May 8, 2012

Sanford School Committee votes to stop using Redskins as a team name

The 4-1 decision follows a public hearing at which emotions on both sides of the issue ran high.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SANFORD — The last high school in Maine to call its teams Redskins will retire the name, which is offensive to Native Americans and others.

Sanford Redskins

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Feelings on both sides of the issue ran high Monday night at a hearing on changing the name of the Sanford High School Redskins. Retired teacher and coach Roland Cote, left, with a Native American figurine, speaks against giving up the name, noting that students never really had a chance to weigh in. Brenton Allaire, right, of Native American background, supported changing the name, saying it only adds insult to injury for a school to continue using the name.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Members of the public listen to a speaker Monday as the Sanford School Committee holds a hearing on changing the name Redskins for Sanford High School teams.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

The Sanford School Committee voted 4-1 Monday night to change the name for Sanford High School’s teams.

The committee instructed Superintendent David Theoharides to meet with Principal Jedediah Petsinger and students to develop a list of three or four possible new names for the teams. Those names will be reviewed by the School Committee before one is chosen, in time for the next school year.

Other Maine high schools, including Scarborough and Wiscasset, have dropped the name. Scarborough High became the Red Storm, and Wiscasset teams became the Wolverines.

Sanford High has used Redskins as its team name and mascot since the early 1940s, said Theoharides.

“I don’t take pride in the name,” said Natalie Dionne, a Sanford High senior who competes in three varsity sports. “It says a lot that we are the only high school in Maine that has a Native American mascot.”

About 10 years ago, the School Committee prohibited students from applying facial paint, wearing Native American headgear or using the Redskins logo, said Theoharides. That left the students with no mascot, though students continued to call themselves the Sanford Redskins.

School Committee members Marguerite Herlihy and Robert Gendron were on the committee at the time.

“We were the ones responsible for taking away your mascot and eroding your school spirit. We were wrong,” Herlihy said. “I had no idea my vote was going to diminish your spirit, and personally I want to apologize to you.”

A public hearing preceded Monday’s vote, and emotions on both sides of the issue ran high.

Roland Cote, a retired Sanford High history teacher and basketball coach, asked the committee to keep the name.

Cote walked to the speaker’s podium carrying a statue of the head of a Native American wearing a headdress. He said he believes there was a “conspiracy” in town to do away with the name, and he pointed out that students never really had a chance to weigh in on how they felt about dropping it.

“How can we evaluate the opinions of students when they never had a mascot?” Cote said, referring to the 10 years they have gone without one.

“No matter how you vote tonight, you are not taking away my Redskins (varsity sports) jacket or my yearbook,” said Paul Auger, a Sanford High graduate and a lifelong Sanford resident.

Auger said the town never meant to offend Native Americans.

But Brenton Allaire, a Native American who said he has the blood of seven tribes in his lineage, said it only adds insult to injury for a school to continue using the name.

“I was born and raised in this town, and I was teased as a kid because I’m a Native (American),” Allaire said. “We are the one people that were stripped of everything. When you guys fought you called it a 'victory,' but if we attacked you, you called it a 'massacre.' ”

The Maine Indian Tribal State Commission says “redskins” was used as a derogatory term when bounties were offered for killing Indians.

Michaela Dwyer, a senior who is on Sanford High’s cheerleading squad, spoke against keeping the name. “I think it’s shameful,” she said. “If just one person is offended, it is one too many.”

Emily Bordeau, a high school senior and a varsity athlete, said, “To represent our school with that name does not make us proud.”

School Committee member Kendra Williams made the motion to retire the name. Her motion was amended to include Braves, which is used by Sanford Junior High School teams.

“I don’t think we should erase what this mascot has meant to our students over the years,” said Williams, whose motion included a provision to preserve old Redskins yearbooks, school jackets and memorabilia at the high school.

“I remember Redskins with a sense of pride, honor and integrity,” said committee member Adam Cote, a graduate of Sanford High.

Though Cote would have preferred to put the question before voters in a nonbinding referendum, he voted with the majority to retire the name.

“I feel that, as a public school, we should have a mascot that everyone can rally around,” Cote said. “I don’t seen how we can go on as a school with the mascot we have.”

Gendron cast the lone dissenting vote. Cote, Herlihy, Williams and committee Chair Don Jamison voted to change the name.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

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Sanford Redskins

Do you agree with the Sanford school board’s decision to end the school’s use of the nickname “Redskins” for its sports teams?

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