CLINTON — Ed Cicenas, an assistant cubmaster for Pack 142 in Clinton, remembers hosting a pinewood derby tournament last year.
“We held a powder puff derby and ended up having more girl entries than boy entries for the regular tournament,” he said of Cub Scouts' tradition of building and racing wooden model cars.
Girls already are a part of Boy Scouts of America activities, he said, so he favors the national organization's plans, announced Wednesday, to admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and to establish a new program for older girls with the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts.
“It is a controversial decision no matter which way you approach it,” he said. “It’s a natural evolution that is occurring."
Pam Kovacevich, the chief executive officer of the Girls Scouts of Central Illinois, based in Springfield, said the BSA has been discussing the plan for a long time as it faces declining numbers, but she thinks girls do best in an all-girl environment.
“We wish our fellow Scouts well in their recruitment endeavors,” she said. “But we do not believe it is in the best interest of girls to participate in Boy Scouts.
"There is proven research that girls learn better in an all-girl environment.”
George Clay, Scout executive of the W.D. Boyce Council of Boy Scouts of America, based in Peoria, was not available for comment Wednesday.
Cicenas noted Cub Scout events already have been a family activity for years.
"With any of our campouts and our activities, everyone participates and that means moms and dads and brothers and sisters, and that means the girls," he said.
Under the plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all boys or all girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single-gender or welcome both genders.
The program for older girls is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.
As part of recruitment events, Cicenas has been to Clinton schools and talked with students about joining Cub Scouts, the program for 7- to 10-year-olds.
“Girls are always interested and one of the most frustrating things I have had to do was to tell a girl 'no' just because she was a girl,” he said. “You almost feel like you are crushing dreams.
"We also hear that the Girl Scouts don't have the cool activities that the Boy Scouts have.”
Kovacevich said girls would benefit more from Scout programs designed for them.
“From the curriculum and programming that we deliver, we know that girls get that opportunity to take the lead, to raise their hand first, to mold some of those leadership skills that our curriculum delivers in that all-girl environment and then they are more likely to practice those skills when they return to a co-ed environment.
"I don’t think it is in the best interests of girls to join the Boy Scouts."
The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.35 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past. As of March, the Girl Scouts reported more than 1.5 million youth members and 749,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014.