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Father Shortage: Scout Troop Barred From Camp : Mothers Offer to Serve as Substitute Scoutmasters, but Run Afoul of Male-Only Policy

June 18, 1987|ANN JAPENGA | Times Staff Writer

GOLETA, Calif. — This is the tale of Troop 129, the troop that didn't get to go to Boy Scout camp.

Now what, you may wonder, would it take for an entire group of boys to be excluded from this hallowed tradition? Did they profane a merit badge, or make illicit use of a knot-tying technique?

No, the nine boys of Troop 129 will not be attending camp this summer because they can claim only four fathers among them.

Every troop must supply its own supervisors at camp; and those supervisors must be men. But Troop 129--with its nine mothers and only four fathers--didn't have enough male adults to juggle a week of supervision at camp.

'No Daddy, No Camp'

Alan Hutchison of the Santa Barbara area Boy Scout council said he tried to solve the problem by offering to let the boys join a squadron of individual campers without troops of their own. "I think we did everything we possibly could to accommodate them (Troop 129)," he said.

But Troop 129 isn't satisfied. Gail Weidaw, who is a single parent and the mother of 12-year-old Mike, said she feels the Boy Scouts are saying to the boys: "If you don't have a daddy, you can't go to camp."

Last week, Phyllis Gibson was prepared to cope with heat, snakes and 260 Boy Scouts at Camp Rancho Alegre, just as she has for the last five years she has served as a camp supervisor.

Mothers like Gibson have been filling in as supervisors at Camp Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp for several years. But this summer the Santa Barbara area Boy Scout council chose to enforce a long-standing policy barring women from the camp in leadership positions. (Women are allowed to participate as drivers, cooks, trouble-shooters, etc.)

Last Friday (the troop was to have left for camp on Sunday), Gibson came across a letter from the local Boy Scout headquarters stuffed into a packet distributed to parents. "Bear in mind the National BSA policy that adult troop leadership is a men-only situation," the letter read. "The Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster must be male. Anyone who may be temporary substitute for the Scoutmaster in camp must also be male and over 21 years of age."

Gibson's reaction was to pick up the phone and try to round up some men so that her son Chad, 15, and his troop could go to camp as they'd been planning for months. Scoutmaster Don Marsh, who is self-employed, said he was not able to take the week off from work. One father Gibson called was out with a back problem, another was busy starting a new business. Gibson, a 38-year-old single mother who was divorced nine years ago, joked in an interview at her Goleta home that she even considered getting married to solve the troop leader shortage.

Gibson said that this is not the first time Troop 129 has had difficulty in finding enough men to fill the roles that scouting activity requires. She suspects that with increasing numbers of single-parent households, the father-shortage will become an even greater dilemma in scouting.

"It's been getting harder and harder to keep the troop operating because we have fewer and fewer men," said Gibson, an administrative assistant at UC Santa Barbara. With no male available to step into the scoutmaster's role next year, she said, Troop 129 may be forced to disband. (Women are barred from being Scoutmasters, a policy that is being challenged in at least one ongoing court case.)

"I'm not out trying to change Boy Scouts of America," Gibson said. "I think the male influence is wonderful. I love the whole idea. But there are instances when it's not possible to fill those roles with men."

Barclay Bollas, spokesman for the national office of the Boy Scouts in Irving, Tex., said that the male leader rule is nothing new, in fact it's been around since 1910. "We feel that boys at that age--11, 12, 13--should have the opportunity to associate with a positive male role model and we offer a way for them to do that," he said.

Male Influence Sought

Bollas added that many single mothers enroll their children in Boy Scouts specifically seeking the male influence they are missing at home.

Alan Hutchison of the Santa Barbara area Boy Scout council, said that the parents of Troop 129 were informed in letters mailed as long as six months ago that women would not be supervising at camp this year. (Gibson said that with all her duties as a single mother, keeping up with dispatches from the Boy Scouts of America is not a priority.)

Hutchison said that in past years, the council didn't know that women would be serving as troop leaders until they arrived at camp. While the women leaders were never directly told they were not welcome, their presence was never officially authorized, he said.

Hutchison said the leaderless boys of Troop 129 could have gone to camp as part of a provisional group made up of scouts from various troops. But Gibson said the parents did not want their boys in the provisional troop, which, she said, has a reputation for being rowdy and poorly supervised.

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