There’s a new Boy Scout troop in town that’s a little different — they’re girls.
Ridgefield’s Troop 19 BSA — the 19 honors the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which in 1920, gave women right to vote — began meeting in October. They meet weekly Tuesday nights, and had group campouts in November and December, with monthly outdoor adventures planned.
Girls in the troop — there are 14 of them now — were attracted to the Boy Scouts’ active program of camping and hiking, even though many of them were already Girl Scouts and some continue to be.
“My brother is a Boy Scout, and everything he does I pretty much wanted to do,” said Sophie Desmarais. “Seeing him do it, it looks fun.”
Desmarais, a ninth grader in Ridgefield High School, remains in Girls Scouts — she’s just wanted to do Boy Scout stuff, too.
“It’s more outdoorsy and adventurous, where the Girl Scouts is just focused more on community service,” she said.
Evia Rodriguez is another RHS freshman who’s done Girl Scouting and has now joined Troop 19.
“Really, the opportunity and just the optimistic environment,” she said when asked what she liked about the Boy Scouts.
She still like Girls Scouts, too.
“They’re both equally great opportunities and organizations,” she said.
“I’ve been in both. They’re really great — a really great learning opportunity and a chance to hang out with everybody.”
She’s enjoyed the camping with Troop 19. It’s fun and has also educational, with the girls learning Boy Scout skills.
“The use of tools, how to fold a flag, very useful interesting things, how to tie knots,” she said.
“We learned how to start a campfire. We learned different safety tips about cooking. How to use a camp stove. We learned how to cook something and we started cooking.”
“They made crepes at a camp out!” said Ali Mortinger, who co-leads the troop with her husband, Steve. “It was just awesome.”
“Even though it’s hard and challenging,” Evia Rodriguez said, “I think this has been a really good experience and I plan to get my Eagle.”
Jax Mantione, another RHS freshman, was one of the first girls to respond when Steve and Ali Mortinger began asking around about interest in forming a Boy Scout troop of girls.
“I want to be an Eagle Scout — one of the first Eagle Scouts,” she said.
“It was always something I’d talked about, because Boy Scouts wasn’t available to girls,” she said. “So, I always talked about starting a venturing troop.”
“Venturing troops are older scouts, and it’s co-ed,” Ali Mortinger said
”I’m still in Girl Scouts,” Mantione said. “…We do a lot of service, but we definitely don’t do hiking and camping out in tents.”
She’d heard a lot about the fun things Boy Scouts do.
“My brother and my dad were always involved in Boy Scouts, so I could see it through their eyes,” Mantione said.
“It’s a lot to fit into my schedule,” she added. “I row, now, three hours a day, six days a week. Still also in Girl Scouts. Play in the band in school — percussion.”
She’s enjoying the Boys Scouts, though, with the camping and everything.
“The last campout we had a chat and told stories and sang songs,” she said.
“We’re definitely more of a group after the first campout.”
Knives and fire
Camping, cooking over the campfire, cutting with knives and chopping with hatchets — there’s something about that Boy Scouting stuff.
“It’s the same program,” said Steve Mortinger, co-leader of the troop.
“I’m the mother of two Eagle Scouts,” Ali Mortinger said. “The attractions for scouting for boys are fire and knives.”
“Girls are very enthusiastic about sharp things, too,” said Tim Vilinskis, an assistant troop leader. “They love the knives and they love whittling and they love the axe work, too — chopping wood.”
“Campouts, we try to do one a month,” Ali Mortinger said. “We definitely do one activity per month, and most of them are tent camping.
“We do service opportunities when they arise,” she added. “We were at the Holiday Stroll, helping direct traffic with the carriage rides.
At the troop Christmas Party, the plan was for the girls to bring cookies they’d baked, for delivery to folks at the Ballard Green senior citizens housing.
At Troop 19’s Dec. 11 meeting, they talked about taking part in an upcoming Klondike Derby, a camping event with sledding and skills contests derived in spirit from the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. Boy Scouts have been holding these events around the country since 1949.
“You have a sled and you go from station to station and at each station you do a different scout skill,” Steve Mortinger explained.
“Why do we have a sled?” one of the girls asked.
“It’s the whole ambiance,” Steve Mortinger replied. “It’s not the ‘Walk-Around Derby’ — it’s ‘The Klondike Derby.’ ”
The troop leaders did little selling on the event, planned in mid-January in Sherman.
“We’ll figure out what the skills are,” Steve said. “…”If it ends up unbearably cold, we’ll just go for the day.”
“Cold weather camping!” Ali said. “When this winter’s over, you’ll be awesome.”
The girls won’t exactly be called Boy Scouts, though they will be part of the Boy Scouts of America organization.
“They’re calling it Scouts BSA,” Steve Mortinger said. “There will be girls troops and boys troops, this is the first troop in Ridgefield that’s all girls.
“The Girl Scouts continue to exist — it’s a separate organization.”
It’s part of a change the Boy Scouts of America are making.
The group explained the change back in the spring — while correcting some news reports that the organization was changing its name.
“The Boy Scouts of America organization name will continue to be Boy Scouts of America. It is not changing,” the group said in a statement on Scoutingwire. “…Reports started circulating on Wednesday, May 2, concerning the update to the Boy Scout program name. That program currently serves boys ages 11 through 17. Beginning February 2019, the Boy Scout program name will change to “Scouts BSA” and will begin serving girls, as well as boys.
“Under the new name of ‘Scouts BSA’ that program, which is the same iconic program it has always been, will continue to offer scouting in single-gender troops, through which scouts — ages 11 through 17 — can work to earn the Eagle Scout rank.”
In starting the troop, Steve and Ali Mortinger found the Boy Scouts’ program has a real attraction for many girls.
“The Boy Scouts of America have been very focused on outdoor activities,” he said.
“We got a lot of interest from girls who said they wanted an outdoor-oriented program. And some said my dad or my brother was an Eagle Scout, and I just always wanted to be an Eagle Scout.
“The troops are single sex, so there’ll be boys troops and girls troops,” he said. “There’ll be jamborees and both boys troops and girls troops will attend.”
So far, the troop has been thriving.
“We did a campout at Ward Pound Ridge,” Steve Mortinger said. “There were a bunch of Scout BSA troops there including our girls. We did an orienteering course, a hike. We’ve done a bunch of activities jointly with them.”
“From my years of experience with Boy Scouts, and I have many years of experience, the level of participation in this troop is just amazing.” Ali Mortinger said.
She added that Troop 19 was getting a lot of support from the other Boys Scouts in town — Troop 431, Troop 116, Troop 76, Troop 49.
“All of the troops have been so helpful to us to get started. They’ve given us donations,” she said.
“We truly appreciate the support of the community helping us get started.”