The pushback was immediate, taking David Kemper, CEO of the Ore-Idaho Council of Boy Scouts of America, by surprise.
"They thought it was the end of the world. Some said it shook the Boy Scouts to its very core," said Kemper, whose council encompasses hundreds of Cub and Boy Scout packs and troops spread over 14 tcounties in southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon.
Kemper wasn't talking about the Boy Scouts of America's recent name-change announcement or its decision to accept girls. Instead, he was referring to 1988, when the BSA said it would begin recruiting women into leadership positions, including scoutmasters, ending a male-only policy. At the time, Kemper had just joined the BSA executive ranks in a Chicago suburb following a previous career in accounting. He went on to assume other BSA executive roles in West Virginia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, in that order, and ultimately assumed the top job at the Ore-Idaho council in 2006.
"Right now, we have about 14,000 kids in more than 550 packs or troops in the Ore-Idaho Council," he said.
While Kemper has helped manage a number of previous changes in the last 30 years, none has been more dramatic than the most recent developments, including the decision to change the organization's name next February from the Boy Scouts of America to Scouts BSA. The move comes in the wake of the program's other major decision: to include young women in its ranks for the first time.
"Think for a moment of the scout pledge: 'A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, etc.' It doesn't say, 'A male scout is trustworthy, loyal and helpful,'" said Kemper. "Now, think of today's families. They're more complex. There's really no reason that our program simply fits a boy or a girl. There's nothing that they all can't do. Girls want to go camping, they want to shoot, they want to climb, they want to hike, they want that outdoor adventure that is the main core of what the Boy Scouts have always been about."
None of the packs or troops in the Ore-Idaho council include girls yet, but Kemper expects the change to happen in early 2019.
"We want to do it right, so we took our time. Each chartered organization can decide how they want to be structured," he said.
To be clear, Kemper said each Cub and Boy scout pack or troop that accepts girls will create separate sub-divisions, with a group for boys and a separate group for girls.
Boise City Councilwoman Holli Woodings, who also happens to be the board chair of Girl Scouts of Silver Sage, which includes about 3,700 girls in central and southern Idaho, has one main question about the Boy Scouts' recruitment of girls: Why?
"Why would they do this? I think it really devalues the role of single-gender environments when kids are exploring things like STEM or taking risks in the outdoors," said Woodings. "Girl Scouts have known how to do this for 106 years. We have all the best research, really keeping us up to date on making our program relevant. And now we have this competing organization? We have always served girls and we always will serve girls. This is where girls can really get out of their regular societal box and take risks, doing something they wouldn't necessarily do in other mixed-gender environments."
Woodings, who joined the Girls Scouts when she was in the fourth grade, isn't the only scout on the Boise City Council. Fellow councilwoman Lisa Sanchez said she's also a proud Girl Scout and remains active in the organization.
"People like astronaut Barbara Morgan and Idaho State Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb—we're all Girl Scouts," said Woodings. "What the world needs now is more women leaders and Girl Scouts is the organization that starts building those leaders."
While the Girl Scouts consider the real possibility of losing some of their ranks to what they see as a "competitor," the Boy Scouts have to grapple with a dilemma of their own: the stunning May 8 announcement from the Mormon Church that it will end its 100-year relationship with BSA.
"Eighty percent of our membership in the Ore-Ida Council is chartered or sponsored by the LDS church," said Kemper, adding that the Boy Scouts were expecting the announcement, but were caught off guard by its timing. "Here in our region, I can tell you that yes, we're obviously going to be serving less kids. Our council will need to transform from the way we look today to looking more like [what] other Boy Scout councils look like, say back on the East coast. Here in southern Idaho, we serve a higher density of kids in packs and troops sponsored by the LDS church. That's going to change."
Kemper said his organization will spend the better part of the next year—the LDS church said it will officially cut ties in December 2019—organizing new units to replace existing LDS-sponsored troops.
"It's just going to take us some time. We've got some behind-the-scenes operational changes to make," he said. "That said, it's an interesting time for us because we'll be organizing new dens and packs for girls. Sisters want to compete with their brothers to do the same things, and parents want their daughters to do some of the same activities their sons are doing. I think it will be exciting going forward."