ORONO — While the community of Wells enjoys promoting itself, on its website, as “the friendliest town in Maine,” and its high school has been identified as one of the best in the nation and state, the school could gain a new title it may not want: last school in Maine to stop using a Native American mascot.

A total of 28 Maine schools – from Arundel to Fort Kent, Sanford to Wiscasset – have ended this practice over the past decade. Now, a lonely trio continues to resist: Nokomis of Newport Warriors, Skowhegan Indians and … the Wells Warriors.

How ironic that a school with Wells’ extraordinary credits should be shooting itself in the foot with this totally unnecessary misstep. National publications, like U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek magazine, have ranked Wells High School as one of the top high schools in the country and, indeed, it ranked No. 1 in the state of Maine for the highest four-year graduation rate, at 99 percent for 2012.

KEEP THE NAME, DROP THE ICON

So, one can only surmise that with so many very intelligent students and an obviously talented faculty and staff, there must be any number of them embarrassed and disgusted by the continuing inaction of Principal Jim Daly, Student Activities Director Jack Molloy, Superintendent Ellen Schneider and the school board for continuing the offense of using an Indian head icon with their nickname.

Frankly, Wells High School (and Nokomis, too) could quite easily drop the use of the icon and move rather seamlessly to a generic use of the term “Warrior.” An easy fix, if ever there was one. It’s what then-Fort Kent Community High School Principal Tim Doak did; it’s what the administration at Southern Aroostook High School did, and it’s what schools all across the country have done.

Understand this, Wells education administrators, it does not matter how large a majority (if, indeed, a majority exists) of voices in your communities support your decision to persist.

The mere fact that there is any kind of minority dissent is enough to end the practice. Something as innocuous as a mascot, as trivial as a sports symbol should never provide a platform for showing disrespect to a culture and for being offensive to anyone.

My connection to all this comes about from unsuccessfully tilting at the windmill that is the Cleveland Indians’ racist mascot, Chief Wahoo, and my unwillingness to accept that the subject of my book, “Baseball’s First Indian,” Louis Sockalexis, the inspiration for the Cleveland team’s nickname, is shown the least bit of respect or honor through this vile caricature.

John Dieffenbacher-Krall, executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, and I conducted a symposium for May 2010 at the Bangor Public Library to focus on the issue of mascots statewide. Ultimately, the symposium resulted in representatives of the commission leading successful campaigns in Wiscasset and Sanford.

Robert Eurich’s wonderfully informative and frequently updated American Indian Sports Team Mascots website, at www.aistm.org, notes that, today, Maine stands with Oregon as a state that could possibly be “first in the nation” to eradicate all such mascots.

IT COSTS NOTHING TO SHOW RESPECT

Nicknames and mascots are such a ridiculous topic. Of course, there are far more important issues relating to our Native Americans. However, I would argue, when we can’t even show them the most basic form of respect, how can we expect to tackle the weightier, costlier issues? A basic show of respect costs absolutely nothing.

So, students at Wells, or athletic opponents of Wells, now is the time to teach your elders something. Perhaps, led by members of your school’s civil rights teams, your school could be the one to stand up to the misguided tyranny of a handful of bull-headed adults. How about boycotting a sporting event with Wells? Just imagine the headlines. Yes, it’s time to use the tactics of civil disobedience to stand up to uncivil school doctrine.

The media, too, should take a role in this fight: We need to see the administrators at Wells asked and asked again why they continue to resist when so many other schools have made the change. How can they be allowed to continue to utter their meaningless mantra of “we’re proud to honor them” when they know so many Native American and other concerned voices are heard, daily, to condemn it?

— Special to the Telegram