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No longer loyal to Boy Scouts of America, boys join Trail Life

By Nomaan Merchant

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 3 2014 10:06 p.m. MST

Most of them didn't know all of the words yet, and the group lost steam after the first line. As the boys started to giggle and look around at each other, one of their leaders shouted, "Start over!" and helped them finish it.

They then sat down for a religious talk from their adult Trailmaster, Philip Buchholz. He told them that it was important for them to stay true to who they are.

"You're the salt of the earth," Buchholz told the boys, quoting Matthew 5:13. "The salt was a preservative. You guys, being the salt of the earth, are a preservative."

He asked them for examples of salt's uses, and then issued an apt challenge.

"If salt loses its saltiness, how is (the Earth) going to be preserved?"

Trail Life has just seven paid staffers so far. It is still working through signing up new units and building the infrastructure that a national youth organization will need. The organization is relying on a $325 chartering fee for new units, as well as membership fees, merchandise sales and some private donations.

Stemberger says he's heartened by the "organic" growth so far and predicts more Scouts will defect, particularly if BSA eventually opens its doors to openly gay adult leaders. "When they do that, we'll be in a position to see real growth," he said.

The boys and their parents are still getting used to a world of new names, new ranks and new uniforms that haven't arrived yet. They hold up five fingers while reciting their oath, instead of three. Scouts are now "Trailmen," and troops are now units. There is a new handshake and a new salute.

Trail Life has issued a chart to help transfer Scouting ranks into Trail Life ranks. It has a handbook that covers camping, knots and other skills familiar to any Scout. To achieve the Freedom Award, boys will choose subjects for a "major" and two "minors," something Trail Life organizers hope will give the boys new opportunities to learn and challenge themselves.

"I see all of these elements working together to truly build upon the foundation they received in Boy Scouts and maybe go to a new standard as they move forward in Trail Life," Orr said.

It will be years before the parents know if the change and their effort were worth it.

After Buchholz's talk about Scripture, another adult leader, Joshua White, announced the winner of the vote that opened their meeting: to rename the box-car races known nationwide by Scouts as the Pinewood Derby. The winning name for the Derby was the Trail Life Grand Prix, and the boy who suggested the name won a patch to be sewn onto his formal uniform, once it's ready.

The boys then broke off into age groups. The oldest teenagers discussed the unit's first camp, scheduled for April. The youngest 5- and 6-year-old boys talked to an adult about what to do if they got lost at the mall. Others played games in the parking lot outside, running around and shouting joyfully on a cold evening.

White wasn't a Boy Scout growing up, but went to high school with Eagle Scouts whom he admired greatly. "From pretty much that point on, I knew I wanted my son to be a part of that," he said. His son, now 11, joined Cub Scouts and soon shared his dad's dream.

But the policy on gays changed that.

Sitting next to Orr during the meeting, White began to cry as he described what his son said: "I wanted to go with what God would want."

His voice wavered.

"It made it clear that we had taught him what he needed to know," he said.

Follow Nomaan Merchant on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant.

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