Elle Tong, 12, got interested in Boy Scouts when her older brother was in cub scouts. Watching and listening to den activities ignited a spark to become an Eagle Scout herself.
Back then, though, Eagle Scouting was just for boys.
This year, Elle became the first girl in Denton to earn the Eagle Scout rank — the highest possible rank in the Boy Scouts of America.
“What made me interested in being an Eagle Scout was, when I was very young, I was invited to my brother’s boy scout meetings,” said Elle, a seventh grader at Ronny Crownover Middle School in Corinth. “After that, I really wanted to be in scouting and make Eagle Scout.”
Elle Tong’s 14-year-old brother, Kaden, earned his Eagle Scout rank two years ago himself in Troop #99 in Lantana. Boy Scouts of America announced it would admit girls into its program in 2017, with troops opening officially in 2018.
Elle Tong is in a troop of other girls in the program — troop #219 Girls in the Frontier Trails District of the Longhorn Council, which governs the region’s troops. Other girls in the program have earned the Eagle Scout rank in the county, but Denton was still shepherding girls through the program and its traditions. Members take the Boy Scout Oath and agree to abide by the Scout Law (to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”) Since its inception, scouting has asked members to do their duty to God and country.
“Elle was always chasing after her brother in scouting,” said Le Tong, Elle and Kaden’s father. “She always watched what he was doing, and she was always wanting to do the same. It was really just a matter of time before she got her Eagle Scout. Her mother and I are very, very proud that she’s the first girl in Denton to get it.”
Elle Tong had to move through the scouting ranks: Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star Scout and Life Scout. Then she was able to start the Eagle Scout program. She had to complete the requisite merit badges — 11 badges are required and scouts choose another 10 merit badges — before proposing her Eagle Scout project. She said she especially enjoyed the first aid and emergency preparedness badges, because she’s interested in becoming a doctor.
“I made four benches for Crownover Middle School tennis court,” Elle Tong said. “My scout master had to approve it. Then the [Eagle Scout Project] committee chair had to approve it. I had to write it up, and then I presented it to the principal.”
Crownover Principal Charlene Parham presented the project to the school board, which greenlighted the project within a few weeks.
Elle Tong said that’s when the work began: getting lumber donated from Lumber 89, and gathering discounts from Walmart and Home Depot. The hard part was leading a group in building the benches, which have both a seat and a back and have been built so they can be moved on and off the tennis courts.
“The hardest part was leading the project, because I’m not really good at communicating or leading a big group,” she said. “I had to gather a group of people to build a group of benches and manage the group. I got [the instructions] from a video my dad showed me.”
Elle had a team building the benches from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on construction day. They painted the benches to make them hardier in the Texas weather.
As the first Eagle Scout in her troop, and the first girl to achieve the rank in Denton, Elle Tong said she has to be a leader for her troop and outside of meetings.
“In scouting, you have to kind of show leadership if you’re older than anyone, and you have to be a role model,” she said. “I kind of feel happy and I also feel proud, because I always wanted to be an Eagle. I thought one of many girls will get it before I did. But then I got it and the girls in my troop, they are pretty excited for me to be the Eagle Scout in my troop because they haven’t gotten it yet. But they will.”
Kaden Tong said he’s proud of his sister for breaking the barrier for girls in the Denton Eagle Scout program.
“I’m really proud,” he said. “And I never thought this day might come for her. I knew she would be an eagle, but I didn’t think she would be the first girl. She did it, and I’m really proud.”
Le and Jo Tong said Elle attended an award program where their daughter was among 16 girls who got Eagle Scout awards from the Longhorn Council.
“We’re over the moon,” Le Tong said.
Now, Elle Tong said, she’ll concentrate on future merit badges and developing leadership skills.
“No matter where you are, you live by the Scout Oath and the Law,” she said