Scouts celebrating organization's 100th anniversary

A group of eight boys carrying provisions hiked from Fort Worth 12 miles into the wilderness to study nature in blistering July heat, returning at 10 p.m. after cooking over a camp fire.

Months later, five groups of boys hiked to within five miles of Dallas, camped overnight and returned to Fort Worth.

By winter, troops of boys were marching in the woods and over hills around Fort Worth learning military tactics.

Those 1910 Star-Telegram accounts chronicled Fort Worth's fledgling efforts to join the Boy Scouts of America -- when boys ventured outdoors, were involved in their communities and had no gadgets vying for their time.

Celebrating the organization's 100th anniversary today, Scout officials say that even though times have changed, their mission remains to build character, mold role models and develop good citizens.

"It's always been about character building," said Dan Clifton, executive for the Longhorn Council of the Boy Scouts. "Some of the activities have become a little more high-tech compared with 1910, but it's not just about the activities. It is about building model citizens and teaching them to be great leaders. We help these youths grow in ways they never thought about."

Local Scout troops started their 100th anniversary celebrations last year, and individual packs are scheduling events throughout 2010.

Many of Fort Worth's first Scout troops visited England to learn about Scouting. Some applied to the national organization in New York to form official councils. And as the world has changed, the Scouts have adapted.

Now, Scout uniforms have a sleeve pocket for an iPod or MP3 player. The youths learn to use GPS devices alongside map and compass skills. And Scout masters communicate with parents via e-mail and social networking sites.

God and country

But much of what can be achieved in Scouting is timeless, members of Troop 98 said Saturday while collecting donated food for the needy at a Kroger supermarket in North Richland Hills.

"I really wanted to learn social skills and to get outdoors," said Joshua Phenix, 13, of Haslet. "Before I joined, I mostly stayed at home with my books."

Zac Orr, 14, of North Richland Hills is a Troop 98 senior patrol leader, organizing weekly meetings for about 70 boys. He also finds time to play baseball and football in a home-school league.

"Sports are my passion," he said, "but Scouting is where I am learning to be a leader."

Scouting still has a religious aspect that focuses on body, mind and spirit. Scouts vow to "do my best to do my duty to God and my country."

"We feel through a principal duty to God that they can grow into their very best," said Bob Mersereau, national director for the 100th anniversary celebration. Scouting's national headquarters is in Irving. "I don't think there isn't a parent alive who doesn't want something good, like Boy Scouts, to mold and shape their children."

Boy Scouts still hike and bond with nature, but changes in society have made it harder to attract many to Scouts. Often, individual troops survive through the dedication of people who have spent decades in the organization, starting out as Scouts and later serving as Scout masters.

Clifton said the Scouts compete for boys' time with extracurricular activities such as sports, band and other service organizations. But the most significant changes since Clifton was a Scout himself in 1959 are that fewer people live in rural areas and that people have less sense of community.

"I knew everybody in my troop because I knew everybody in my town," he said. "A lot of kids either stay home to play video games, or their parents are reluctant to let them roam. People don't know their neighbors."

The Scouts -- which start boys in Cub Scouts in first grade -- had about 2.7 million participants in Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Venturing programs nationally, according to 2008 data on the Scouts' Web site. As of 2000, 100 million people had participated in Scouts since 1910.

Shifting demographics

Phillip von der Heydt, a Scout master for 25 years who leads Troop 520 in north Arlington, said the Scouts lose many members between Cub Scouts, which ends in fifth grade, and Boy Scouts.

"Flexibility is the key to keeping the kids involved," said von der Heydt, who was a Scout in the 1950s and has two sons who are Eagle Scouts. "In the old times, there weren't so many choices for boys."

Shifting demographics in the United States, both racially and geographically toward a more urban population, have challenged the Scouts. Once a program associated with churches in rural communities, the Scouts now have a national Hispanic initiative and are seeking ways to reach more inner-city youths.

"After all of these years, the genius of Scouts is that it goes to the core nature of young boys and young men," Mersereau said. "They want to get together in a gang. It is wired into the DNA of who kids are. They can do that in a negative way or a positive way. The Scouts is a very positive way.

"So I think the Scouts still resonates 100 years later."