This week, an estimated 35,000 Boy Scouts descend on rural Virginia for the 2010 National Scout Jamboree—a convention celebrating the Scouts' 100th anniversary.
Make that 34,999.
Missing from the gathering is Mark Crutchfield, a 16-year-old Salem boy who joined the Scouts at age 7 and achieved the second-highest rank of Life Scout at age 15. For Crutchfield, the chance to attend the jamboree was so thrilling he raised $3,000 to pay his way to the 10-day event that began Monday, July 26.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," says Crutchfield.
But on May 30, the Portland-based Cascade Pacific Council (representing Boy Scout troops in 18 Washington and Oregon counties) told Crutchfield he couldn't go. The decision earns the council a Rogue Desk demerit badge for reasons entirely unrelated to its problems with sex abusers among its ranks.
So what happened in the jamboree case? Weeks before the Virginia gathering, Boy Scouts from the region who were heading to the jamboree gathered for a camping trip in Oregon. One night, Scouts ate peaches and cream for dessert, and Crutchfield asked if he could take a whipped-cream can to his tent to enjoy leftovers. He says an adult on the trip told him, "Sure, just don't make a mess."
But after another adult found the empty can, Scout leaders accused Crutchfield of inhaling the can's aerosol. Later, they also accused him of possessing a cigarette lighter they considered "contraband," as well as truancy and "evasive responses to the leadership concerns."
Crutchfield says he did not inhale the aerosol. Another Scout later vouched for him. Other boys with lighters were not punished, Crutchfield says. He denies the truancy. But members of the council did not believe him. They told him he had broken the first point of the Scout Law—"a Scout is trustworthy."
Crutchfield's mother, Janise Munos, believed her son. So she hired Portland lawyer Mark Kramer (an Eagle Scout) to seek a compromise that would let her son attend the jamboree. On July 12, an attorney for the council, Steven Seymour, declined the offer. "Boys whose behavior has been called into question on multiple occasions are not those in whom the contingent leadership can trust," reads a statement from the council to the Rogue Desk. "Other Scouts cannot be put at risk in these circumstances." (Read a PDF of the full statement online at wweek.com/scouts.)
Crutchfield's mom argues Scouts are at risk for a whole host of other reasons—once accused of wrongdoing they have too few opportunities to respond, she says.
"This whole thing is just very bizarre," Munos says. "It was so contrary to everything that my son joined Scouts for."