By Jim Nedelka
When Sydney Ireland was four years old, she trailed her then-eight-year old brother Bryan, to a Cub Scout meeting and was immediately hooked on Scouting. As Bryan moved up to Boy Scouts and began earning merit badges and ascending ranks en route to earning the coveted Eagle Scout Award, recognized for its value as a program of youth leadership training and its incumbent scholarships and benefits, Sydney wanted to earn her own Eagle.
One problem: the Boy Scouts of America weren’t admitting girls.
Thus, at the age of nine, when Sydney learned that Boy Scout troops around the world, including Saudi Arabia and Canada, were admitting girls and young women, she began asking, “Why aren’t the Boy Scouts of America admitting girls?”
Unhappy with what’s known as “No Response is Your Response,” Sydney began her “Let me in” campaign, quickly gaining support from political leaders, the NYC chapter of the National Organization for Women, religious groups such as The Presbytery of New York City, and attendant, wide-ranging media coverage.
In 2017, the Boy Scouts opened its doors to girls and young women, even changing their historic name to Scouts BSA. But there was a catch: admission to girls was staggered, first to Cub Scout-aged girls in 2018, then to Boy Scout-aged girls in 2019 but only into girls-only troops. Plus, none of the merit badges or rank advancements they earned as duly-registered members of any international troop could be carried-over to their American membership, an especially-stinging stipulation for Sydney, who had qualified for Eagle. She was also denied the honor of the traditional local Court of Honor. Then, when she complained about being victimized by misogynistic, online abuse while age 16 – still a child - from a self-identified member of Scouting’s national leadership, Scouting refused to remove the predator. Instead, they punished her for speaking up by being told to “start over” in her quest for Eagle and that neither she, nor any other girl, would be acknowledged as “First Girl Eagle;” girls earning rank achievements would only be recognized in a group ceremony originally scheduled for October of this year.
We caught up with Sydney “staying at home” with family at her grandmother’s home on Long island:
“I have one week to go in my freshman year at Amherst,” she says. She would have preferred to finish the semester in Massachusetts but, “being at Amherst to finish out the term was not an option. “We had to move out pretty quickly.”
However, the school term didn’t evaporate; Sydney found it challenging adjusting to online learning. “It took me a while to get motivated to be online.” But, she added, each of her professors “figured out how to make things work,” praising one professor in particular for her flexibility such as moving term paper deadlines.
While she advises “I haven’t been super thinking about it” when it comes to Scouting due to her school work, in light of all the parallel distractions and roadblocks thrown in her way, Sydney still wants her Eagle Scout Award. “I want it for myself. I want to prove I can get it even if the leadership in Texas (home to Scouts BSA’s national headquarters) hasn’t been supportive of my quest or the most supportive of me.”
Before covid-19 overturned everyone’s planning calendars, Sydney had been looking forward “to being a volunteer presence with the scouts during the meetings of (her home unit) Troop 414.” However, in light of the pandemic, the troop hasn’t met in weeks. “Summer Camp has already been cancelled,” adding that the grapevine has Scouts BSA’s awards timeline for girls “extending from October to, or into, January 2021.”
Sydney turns 19 this June, old enough to qualify as a Scoutmaster. While hesitant to take on that role, “I see myself in a role supporting a Scoutmaster. Being in a support role is just as important. They do a lot of work supporting the Scoutmaster.” However, if she ever did take up the mantle of Scoutmaster, the troop would need to be a blended unit of boys and girls. “The separate ‘girl troops’ and ‘boy troops’ are not equal. It’s not feasible…separate doesn’t really make too much sense.” She points to her own experiences here in the city. “[The boys and girls] are working together at 414,” adding that it followed her co-ed experiences with Troop 50 in London, Ontario, Canada. “It works out better.”
So Sydney’s finds herself hanging with her father, Gary, her brother, Bryan, and their dog, Scout. “It’s nice out here on the Island, but I sometimes wish I was back the city. I miss seeing friends. I miss the freedom. I miss taking the take train and going places.”
Despite all the travails tossed in her way, Sydney Ireland continues to see the bright side of life. ‘Staying home has actually been good for me. I have gotten into a routine. I’ve been taking better care of myself because I don’t have FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.” If she were up at school, “there would always be something to do, someplace to go, some other diversion from schoolwork and sleep. There’s no ‘missing out’ out here.”
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Jim Nedelka, one of avenue church’s Ruling Elders, was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Scoutmaster and one of many advocates in Sydney Ireland’s corner. Do you know a boy or girl interested in Scouting? E-mail Beverly@avenueChurchNYC.org and let us know. We’re looking forward to starting a new Troop in Yorkville!