Boy Scouts of America Troop 5300 has come a long way since last year. When Scouts BSA — an all-inclusive branch of the Boy Scouts of America — officially launched nationwide on Feb. 1, 2019, Troop 5300 became the first official troop in the Athens area to take advantage of the re-imagined program. Two of its members become Eagle Scouts this October, the highest rank possible for youth 11-17 years old in the program.
Halen DeMattei and Betsy Chapeau are both 13-year-old students at Oconee County Middle School. The girls have been with Troop 5300 for over a year and a half, and both of their moms hold leadership positions.
Flash forward, and the girls are joining the inaugural class of female Scouts BSA members who are ready to become Eagle Scouts. Finishing the requirements for this rank takes a minimum of 19 months, but traditionally, scouts don’t reach Eagle Scout rank until later. Scouts must complete all the requirements before they turn 18.
Climbing the ranks
Michelle Chapeau, Betsy’s mom and the assistant scoutmaster for Troop 5300, said the girls decided early on to be competitive in their path to becoming Eagle Scouts.
“They decided in the beginning that that’s what they wanted to do, so Michelle and I sat down, we mapped it out. We had a plan,” said Michelle Chapeau about conversations with Halen’s mom, Michelle DeMattei. “We made sure that they had the opportunities to where they could earn it.”
The parents planned camping trips every month, scheduled school board meeting appearances and made sure the girls had time to learn skills required for merit badges. Both girls also had to develop, oversee and complete a hands-on project, and finally, pass their Board of Review interview.
Betsy Chapeau has been awarded 36 merit badges during her time as a scout. Halen DeMattei has 24. To qualify for the Eagle Scout rank, scouts need 21 merit badges, which can cover citizenship, personal fitness, cooking and environmental science, among others subjects.
“It’s a lot of work to get up to the point where you can go and test for your board review,” Halen said. Her mom agreed.
“They sacrificed a lot, you know, being in middle school,” Michelle DeMattei said. “They knew, if it was camping, if we had a camp, whatever was going on that weekend they had to sacrifice. And they did, and they loved it.”
Both girls decided to keep their Eagle Scout projects close to home base. With help from their parents, Troop 5300 and their brothers’ troops, Halen refurbished a butterfly garden with new tables and garden beds while Betsy reinstated two outdoor classrooms.
Eagle Scout projects emphasize leadership, organization and maturity as essential to the process. When Halen ordered over $1,000 of wood and got the wrong order delivered, it was her job to sort it out. And when Betsy underestimated how elevation would impact her project’s design, she reevaluated and started over.
Seventh grade science teacher Shari Travers signed off on both these projects.
“It’ll be nice to have more spaces to be outside, when we’re studying life sciences it’s always a plus,” Travers said. “I had very little involvement, actually. They really took charge.”
Travers, who’s been at Oconee County Middle School since 2001, said the school has benefited from BSA-sponsored projects in the past. As for the program’s effect on the girls, Travers has had both Halen and Betsy in her classes and said she’s noticed “confidence” as a result.
“I think that the girls really handle themselves well in the classroom, they know how to speak so that people will listen, and they’re poised,” Travers said. “I think that all of those things are hard things for a teenager to do naturally.”
Making a mark
The induction of girls into BSA in 2019 was a big deal. It changed family dynamics, with parents being able to avoid shuttling their kids to different meetings, and it also opened doors for girls and transgender youth with previously limited options. Scouts BSA was the fifth BSA scouting program to become co-ed — though there are still separate troops for girls and boys — after the Sea Scouting, Venturing, Exploring and Cub Scouting programs.
On the other side of the spectrum, Girl Scouts of the USA initially released a statement accusing BSA of targeting girls and damaging the GSUSA reputation shortly after BSA announced the Scouts BSA program. In November 2018, GSUSA also launched a lawsuit against BSA citing trademark infringement. The case still hasn’t been decided.
According to the BSA website, there are 12 Scouts BSA troops within 10 miles of Athens, but only two — Troop 5300 and 5344 — are for girls.
With only four active members, Troop 5300 is tight-knit, Michelle Chapeau said. Plus, the girls have been able to lean on the boys in Troop 3537, which operates from the same church, Briarwood Baptist. Most of the girls had ties to BSA before joining Scouts — they watched older and younger brothers go through the programs and tagged along sometimes. After joining, Betsy and her brother joined in a friendly competition to see who could get Eagle Scout rank first.
Of course the girls are capable, but they’re still not completely protected from skepticism.
Halen and Betsy both recognize comments aimed their way by boys at school or from other boy troops. Although the girls talk about these incidents with a shrug, and negative interactions are rare, Betsy said she’s been accused of cheating, and Halen has had to justify her progress to unbelieving scouts.
“It doesn’t bother me too much, because it’s not a fight to get into,” Betsy said. “I know I have put in the effort to [become an Eagle Scout] and so has Halen.”
For the first time in BSA history, girls across the country will be commemorated as Eagle Scouts on Feb. 8, 2021. COVID-19 and safety precautions have changed the process only slightly. Scouts are ranking up on a rolling basis through the February deadline, and families can hold Eagle Courts of Honor — celebratory events commemorating the rank — individually.
“Michelle and I made sure we dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t,’ and these two were probably under a bigger microscope than any of the boys,” Michelle DeMattei said. “You know that people are going to look at them closer because they did it … because they’re girls, and because they did it in the time frame that they did it.”
In Watkinsville, Troop 5300 is carving out its own slice of history. Halen and Betsy passed their Eagle Board of Reviews on Oct. 14 after months of hard work.
“They are officially done!!! Woohoo!!” reads an email from Michelle Chapeau, sent the same night as the girls’ interviews. As a proud parent, Chapeau is diligent in her updates.