- The Washington Times - Friday, December 25, 2009

POCONO SUMMIT, Pa.

A fifth-generation Boy Scout, 11-year-old Brad Corr is steeped in all the lore and tradition: the Scout Oath and Scout Law, campcraft and community service, the daily doing of good deeds.

If he were recruiting a friend for the Scouts, though, what would be his best pitch? “We got to build catapults and launch pumpkins from them.”

Old-fashioned fun is part of the Scout heritage. So is doing one’s duty to God and country. And so too is controversy. As the Boy Scouts of America heads toward its 100th anniversary in February, its first century adds up to a remarkable saga, full of achievement and complexity.

On one hand, no other U.S. youth organization has served as many boys - an estimated 112 million over the years - and is so deeply ingrained in the Norman Rockwell version of American popular culture. It can boast of a congressional charter and a string of U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, serving as its honorary leader.

On the other hand, in the courts and the public arena, the BSA has doggedly defended its right to exclude gays and atheists from its ranks, overriding requests from some local units to soften those policies.

“We do have folks who say we probably should rethink this,” said Bob Mazzuca, the chief Scout executive. “We can agree to disagree on a particular issue and still come together for the common good.”

The Scouts — though their numbers have dropped in recent decades — remain a pervasive presence across America, vibrant in many suburbs and heartland towns, pressing minority recruitment campaigns in urban areas where enrollment often has lagged. Mr. Mazzuca and others in the Scouts’ extended family view the centennial as an opportunity to look forward as well as back.

“We’re going to reintroduce folks to the impact Scouting has made and the reality that Scouting is more essential today than it’s ever been before,” he said.

No centennial campaign is needed to convince the Corr family that Scouting is essential. They’ve been engaged since 1928, when Edgar Corr became scoutmaster of Troop P-2 in Easton, Pa., and his son, Andrew, became one of the Scouts.

Andrew’s son, Ted Corr, now 71, became a Scout in 1950 and remains active as a unit commissioner. Warren Corr, Ted’s 40-year-old son, earned his Eagle Scout rank in 1987 and has served in various leadership posts since then. And Brad, Warren’s son, joined the Cub Scouts in 2004 and graduated to the Boy Scouts last February as a member of Troop 29 in Forks Township, Pa.

A sixth-grader, Brad is a Tenderfoot, the first rank a Scout can earn, with the ambitious goal of becoming an Eagle Scout within three years.

Some of Brad’s friends are in the Scouts, others have dropped out or never joined. A common refrain from many families in Troop 29’s area and nationwide, is that they just don’t have the time for Scouting.

For the Corrs, though, forgoing Scouting isn’t an option - even with Brad playing soccer, basketball and lacrosse, as well as cello and drums in the school band.

“Scouting gives enough flexibility that boys can do all kinds of activities — it’s not one or the other,” said Warren Corr.

For the boys, he said, a big draw is “doing some cool stuff.” But as a former Scout turned adult leader, he sees a bigger picture.

“It’s about leadership, the confidence that comes with accomplishing something, the service to your country and community,” he said. “When you’re in Scouting, even three or four years of it sticks with you for the rest of your life.”

Ted Corr, the family patriarch, joined son Warren and grandson Brad for an in-depth discussion of Scouting at Camp Minsi, a 1,200-acre Scout facility in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

The biggest changes he’s seen in 60 years of Scouting?

“Aerospace and computer merit badges,” Ted Corr replied. “As a kid growing up in the 1940s, who’d have thought it?”

And the worst change? Ted Corr brandished his cell phone.

“They take these on camping trips now,” he grumbled good-naturedly.

Had cell phones existed in 1909, or the Global Positioning System devices that Scouts now sometimes use for orienteering, perhaps the Boy Scouts of America wouldn’t have come to be - at least not in the manner depicted in the BSA’s hallowed story of the “Unknown Scout.”

According to this tale, American businessman William Boyce became lost in the London fog, and was guided to his destination by a helpful youth. When Boyce offered a tip, the boy replied that he was a Scout (the organization was formed in Britain in 1907) and couldn’t accept money for doing a good turn.

Boyce was so impressed that he studied up on British scouting and incorporated the BSA on Feb. 8, 1910.

During World War I, Scouts contributed on the U.S. home front by selling bonds and planting war gardens. They expanded their efforts in World War II, collecting rubber and aluminum, distributing civil defense posters, assisting fire brigades.

The BSA grew steadily, with membership peaking at more than 6 million boys and adult leaders in 1972. As of 2008, the total had dropped below 4 million - 2.83 million boys and 1.13 million adults.

Reasons for the decline are many — the explosion of other after-school activities and sports, a perception among some families that the Scouts were too old-fashioned or conservative, and sporadic scandals that generated bad publicity while undercutting the BSA’s commitment to integrity.

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