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Policy change spells end of Scouting, for some

Most chartering organizations to continue Scouting relationship

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 10:06 pm

Beneath a white cross, they work.

The six youths of Boy Scout Troop 442 break a sweat as they fell dead ash trees and clear a pond of out-of-control vegetation.

Standing tall and thin, 17-year-old David Willig leads his fellow Scouts in completing his Eagle Scout project at Safety Village, an educational playground that teaches youth about safety. Miniature houses and businesses fill the space, along with a single, white church.

Earning Eagle Scout has been Willig's goal since he joined Boy Scouts 10 years ago. The home-school student has until his 18th birthday to finish the long list of requirements, and barring any major hiccups, he should achieve the rank by year's end.

But that's time the other Scouts don't have.

Heartland Church, 1025 Vance Ave., has chartered Troop 442 since 1999. Once a large group, the troop now has about 20 youth, about three of whom worship at Heartland.

Leaders of Troop 442 are choosing to not continue with Scouting when their charter expires at the end of the year.

The Boy Scouts of America was no longer a good fit, troop leaders say, when the national body changed its membership standards to not deny membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” National delegates voted 757-475 in May to adopt the new membership policy.

Troop leaders met the Monday after the national vote to decide how it would affect their troop. It was a fairly clear-cut decision, committee member Gary Willig, David's father, said.

“The principle is why,” Gary Willig said. “It's just in direct conflict with biblical view of practicing homosexuality and calling it OK.”

BSA is still working out policy and procedural details in light of the resolution, ahead of the Jan. 1 implementation.

Scout executive John Gliot said three chartering organizations in the Anthony Wayne Area Council – which works with more than 100 charter partners in 11 counties – have expressed interest in leaving Scouting, with only one making a firm decision to do so.

“Our primary message is the Boy Scouts of America is here to provide the program to young people,” Gliot said. “We were doing that before the change, and we're doing it after.”

For Troop 442, whose leaders — supported by Heartland— decided to not continue Scouting after this year, much will remain the same, with a few changes. There will be no more popcorn sales, because part of the proceeds goes to the national body. No summer camp with other troops.

But the boys of Troop 442 will still work toward their badges and rankings until the end of the year. They'll still go on camping trips, like the one the Scouts are on this week at Turkey Run State Park in Bloomingdale, Ind.

Fifteen of the troop's Scouts are on the weeklong trip filled with hiking, canoeing and horseback riding. It's in lieu of the summer camp that Troop 442 usually attends along with many other area troops. It also is the last big camping trip the boys will take together.

Troop leadership will meet in October to determine the next step for the Scouts of Troop 442. What happens to the Scouts' bond after that remains unknown.

David Willig says the national ruling conflicts with the pledge the Scouts make to be “morally straight.”

“Most of the guys in this troop think the new resolution is complete bullcrap,” Willig said.

He helped the boys as they sawed down overgrowth and dragged dead branches to the back of a flatbed. He moved them along from project to project, keeping them on task.

Scouting's highest rank is also on the minds of some of the younger Scouts. They want to follow the path defined by their older brothers who have already ascended to Eagle Scout.

Mark Spaulding, 11, stands beside his friend Thomas Wegmann, 12.

They've been in Scouting for just more than a year and often are paired as “buddies” in group activities. They looked forward to summer camp, especially free shooting. Less so: today's manual labor.

They want to achieve the star rank by the end of the year, which means more service hours and more badges.

“You just have to keep working up to the end,” Wegmann, Boy Scout First Class, said. Neither plans to join another troop when Troop 442 disbands.

As Scouting buddies, the two boys will often pair up and share a tent. Spaulding, Boy Scout Second Class, recalled a wilderness survival trip where the Scouts had to build their own shelter. A strong storm collapsed a fellow Scout's structure and forced four boys into the same tent.

“If you were like a buddy, and he's gay, how could you sleep with him?” Spaulding said. “But you couldn't leave him by himself. That would be wrong. What are you supposed to do with him?”

Spaulding looks down, silent, running his foot over the wood chips beneath him. He has no answer.

It's an issue that his father, Craig, said remains unresolved. He's been an assistant Scoutmaster for 12 years and is the proud parent of two Eagle Scouts. He and Gary Willig joined the boys on Willig's Eagle Scout project, installing white window trim on a few of the miniature houses.

“You'd never put a boy and a girl in a tent, so why would you put a (straight) boy and a gay boy in a tent?” he said.

The idea that he or the troop is gay bashing is false, he said. Craig, who himself has a gay brother, said it's a lifestyle he doesn't agree with. He doesn't take issue with gays living the way they want, only with BSA changing its values.

“They're redefining what morally straight is. You just can't just redefine morality.”

* * *

“I've done more work than you've done in your entire life,” Wegmann jabs at Spaulding.

“Yeah, right.”

Spaulding scrubs out a blue work bucket. “All right, I did this half. You do the other.”

Wegmann makes his way over, motioning for the bucket.

It's part of the back of forth between the two boys, between most members of the group really. Earlier, they laughed about the television character Dora the Explorer. They took a moment to watch a hatchling hop from branch to branch. Together, they helped push Willig closer to achieving his final rank.

Spaulding knows he won't make it there, though he has no plans to seek another troop.

Gliot said the council will aid those wanting to continue with Scouting, matching Scouts with new troops and troops with new chartering organizations.

Troop 442 leaders continue the search for an organization more in line with their beliefs, Gary said, one that keeps moral and ethical standards high.

“You have to have standards some place,” he said. “You have to know God's word has a say. You have to take a moral stand.”

Mark and his father will see what new options develop in the new year. In the meantime, Mark will be lucky to jump two ranks by the end of the year.

He can't help but wonder as he presses the wood chips beneath his feet.

“What's the point anymore?”