SKOWHEGAN — Debate about the “Indians” name and image that identify the local school district’s sports teams and form a part of the town’s traditions moved to a new forum Tuesday night — a selectmen’s meeting — but the only two board members present said any decision about keeping or changing the name and image should be made by the school board.

The superintendent of schools has said it is a townwide issue, not just a school issue.

Advocates of removing the “Indians” from Skowhegan sports teams say Indians are people, not mascots.

One resident, Harold Bigelow, 61, disagreed, saying the issue has been sensationalized. He said people in Skowhegan support continued use of the images and name.

“This is not a mascot,” Bigelow said. “A mascot is a goat on a rope, a dog on a leash. This is spirit. So how can somebody from out of town or somebody from Madison pass judgment when they’ve never gone to one of our games? They’ve never seen how many kids that could get into a Suburban and get down to a football game that takes two-and-a-half hours to go to and they’ve got ‘Go Indians’ written on the side of the window.”

Barry Dana, of Solon, a former chief of the Penobscot Nation, and others in the state, including Ed Rice, adjunct instructor for the New England School of Communications at Husson University and the University of Maine at Augusta’s Bangor campus, along with the Greater Bangor NAACP, have said the Indian image used by Skowhegan as a sports mascot should be removed. Such images and mascots already have been changed at many schools in Maine and elsewhere across the nation as awareness has grown.

School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry has said the American Indian imagery goes beyond the school and encompasses the town of Skowhegan and the history and heritage of the region.

Those in the Skowhegan area supporting the name “Indians” say it is a way of respecting the people who lived for centuries on the banks of the Kennebec River, which runs through Skowhegan. Many also say it is an important school tradition. The name “Skowhegan” is an Abnaki word meaning “a place to watch.”

Because of illness, a vacation and the resignation of Newell Graf when he was elected county commissioner, only two selectmen were present Tuesday night for the discussion.

Board Chairwoman Betty Austin said selectmen didn’t really have anything to say on the subject, calling it a school board issue. She said if the school district decides to hold a public meeting on the question, selectmen probably would attend.

Selectman Gary York said his understanding is that school district officials see it as an issue that’s broader than just sports teams.

“What the district decides to do has nothing to do with the town,” York said. “Where it’s getting a lot of traction, it’s becoming a much larger issue. What the district decides to do really has no bearing on us.”

“Do you feel the town should have an official position on this?” countered resident Rob Washburn, the county probate judge and a longtime member of the Skowhegan budget and finance committee. “Do you want the school board to make a decision as important as this all by themselves?”

York said among his concerns was the 62-foot Bernard Langlais sculpture that the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Skowhegan recently put a lot of money into restoring.

“To me that would be my concern. Where does it stop?” York said.

Bigelow said his children and his wife all graduated from Skowhegan Area High School, where a painting of an American Indian spearing a fish in the Kennebec River is painted on the wall of the gymnasium.

“It’s a spirit — Skowhegan Indians,” he said. “We’ve gone to these games in the snow and everything. Those poor kids are freezing to death. My son said every time he ran out on that field and he heard everybody calling ‘Go Indians,’ he said, ‘All of sudden we were warm.’ It was the spirit. It wasn’t a mascot. It’s a passion.”

The next meeting of the SAD 54 school board is scheduled for March 5.