In all probability, Saturday’s Scouting for Food drive was the last one for Troop 71 Cowesett.
It’s not that troop members don’t want to participate. Rather, says Scoutmaster W. John Seubert, “We have run out of kids.”
Founded in 2005, the troop had 25 members at its peak. Now they have 11 and most of those will soon “age out” of scouts. The First Lutheran Church in East Greenwich sponsors the troop. Seubert attributes the decline to competition for time and a change in today’s hero idols. He said he has lost boys to athletics, theater and other extracurricular activities.
“They just don’t have the time for scouting,” he said.
Consolidation of troops and the birth of new ones are hardly new to scouting. Daniel Friel, Program and Communications Director for Narragansett Council #546, said his scouting experience started with Troop 182 out of St. Benedict Church in Conimicut, which was later absorbed by Troop 63 from St. Kevin.
Friel pointed out that the sustainability of a troop is dependent on adult leadership and their ability to involve kids. In the case of Troop 71, Friel said Seubert has been a great leader but, because of an absence due to an injury, there was a gap in the program.
Friel said it is unfortunate that Troop 71 doesn’t have the incoming boys to be sustainable. He also said Boys Scouts have been successful in competing for members.
He said that over the last eight months, Warwick has seen a 14 percent increase in scouts. Growth has come in Cub Scouting that now includes girls – Warwick packs have a total of 36 girls – and in the Exploring program in both the fire and police departments. Combined, there are 49 Explorers. He said that, overall, Warwick has 415 youths in scouting.
As for the council that takes in Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts, Friel said 9,680 are involved in scouting, with the biggest concentrations in Cub Scouts with 5,378 boys and 196 girls and Boy Scouts with 3,531.
Recalling youth, Seubert remembers Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone as idols. He called them the “frontier people” that young boys wanted to emulate and motivated them to strive to be Eagle Scouts. Later, he said, astronauts – most of whom were Eagle Scouts – became the heroes. But today, he said, the idols are video gamers, athletes and musicians, and scouting is not seen as a means of achieving those roles. Friel said the scouting program has adjusted to change.
“We’ve also modernized badges for robotics and technology. In this day and age there are so many programs for youth,” he said. “More competition means we have to do a better job and show full potential of our program.”
Those boys left in Troop 71 Cowesett will likely join nearby troops, such as Buttonwoods or East Greenwich. Personally, he doesn’t see himself as any less invested in scouting. He will serve as camp master during an upcoming weekend and be involved in the honor society of the Order of the Arrow.
Seubert is gratified by the work of the troop. He said that various Eagle projects include the building of benches for the Kent County YMCA, fencing of the baseball field at St. Gregory the Great Church, fencing of the sandbox play area at the Y that is being done by Jacob Boblitt and the re-grading of the Cedar Hill School ball field that is being taken on by Eagle candidate Ryan Maxwell.
Seubert doesn’t see Troop 71 as fading into the sunset. He’s thinking of making some noise and creating some buzz.
“What about a club going out of business bash with eight Eagles [being inducted at once],” he said.