Two of the five BSA divisions, Venturing (adventure activities for ages 14-17) and Exploring (career skills for ages 10-20), were already co-ed, but many parents have been lobbying for their girls’ chance to become Eagle Scouts for years.
“It shows that they have leadership skills, that they can multitask on projects and serve their community,” said Robert Hall, scoutmaster of Troop 33, which operates out of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church on Collier Pkwy in Land O’Lakes. “It’s about more than just checking the boxes; they have to be Eagles in their hearts, concerned with others besides themselves.”
Scouts must achieve the Life rank (BSA’s highest rank), earn 21 merit badges and execute a corporate-level service project before getting a chance at Eagle. They are judged by an adult review board before a final decision is made. Only four percent of all Scouts achieve the honor.
Hall’s troop of 52 young men expanded by 40 members when another Troop, Troop 34, crossed over from Cub Scouts during a formal ceremony in February. Three girls from Wesley Chapel – Lexi Zink, Paisley Murphy and Katherine Traynor — were among 11 girls to make history.
“Scouts BSA really empowers our girls to be whatever they want to be, that they’re just as capable as the boys,” said Brandi Zink, Lexi’s mother. “It takes them out of their phones and outside, and in today’s world, the lessons they’re learning are priceless.”
Lexi — whom Hall describes as “scrappy and outgoing” — felt right at home from the beginning.
“It’s not any different for her, because she hangs out with boys anyway,” said Brandi, who serves as assistant scoutmaster in her daughter’s troop. “She did a lot of this stuff with her brother when he did scouts, and she was always right there with him, digging in the dirt, going on camping trips.”
Zink’s 13-year-old son, Caleb, helped develop Lexi’s fearless attitude, which is readily apparent, despite her unusually small stature. He and several other boys include Lexi in their bike rides to the park, basketball games and other outdoor activities.
“Girls are always just as good as boys,” said Lexi, who plays on a traveling lacrosse team with much older girls and hopes a college scholarship to play lacrosse will help her become a veterinarian. “If there’s something that the boys can do, we can do it too, and we can probably do it better.”
Sharing The Spirit Of Adventure
Paisley Murphy and Katherine Traynor, both 11, also are new Troop 33/34 members hailing from Wesley Chapel. Unlike Lexi, they transitioned from Girl Scouts, longing for more adventure.
“Being in Scouts BSA feels better, because Girl Scouts was pretty boring,” said Paisley, whose uncle was an Eagle Scout. “They sing, do arts and crafts, play hopscotch . . . I wanted to do archery, canoeing and horseback riding!”
Paisley invited a friend of hers to join too, but the friend’s mother wouldn’t allow it.
Brandi Zink says she has received some negative feedback for allowing her daughter to join Scouts BSA. A neighbor down her street disapproves of letting girls do “boy things”; the parents of one of Lexi’s girlfriends asked if Brandi was trying to take a political stand.
“I could care less about making a point; she’s doing this because she’s a natural-born leader and she wants to,” said Brandi. “She likes arts and crafts fine, but she would just rather be doing them outside with a saw and hammer, instead of inside with glitter and glue.”
Katherine, whose dad and uncle were Eagle Scouts, says that other girls who want to make the leap shouldn’t be afraid to follow their dreams.
“In Girl Scouts, all we did was talk about cookies and cookie sales,” Katherine said. “We had a choice between camping for three days and going to Legoland for just one day, and they chose Legoland. It was sad!”
Troop 33/34 is the only one in the greater Pasco County area so far to include girls, and the troop’s weekly Tuesday meeting on March 26 was election night; Scouts BSA meetings are run entirely by the scouts themselves.
Lesser positions, such as historian/scribe, consist only of the candidates standing at the front of the room and determining the winner by applause.
Two young men competed for historian; one of them, fresh out of Cub Scouts, shook hands after the older one was chosen; the younger boy congratulated the winner for a job well done.
“After the Cub Scouts cross over (to Scouts BSA), they leave an adult-run structure and become the decision makers themselves,” said Hall. “We have a patrol leader committee, which will have girls, too, when they get into the swing of things. (The committee) runs the meetings, decides what trips we’re going on, stuff like that.”
The troop’s last decision of the night? Senior Patrol Leader, also known as SPL. This top-dog position — one for the girls and one for the boys — is the person the group looks to for leadership, conflict resolution and anything else that may arise.
Normal requirements for SPL are to be ranked first class or above and be at least 14 years old; but because this is the first year for the girls, those requirements were waived for them. A new SPL is elected every six months.
Lexi hadn’t realized the rules didn’t apply to her; when she discovered she could run after all, she lit up from the inside, and confidently decided to run, despite no preparation time.
The tiny tomboy stood tall at the microphone, making up a speech on the spot as to why she was the right one for the job. She answered some very intense, thoughtful questions from the more experienced boys;the process was strikingly similar to a presidential town hall debate.
“To me, it’s not as if they’re girl or boy scouts; (they’re all) just scouts, and I’m not going to treat the girls differently,” said Hall. “All our girls want to be Eagles, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they all get there.”
Despite her last-minute candidacy, Lexi was swiftly elected the troop’s first-ever female SPL.
For more information about Scouts BSA Troop 33/34, call Tina Raymond at (727) 858-5885 or visit ladyrosary.org/cub-boy-scouts. For general information about Scouts BSA, visit Scouting.org/scoutsbsa/.