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'I know I can lead': One of the first female Eagle Scouts in the nation may be this Guilford student

'I know I can lead': One of the first female Eagle Scouts in the nation may be this Guilford student

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GREENSBORO — As she tightened the last screw affixing the plaque bearing her name and scouting troop to the newly-constructed deck in a scenic clearing along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Oak Ridge, Selby Chipman joined the list of women who've broken barriers in this country.

The 16-year-old honor student and soccer player is among the first generation of girls in Scouts BSA — formerly the Boy Scouts of America — and is on track to be one of the first in the nation to complete requirements as an Eagle Scout.

The scouting organization, birthed before women were allowed to vote, decided in 2017 to open the door to girls.

Girls could begin signing up to join the Boy Scouts beginning in the 2019 program year. So that's what Selby did.

"I think in the future, people are going to say, 'Why didn't this happen sooner?'" Selby said.

The move to accept girls has not come without criticism although women have long been a part of Boy Scouts as leaders. Some people have expressed concern about the long-term effect on the Girl Scouts.

Selby's scoutmaster, Mike Matzinger, shakes his head when asked about the criticism on social media about women Eagle Scouts.

Matzinger, who started as a Cub Scout in the traditional program and earned his Eagle Scout, has worked with 54 boys over the years who have earned their Eagle Scout. Famous Eagle Scouts include politicians and presidential cabinet members, philanthropists and a litany of famous names from astronaut Neil Armstrong to filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

While girls are fully vested members in Scouts BSA, the troops are gender-specific.

"It’s the same program. It’s the same amount of effort," Matzinger said. "They do not have a lesser Eagle Scout. It is the same as the men who earned it."

Yet, he has a sense of pride about this group. When the female scouts entered the darkened room for their joining ceremony, they were met with a video timeline of women who've broken barriers.

And then the lights were turned on for them to see a room filled with over 100 boys of Troop 600 and their families rising to give them a standing ovation.

They were then presented with their Troop flag.

Matzinger admits he got goosebumps thinking of the significance of the moment.

"When you open one door, it gives you the confidence to open the next one," Matzinger said. "If they open up one door at a time, then in 50 years they can say we opened up dozen of doors for our daughters and granddaughters."

The Northwest Guilford High student was earning her way through the ranks of the Girl Scouts but decided she wanted to be involved in the Boy Scouts like her brother, father and grandfather. 

"A lot of people were shocked, but someone had to be first," Selby said.

Selby, who is interested in a career in biochemstry and engineering, and some of her friends had known Matzinger since they took part in the co-ed Sea Scouts program. Once it was apparent that the former Boy Scouts would accept females, they asked Matzinger if he would start an all-girls troop.

He says that people who say the Girl Scouts are inferior to the Scouts BSA are misguided.

"That’s like saying soccer is better than basketball, or Methodist is better than Baptist," Matzinger said. "They are both great organization."

There are two other young women in Selby's troop — the so-named "groundbreaker patrol" — who are also in the finishing phases of completing their Eagle Scout. They are Alex Santiago and Caroline Ruppel.

Scouts BSA plans to formally recognize all females who earn the rank of Eagle Scout as part of an inaugural class on Feb. 8, 2021, to align with the recognized birthday of Boy Scouts of America. 

The final step for Selby is a board review later this month.

Since its inception in 1912, less than 10% of all eligible Scouts have become Eagle Scouts.

To earn the designation, Scouts must first propose a detail-oriented project, which is approved by the Scout leader and then goes to the district Eagle board for final approval.

Selby, whose female role model is Scout Finch from "To Kill A Mockingbird," her favorite book because the character stands her ground, was one of the the first in the area and possibly the state to propose her Eagle project in June and complete it by August, earning all the required merit badges. Selby has earned 32 merit badges — 11 more than required.

Selby decided on creating a place to rest along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. She found a naturally picturesque spot where the sun hits a pond and she recruited family and friends to help clear the area and later trudge through the mud with large pieces of lumber to construct a nature viewing area. While the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is more established in some spots, they used an access through the woods from a nearby neighborhood.

As the country slowed because of the coronavirus, Selby kept working and the crew, including Alex and Caroline, wore masks while they labored. It would be a quarter-mile trek to the site from a path they made, with the footprint of deer along the way.

Along with creating the deck out of lumber, they also had to dig holes and pour concrete to shore up the foundation.

The mission of the program is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over a lifetime and to care about their communities.

"The Eagle project really isn’t about what you build," Matzinger said. "It's about leadership. And if it's not fun, you are not doing scouting right."

Selby delegated some of the work, but she also did all the math calculations and literally had her fingerprints all over it.

After joining all-girl Troop 219G when it began in March 2019, Selby and other female Scouts, as with male Scouts, had to earn ranks as Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and then Eagle.

Selby's 14-year-old brother, Stewart, is a month away from completing his Eagle Scout project, which is a flag retirement area at nearby Oak Ridge Town Park.

And he's proud of his sister.

"I think it shows that she can do anything she puts her mind to," said Stewart as he watched her attach the plaque. 

Selby wants to interest other young women in the Scouts BSA. She also likes rallying people together.

"If I'm in a situation where no one else wants to lead," Selby said, "I know I can lead."

Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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