Bring the Scouts back to glory

Michael LaRocca, Associate Opinion Editor

Associate Opinion Editor Michael LaRocca (left) and his brother, Jack (right), have both rose through the ranks of Scouts BSA during their childhoods. (Photo Contributed by Michael LaRocca)

If you are reading this piece, there’s a very good chance that you are ineligible to become a member of Scouts BSA, but that does not mean that you should not support it and its endeavors.

It has not been hard to notice that scouting has seen a stark decline in enrollment over the past decade. According to numbers given to the Associated Press, combined membership for the Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA dipped from 1.97 million members in 2019 to 1.12 million in 2020, a drop of around 43%. For reference, scouting had more than four million members during the 1970s.

As a member of the Eagle Scout Class of 2020, I find the lack of enrollment absolutely appalling. It is upsetting for scouting to have such a sharp decline after seeing how much good it did for me during my teenage years.

Scout troops know about this decline. In fact, it was the main topic of conversation during the meeting to approve my passage to the rank of Eagle Scout. The conclusion the board and I came to was that the world has succumbed to the misconception that the Scouts is not a “cool” activity nowadays.

While it is debatable whether the Scouts appeal to adolescent boys and girls in 2021, there is no denying its sheer practicality and countless objective benefits to the development of young people.

As the oldest of three brothers, I did not have many male role models that were close to myself in age. When I joined the Scouts, I was able to see how that dynamic can affect me in a positive way for the first time.

I vividly remember sitting down in my first meeting with my beloved Troop 140 in Middletown, New Jersey. I saw our senior patrol leader at the time, and realized that was the type of person I wanted to become. I was young, excited and barely knew a single person’s name there, but the aura of the meeting implanted a goal within my mind.

I wanted to be that person people could admire, seek advice from and guide them through life. Five years later, I became that very person when I was promoted to senior patrol leader, essentially the troop’s president, during my junior year of high school. Looking back, there was no other organization I participated in throughout my youth that allowed me to become a leader in the same way the Scouts did.

The first moment where I felt that I was a person other people could look up to came on March 5, 2017. That day was when my younger brother, Jack, made his transition from his Cub Scout pack to the very the Scout troop I had already been a member of for three years. Seeing him follow in my footsteps after guiding him to that point was one of my proudest moments as a brother and as a person. I would not have been able to get that amazing feeling without the world of scouting.

One of the basic aims and methods of scouting is that it is meant to take place outdoors. In a world where many of our young children find themselves cooped up indoors and behind the screens of their tablets, scouting is a healthy outlet for them to explore outside their four walls and neighborhood.

Whether it be a troop meeting in a backyard on a Monday evening or a trip out to New Mexico to see the sprawling beauty of Philmont Scout Ranch, scouting is the best way to take a chance and learn to appreciate the environment we all live in. While I never got around to flying all the way to Philmont, the trips I took with my troop gave me the opportunity to see the wonders of many other locations we would go to as a group.

The appreciation of nature I received through scouting actually played a part in my decision to attend Quinnipiac University. While I was visiting campus as a high school junior, the view of Sleeping Giant State Park in the skyline gave me the sense of home I was looking for at a college campus.

Scouting is also one of the few organizations where practicing use of firearms is a component of its curriculum. With firearms being one of the most hotly debated topics in American politics, the simplest solution is education on gun safety.

According to a study from the University of Washington School of Public Health, only 61% of gun owners had received any proper firearm training.

Instead of putting more emphasis on abstaining from gun use, the scouting program puts more educated young people out into the world. It promotes an understanding of the dangers a firearm poses, how to avoid those dangers and use guns for their intended purpose. In other words, these Scouts learn common sense.

While it can be encouraged, skill with firearms was never the goal. I was absolutely putrid at shooting, but I can confidently say that I am comfortable around firearms and would know how to properly use them, which in the end, was the objective.

These positive aspects of the organization are rarely addressed when scouting is covered in the media. I am wholly aware of the lawsuits filed against Scouts BSA as a result of sexual assault allegations against leaders within scouting. With everything regarding it in mind, the potential for these crimes to occur was so miniscule throughout my 12 years of scouting that they were never a concern for me or any of the other boys I grew up around. While these allegations should be acknowledged, they should not be a worry for any parent who is considering signing their children up for the program.

I am proud to be a  Scout, and there should be no shame in me saying that. Scouting gave me goals to strive for, such as achieving Eagle Scout. It gave me the strong work ethic I hold myself to, a group of friends who hold themselves to those same ideals and the chance to hone my skills as a leader, something I always wanted to be. There is nothing I am more grateful for than the five years I spent as a Cub Scout and my seven-year journey through the scouting trail.

This is what scouting is and should be. What makes scouting uncool to the young men and women of this generation is exactly what made it amazing to our fathers and grandfathers decades before us. Scouting has not lost any of its magic or practicality. Instead, we as a society have to realign our priorities to understand exactly what that magic is, and that it is wholeheartedly practical.

Scouts BSA is not a joke. It is an organization that has done amazing things for the past 111 years, and it will continue to do amazing things because of the motivated young people fueling it. While many of you may not be able to join yourselves, you almost certainly know someone who can. Encourage them to follow the scouting trail. After all, “A Scout is helpful.”