DALLAS — The Boy Scouts of America is trying to recruit a new generation of kids to join its troops with high-energy, high-tech activities that include thrill-inducing zip lines at a new adventure camp, apps and a television show.
Wayne Brock, one of two new Boy Scout leaders named this week, told The Associated Press that the organization founded in 1910 has refocused on reaching children whose attention is increasingly pulled in a myriad of different directions by a host of alternate activities.
The Boy Scouts' membership peaked in 1972 at almost 5 million. Last year, they had about 2.7 million youth members, down slightly from about 2.8 million in 2007. Brock said the group has been working hard in the past five years to draw in new members, and he will continue that effort.
"We have a saying — 'the main thing.' When we say 'the main thing' we're talking about providing a quality Scouting experience to an ever-increasing number of youth," he said. "So our challenge is to continue to remain a relevant and exciting program for the young people."
An Eagle Scout who has worked for the Boy Scouts for 40 years, Brock noted there was a time when leaders thought Scouts should leave their cellphones behind when they headed out on hikes. Now, though, the thought is why not bring them along?
"What difference does it make whether you stop and identify a plant ... by opening up a book or do you bring up an app on a phone?" Brock asked. The school of thought has changed so much there's now an app for The Boy Scout Handbook.
Brock, who was named chief Scout executive, the top professional in the Texas-based organization, and Wayne Perry, who was named the group's national president, the top volunteer leader, also touted a new camp set to open next year in West Virginia's New River Gorge region.
When it opens, the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, located on more than 10,000 acres of forested mountains, will be the home of the national Scout jamboree.
"The goal is to make it extremely exciting. Make it safe, but make it perceived to be dangerous. We have some zip lines there that I guarantee you no adult will go on. And some climbing walls that are very safe but I think a lot of adults are going to say 'you first,'" said Perry, co-owner of the Seattle Mariners and chief executive officer of Shotgun Creek Investments.
Another goal is to inspire Scout leaders to make similar additions to camps back home. The key to building membership, Perry said, is "break through all of the fog that kids face today on things that occupy their time and get them engaged."
"When the world is such that the average young person spends an inordinate amount of time in front of a video game, what we represent is a change from that," Perry said. "Once we get them, they say, 'Hey this is fun.' Is it a great challenge to get them engaged? Yes. Do we have any trouble once we get them? No."
Michael Jargowsky, of Sea Isle City, N.J., who has been a Scoutmaster for 14 years, said he thinks the Boy Scouts have done a good job of evolving. Jargowsky noted a Boy Scout camp that has traditional activities like hiking and learning how to start a campfire now also offers such things as digital photography and robotics.
"If we do want to keep these kids — although they love the physical stuff — we also have to marry in the Internet with it and that's what the Scouts are really starting to do well I think," Jargowsky said.