Constable: You can take the boy out of Boy Scouts and be just fine
My debut column in the Daily Herald in 1988 suggested that the Boy Scouts needed to update their image, stop calling themselves "boys" and make some changes if they wanted to stay viable.
"It's prominent in the suburbs, this feeling that sissies are Boy Scouts," a Scout leader in Palatine told me during that age when we could put the word "sissy" in a headline without giving it much thought.
"C'mon. Get with it. This is the '80s, and it ain't easy attracting kids," I pleaded in that column, urging the Boy Scouts to drop the neckerchiefs and short pants and "change the name to something hip" to keep bullies at bay. "Get Chuck Norris to tell us about all the character-building Scouting has done."
Thirty years later, the Scouts are changing more than I could have imagined. With the decision to allow girls to join next year, Boy Scouts of America announced on Wednesday that it is dropping "boy" from its 108-year-old iconic flagship program and going with the gender-neutral Scouts BSA.
"We're trying to find the right way to say we're here for both young men and young women," Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaught told The New York Times.
Some critics on social media immediately blasted the decision to take the boys out of Boy Scouts as "ridiculous" and "sad."
But it makes sense to me, and to plenty of people who have dedicated years of passion and hard work on behalf of the old Boy Scouts.
"I think it's great," says longtime Scout leader Mike Gutschick, 66, of Lake Zurich, who just organized a successful Pinewood Derby for more than 250 Cub Scouts at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. "Scouting should be inclusive. We have to change the name to reflect what we are. It's just the way forward."
What's hailed as progress in today's society often is criticized by segments of the population who see such advances as sellouts to political correctness.
Some older leaders in the Boy Scouts, often called "Red Coats," might long for the way things used to be, Gutschick says, but the male teenagers he helps in his role as coordinator for Eagle Scouts earning the top Scout honor are all on board with the change.
"They have no problem with it whatsoever," Gutschick says. "The Boy Scouts have been going in this direction."
I had issues with the Boy Scouts when the group openly discriminated against gays. But in 2014, the group removed its ban on gay Scouts, and a year later, it changed rules to allow gay adult leaders and accept transgender people who identified as male.
The Girl Scouts organization, which faces the same declining membership woes as its male counterpart, could be threatened by the all-inclusive Scouts BSA and has not announced any plans to accept boys. But it is a solid organization and continues to offer plenty of programs that appeal to kids. Both groups stress leadership, teamwork and civic responsibility, teach skills and build confidence.
"All these skills you need in the real world," says Gutschick, who adds that he appreciates the chance to bring those opportunities to kids, regardless of gender. "It's progress."
My hope is that, 30 years from now, the Girl Scouts and Scouts BSA will be doing well, and we can read all about that in some newspaper column.