With Boy Scouts of America’s move to open its ranks to girls for the first time in the organization’s more than 100 years of existence, girls-only troops are forming in the Shawnee Mission area.
Tom Pistorius is scoutmaster of one of the three girls-only troops already formed here in the Shawnee Mission area. So far, the troop has 13 members ages 11 to 14. As a scoutmaster for the past 18 years, Pistorius said he was thrilled with the recent change, which went into effect place Feb. 1.
“I knew that date was coming, but I didn’t want to wait until Feb. 1 to start recruiting,” he said. “My daughter, I think, would have loved to have done this. As soon as I heard the girls were going to be coming into the Scouts, I jumped at the chance to help organize this.”
Pistorius leads Troop 6091 (To avoid confusion between troops, Pistorius’s troop informally goes by Troop 91 Girls because there’s a Troop 91 boys-only group in the area as well).
Camping out — ‘rain or shine or snow’
Before becoming officially chartered, his troop started informally gathering each month at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village. Now, they meet once a week and enjoy monthly service projects and campouts as well — rain or shine or snow.
As part of the recent change, the organization changed its name to Scouts BSA. And the rules are just a bit different: All girls-only excursions and activities require a female leader to be present. Pistorius said he is looking for more adult volunteers, especially women. All volunteers receive training twice a year in youth protection.
Locally, the boys and girls troops often participate in co-ed activities together, such as campouts and service projects, Pistorius said. And the girls follow the same track of programming and leadership opportunities as boys to become Eagle Scouts.
The troop also participates in lock-ins, volunteer trips and, when the summer hits, a weeklong summer camp. Next month, Pistorius’s troop will also go shotgun-shooting on a campout near Smithville Lake in conjuction with a project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to test potability of the lake’s water stations.
‘All about developing leadership’
Once the troop picks up momentum, these scouting activities will be “entirely Scout-led,” he said.
“I’m scoutmaster, but what I will eventually get into is I will go to meetings and not say anything,” Pistorius said. “The leader — what we call the senior patrol leader — she will run the meeting. It’s all about developing leadership, developing the ability to get up in front of a group and speak.”
The Shawnee Trails district, which encompasses the Shawnee Mission School District area, has more than 40 boys troops with more than 3,000 boys enrolled in various program. In that context, the first three girls troops don’t seem like much, Pistorius said. But he expects that to change as young women become more aware of the growth and leadership opportunities in scouting. Nonetheless, there has been “some resistance,” he said.
“There’s been some ruffled feathers. Some of the old Boy Scout leaders, they haven’t been as welcoming of the girls as you might imagine,” Pistorius said. “But I just think it’s an incredible opportunity. And what better way to let girls learn that leadership and public speaking, scouts skills, earn the Eagle rank — things that are going to help them through their whole life?”