Log in Subscribe

Boy Scouts stay the course

By DAWN HANKINS - dhankins@t-g.com
Posted 12/8/20

Dressed in his tan Boy Scouts of America uniform — one crowded with an assortment of merit badges — Elk River District Executive Derek Maness said recently despite everything, the 101-year-old program remains kid-safe. “Boy Scouts is still one of the largest youth organizations . . . one of the safest, because of all the protections put into place,” Maness said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m not doubting that it didn’t happen, because I know there are evil people out there.”...

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Boy Scouts stay the course


Dressed in his tan Boy Scouts of America uniform — one crowded with an assortment of merit badges — Elk River District Executive Derek Maness said recently despite everything, the 101-year-old program remains kid-safe.

“Boy Scouts is still one of the largest youth organizations . . . one of the safest, because of all the protections put into place,” Maness said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m not doubting that it didn’t happen, because I know there are evil people out there.”

The BSA executive is aware that continuing to update safety protocols will prove even more proactive for BSA, particularly since the group is now the defendant of a federal class action lawsuit involving around 90,000 cases of alleged child sexual abuse.

Maness said the Elk River District, which he oversees within Bedford, Moore, Franklin and Coffee Counties, and in 2021, Lincoln, has no complainants in this lawsuit, that he’s aware of. The Middle Tennessee Council, which oversees 37 counties, has 33 on file, as of the November deadline, he said.

Despite what’s futuristically staring scouts in the face, Maness added that scouting “pride points” are self-evident that great things continue in Middle Tennessee scouting. MTC currently boasts of 508 units and over 4,000 volunteers, 160 plus Eagle Scouts and nearly 5,000 rank advancements.

Local Rotarians — a large majority Eagle Scouts — hosted Maness recently as guest speaker at its regular meeting. Rotarian Mark McGee had this to say about his feelings in regard to the scouting program here.

“I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout, earning the rank of Eagle.  I am proud of the accomplishment and have always added it to my resumés through the years. I know people realize the hard work and dedication required to reach the rank of Eagle, even if they have never been in Scouting. “Back in the day it was possible to be an athlete and still be able to participate in scouting. It is sad that is not  necessarily the case any more.”

He discussed his experiences with Troop 118, which was at that time sponsored by Shelbyville Lions Club. “Weekend camporees and summer camp at Boxwell Reservation were opportunities to learn about self-reliance and motivation. I also was guided through my Boy Scout days by three great scoutmasters – Bill Magruder, Willard Templeton and Aksel Jensen. They were great mentors.”

An executive with Elk River District for the last 17 months, Maness said he’s pretty much devoted his entire life to scouting. An Eagle Scout, Maness hails from Rainsville, Alabama, and is so dedicated to scouts, he still serves as a troop leader there.

“I’ve been in scouting since I was 6 years old. My passion in life is working with kids and helping kids. Boy Scouts may be going through a lot nationally, but we’re still at the core root of everything. We teach character development and leadership.”

Moral responsibility

Still, if the cases coming forth are true, he said BSA has a responsibility to compensate those who’ve suffered. He shared as well how there are a lot of scouting families who’ve moved into MTC over the years, so he thinks some of those alleged abuse cases filed might have happened under the watch of other councils.

Of course he doesn’t know the validity of those filed cases of sexual abuse. But he knows that BSA, as they do with honor, will stand up and do what’s right.

“One [victim] is more than enough. But we, as the Boy Scouts, don’t want to look like a bully nationally, so we’re not disputing any claims. I do see a lot of people trying to capitalize on that, because it is a no questions asked [lawsuit.]

He explained that all alleged victims who filed, prior the November deadline, will therefore have their cases uncontested. He added while it will be up to the federal courts to decide the validity of those individual complaints, and any compensation awarded thereof, he believes it will be the lawyers who stand to make a lot of money.

“The lawyers that are coming out on TV . . . , making it sound as if it were wide spread rampant. Ninety to ninety-five precent of the cases coming forward pre-date back to 1980. So starting in 1980, the Boy Scouts of America developed a youth protection [policy], which required two-deep leadership. So from 1980 on, there’s very few of these abuse cases.”

Maness said the lawsuit is initially the responsibility of BSA national, as each scout council is its own entity and pays a franchising fee to the national headquarters. Suffice it to say, MTC owns its own property, like camp Boxwell Reservation in Wilson County, which has been in operation since 1959, and continues to go through renovations, as a part of scout capital campaigns.

As far as what this class action lawsuit — one which has pushed BSA into bankruptcy — will financially cost the Elk River District, the executive said that is unclear at the moment. “We know national has restructured . . . become more financially conscious. They’re a lot leaner than they were before and they’re pushing more back on the local council. The judge is going to determine, ‘OK what is necessary for you to continue the program and what can you sell and put in this estimated $1 billion fund to pay these victims for their medical expenses . . . help they may need to get over this traumatic experience.’ ”

Judges, he explained, ruled no statute of limitations within this child sexual abuse lawsuit. In fact, Maness discussed that’s not unusual as BSA has been fighting sexual abuse and other types of claims in courts for years.

“People have come forward for years. Boy Scouts has paid out . . . way over $100 million dollars. It got to the point where Boy Scouts could not keep fighting this individually. It’s not just sexual abuse cases. We have atheist groups coming against us to take God out of our oath. To my knowledge, that is not going to happen.”

Maness discussed BSA has dealt over the years with issues relating to discrimination, sexual orientation and transgender. He admits it seems the non profit has been an easy target over the years.

“No matter what goes on . . . people still know that scouting and Eagle Scout still means something to people.”

He discussed how one Eagle Scout, at the outset of the pandemic, received a total of about $100,000 in college scholarships through BSA. As an Eagle Scout, Maness knows that his resumés are likely to get top preference in the future.

Protocols to keep kids safe

“Everything we do, we’ll continue doing. I know youth protection is going to be restructured, as we go through this process. It is going to become deeper and inform people of more. I do know that. As far as regular programming, we’re going to keep on doing what we’ve done. Everything is in place to keep kids safe. But there will be, I’m sure, an extra eye out, when we go on outings, to make sure everyone is complying as they’re suppose to be.”

He said for years, BSA has observed two-deep leadership, which means two registered adult leaders or one registered leader and a parent of a participant-one of whom must be 21 years of age or older-are required on all scout trips and overnight outings. The chartered organization, such as Elk River District, is responsible for ensuring that sufficient leadership is provided for all activities.

Also based on the BSA protection policy, available at the Boy Scout website, there is no one-on-one contact allowed between adults and youth members. In situations that require personal conferences, the meeting is to be conducted in view of other adults and youths, according to BSA.

Maness said BSA’s youth protection policy is updated often at the national level. He added how national BSA has a data base full of people who’ve been charged with committing crimes against children and even has a list of some who might be “potentially harmful” to scouts.

“Something may have happened, per se, and it wasn’t drastic enough at that time to go to law enforcement. So we put these people on a list . . . such as this scout leader verbally abused this kid or there were multiple reports that he might have touched this kid. We don’t want this leader to be able to go to somewhere else and be in the program, so we put him on our ‘you can’t participate in scouting’ list.”

The BSA executive said when a potential leader/volunteer applies for duty, they fill out an adult application, undergo a criminal background check and they must have youth protection training. Maness said national in Dallas, Texas takes that $44 application and runs through their data base. As far as where that goes after it leaves his hands, the executive said he was unsure, perhaps through the FBI.

“Within a week, we get confirmation back, typically, if something comes up on an adult. We then reach out to the chartering organization and let them know what’s going on . . . what we found out about this leader that they didn’t tell us.”

There are also certain misdemeanors which would typically throw up a red flag on a scouting background report. “There are certain things that can come through, say someone had a misdemeanor for reckless driving . . . we would recommend they not be the person driving the kids around, going to different events. Something like that end is not something for which you’d totally remove someone from the program. But it is, ‘here’s what we know about these and this is what we recommend you don’t do.’ But if it comes back and they have served time for some type of abuse . . . cannot be in the program.”

While cases in this new federal class action lawsuit apparently do not include local leaders, Bedford County arrest records from 2012 and court reports show local scouting is not exempt from having some of its previous leaders on that BSA blacklist. Former Bedford County Boy Scout leader Travis Scott Spivey, then 43, was charged in 2012, with sexual battery by an authority figure for apparently having inappropriately touched a teenage boy.

While this particular incident did not apparently happen during a scouting event, or at Liberty School where Spivey then taught, Shelbyville police said in 2012 that he “confessed with great remorse,” and stated how it was an isolated event between him and the teen, whom he had known in previous years through scouting.

Pride points vs. bankruptcy

Such incidents across the country, when innocence may have been lost, have painted a grim picture for BSA, especially in expense. But executives like Maness continue to support a group they say is one of the few left in the world which instills such high moral character in its youth.

But it does take finances to keep such a large group going through the years. This could be the downfall of this long-time youth organization.

The proceedings in federal bankruptcy court will eventually lead to the creation of a compensation fund with BSA paying out settlements to abuse survivors whose claims are upheld. The potential size of the monetary fund is not yet known and will be the subject of complex negotiations. Based on conditions of the settlement, the national organization is expected to contribute a substantial portion of its assets, which include financial investments and real estate. Boy Scouts’ insurers also will be contributing, as will roughly 260 councils and companies that insured them in the past. (AP news contribution.)

Maness said in the meantime, area scouts will be ever stalwart and continue to be assured of its success through what is known as MTC pride points. “We are one of the very few councils that can say we have a balanced budget and owe nothing. The Middle Tennessee Council is one of the premiere councils out of the 251 nation-wide. We’re in the top 5.”

The BSA executive said while the present lawsuit will not per se halt scouting, an even bigger obstacle, COVID-19, surely has the potential. “This year was our 100th year birthday. Then, COVID hit; we had so many plans . . . kind of put a wrench in it. In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Camp Boxwell, the Elk River District plans to celebrate both events next year.”

At September end, MTC scout membership was at 12,453, which is a 36 percent decrease for the year. Within this unusual COVID-19 year, MTC said it’s prepared to meet this challenge with hybrid scouting programs and held virtual sign ups.

“Even though we’re getting the bad brunt of media right now, people still know that scouting and Eagle Scouts still mean something to people.”

Last year, MTC had an annual budget of $6.5 million, with 82 percent of income reportedly used for program services. Though there was reportedly a $2.2 million loss in net revenue at September end, MTC stated that it has made “infrastructure changes and reduced expenses” and this net loss will not significantly impact its ability to deliver its scouting programming next year.

“We’re a leaner, meaner machine, rebuilding in 2021 and moving past 2020,” said Maness.