May 13, 2024

Bye-bye Boy Scouts

Observation Point Hill, Medicine Bow NF, Wyoming.
Left to right: Stan Henson, John Bustos (knees) Chris Brasmer, Kenny Pettine.


Cooking breakfast in the Medicine Bow NF. From left:
Chris Brasmer, Kenny Pettine, Scoutmaster Wayne Parsons, R. Peterson, John Bustos
Troop 97, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Now I know how some ex-Catholics must feel. Yep, the Boy Scouts of America made the same mistake, at a smaller scale, as the Roman Catholic hierarchy did. When accusations of sexual abuse came up, they ignored them. They protected the  perpetrators.

The People in Charge put the image and needs of the instutition that paid their salaries ahead of the needs of the people who made up that institution. So BSA ended up with 80,000 abuse cases settled for $2.5 billion — and its image damaged forever. The LDS church, which provided at least 20 percent of all Scouts, pulled out completely. BSA filed for bankruptcy. They also started letting in girls as their male membership dropped.

According to the video linked below, by culture critic Jim Goad, the "pedophile file" of offending Scout leaders dated to 1919, less than ten years after the organization's founding. But it was kept secure at headquarters and not shared with the local Scout troups. 

Just as the church quietly moved Father Fingers, the problem priest, from parish to parish, so BSA did not stop problem leaders from moving from one Scout troop to another. 

Now as of 2025 they will rebrand BSA as "Scouting USA" and to continue to poach girls away from Girl Scouts.

My Scouting memories are mostly good. I was in two Cub Scout packs (due to family moves), two Boy Scout troops (ditto), and too-briefly in one Explorer post, until I moved again. Both Scout troops were traditionally outdoor-oriented, which I think is the key experience. 

The first scoutmaster had a son in the troop. The second did not — at least when I was there —but his job as a recreation staffer on the Roosevelt National Forest let him use us as unpaid outdoor labor, which counted toward various awards. For instance, I learned a little about surveying with a plane-table alildade while helping to lay out a new campground in the Cache la Poudre River canyon. 

On a five-day backpack trip (photos above) from the Medicine Bow NF down into the Rawah Wilderness in northern Colorado, we took turns pushing a measuring wheel as he recorded trail distances junction-to-junction in his pocket notebook,  updating the forest's backcountry trails database. (Question: did he use vacation days or did it count as "work"?)

As for pedophiles, my only experience was of some creep-o trying to pick up 14-year-old me on the bus trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. But he was just a random sexual predator, not a Scout leader. (Maybe I should have sued Continental Trailways?)  

I had no pedophile encounters within Scouting, nor did I hear of any. That is not to deny the actual abuse cases, but only to say that it did not happen everywhere.

I just look back, remember the good times, and wonder how it will all play out in the future. BSA was more good than bad, but the People in Charge drove it into the ground out of their own institutional vanity. Now they think they can save it by abandoning what used to be at its heart.

Writer Jim Goad shares his own memories from the 1970s in the video The Last Boy Scout. (Warning: politically incorrect language and attitudes.)

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