Column: Boy Scouts are simply trying to survive

Boy Scouts salute during a “camporee” in 2011 in Sea Girt, N.J. The Boy Scouts of America announced last week that it will admit girls starting next year. (Mel Evans/AP)

Boy Scouts salute during a “camporee” in 2011 in Sea Girt, N.J. The Boy Scouts of America announced last week that it will admit girls starting next year. (Mel Evans/AP)

I have vague recollections from my freshman year of everyone at Washington High School in Phoenix leaving class to go stand on Glendale Avenue so we could wave to President Gerald Ford as his motorcade drove past.

Turns out Ford was on his way to address the Society of Professional Journalists. It would be there that he would give a remarkable defense of the Boy Scouts of America.

I’ll get to that a little later.

Last week, the Scouts announced they will begin accepting girls into their programs next year. Reactions to our plea on Facebook to find a local girl interested in joining the Scouts was pretty much all against. And, as is often the case in online forums, some of the remarks were rude, bordering on cruel.

Change is hard, breaking long-established traditions is never easy. You have to have a really good reason for a major makeover. The BSA does, it’s dying.

In 1972 — two years before President Ford gave his speech — membership in the Boy Scouts of America peaked at about 6.5 million. It has been in decline since.

In 1998, it was 4.8 million. A decade later is was 2.8 million. Membership dropped to 2.35 million in 2015. Keep that in mind when you criticize BSA for looking for ways to expand its membership.

Instead of blasting them, ask why parents and children no longer want to be part of the BSA. Some will no doubt blame the gays, but the Scouts were in decline long before that became an issue. Trail Life USA, which started as a Christian alternative to the Scouts after the older organization voted to allow gays and transgender people join, has 26,000 members this year. So, while that likely plays some role, it’s not the only reason.

It’s a shame, because it’s easy to admire the goals of the Scouts. It taught service to others, love of God, love of country and to remember that everyone is God’s creation, and to treat everyone with respect. Everyone would include even those of a different gender, or race, or religion, or even political party.

Go look at online comments on any post, and you’ll see we could definitely use more respect for others.

Back to that Ford speech. The president was being criticized for being too civil during that Nov. 14, 1974, convention in Phoenix.

A journalist asked this question:

“Mr. President … Senator Dole suggested that you shed your Boy Scout image and get tough with Congress and, if necessary, go over their heads. … What will be your tactics?”

President Ford: “Well, let me preface the answer. … I was a Boy Scout. I am proud of that experience. I have no apologies for it. I think they have done a great deal of good for lots of young people, and I am not going to back off from the 5 or 6 years that I enjoyed being a Boy Scout and doing the things that I think are good for America. Now, to answer your other question. I wish there would be a lot more Boy Scouts.”

Less than a month later President Ford attended the Boy Scouts Annual Awards Dinner, and he said:

“It has recently been said that I am too much of a Boy Scout in the way I have conducted myself as president, and so I reviewed the Boy Scout laws and Boy Scout oath. They say that a Scout is ‘trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.’ … Well, if these are not the goals of the people of the United States, what they want their president to live up to, then … either you have the wrong man or I have the wrong country.”