In 2019, the Boy Scouts of America as we have known it for over a century will cease to exist. As the national organization considers filing for bankruptcy in response to a wave of lawsuits from sexual-abuse victims, many are left wondering how the traditions of scouting will adapt in the years to come. In Saugerties, assures local scoutmaster Bob Cote, things will remain essentially the same.
You may have seen Cote of Troop 36 selling Christmas trees at the annual tree drive, picking up bags of non-perishables for the troop’s annual Scouting for Food initiative, or selling garlic-and-butter-slathered corn on the cob during the Garlic Festival, as he has done for the last 15 years in his leadership position. Regardless of concerns at the national level, Cote marks the Boy-Scout experience that he knows from his childhood as being all about imbuing young people with confidence.
“There’s a gap in our youth involving leadership. In Scouts, they’re allowed to fail in a [safe] atmosphere,” said Cote. “I find it heartwarming to watch them fail and learn from it. No one is getting upset or yelling about it. There’s no grade. Scouts revolves around that – winning is important, but it really revolves around letting them fail in a safe and comfortable zone. From that, they learn a ton and they become better and stronger.”
Currently, Troop 36 has sixteen active members. Four scouts to date have achieved the rank of Eagle under Cote’s guidance. Having achieved a Life Scout rank in his youth, Cote was reinitiated into the fold of the Boy Scouts when his son, now 19, entered the organization, ultimately achieving an Eagle rank himself.
“The one thing I would say [about the Boy Scouts] is that it’s more than just being outdoors,” said Cote. “People think that it’s just camping and buses. It’s much more than that. That’s one avenue to get the Scouts out and get them moving. We camp four times a year, but we do twelve events a year. Eight of them aren’t camping. It’s much, much more than that. A lot of young men come in and only want to camp. Well, okay, go camping.”
Cote’s favorite badge is the first one a given Scout earns: “It builds their spirit and starts them on a path they don’t want to stop going down. It tells them, Hey, I’m good. It could be the hardest or the easiest merit badge to earn, but it shows them that they can do it.”
Cote was fast to point out that scouting has always been affected by social and cultural changes. A good scoutmaster is able to work around those changes to ultimately fulfill the educational aims of the organization.
“Scouting’s role, in my opinion, has to change,” said Cote. “When I grew up, you couldn’t bring your little transistor radio because you couldn’t have music. Scouts today have a unique problem where electronics are part of their life. Disconnecting them creates more of a problem than teaching them how to stay connected. Now, boys are learning how to become an outdoorsman with the technology available to them without being distracted. Scouts today can Google things or go to YouTube and look for a video. I’ll watch the video and learn the skills from it.”
Although girls will be allowed to form patrols within boy-scout groups starting in February, it is uncertain whether such a patrol will be formed in Saugerties. A group of girls would need to step forward and a willing woman would have to volunteer to serve as their scoutmaster.
Local scouts, Cote noted, are protected by the “two deep” policy. No adult involved in the organization is ever permitted to spend time alone out of view with a child. More stringent background checks, awareness training, and educational outreach have also been implemented at the administrative level. Despite the national controversies, Cote’s faith in the aims of the organization, and in the importance of Troop 36 for the children of the community, has not been shaken. He remains optimistic.
“We live in a world that is very connected. Everything that happens we know about. These problems that the Scouts have been having have existed for a long time,” explained Cote. “As a society we know much more than we used to. Now we can do something about it, get these people help, and help the children that were hurt. I don’t think it’s a Scout problem so much as a society problem.”