WELLS — Maine could be the first state in the country to eliminate all school team nicknames that refer to American Indians ”“ if three holdout schools decide to make a change.

Wells High School, whose teams are known as the Warriors, is among those schools, along with Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, which also has a Warriors mascot, and Skowhegan Area High School, whose mascot is the Indians.

Three is still too many, said author, journalist and college instructor Ed Rice, who is on a mission to eliminate the use of American Indian names for school teams, but it is a big improvement from a few years ago.

In 2010, there were still nine schools in Maine that had American Indian team nicknames or mascots.

In an effort to educate representatives of those schools about the offensive nature of these names, Rice teamed up with John Dieffenbacher-Krall, executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, or MITSC, to hold a symposium in May 2010 at the Bangor Public Library.

Those taking part in the symposium included representatives of all five Indian villages in Maine, representatives from the targeted schools and representatives from schools that had made changes.

“Aside from raising more awareness statewide about the issue,” Rice said in a prepared statement, “the symposium led representatives of MITSC to lead successful campaigns in Wiscasset and then Sanford, working with these communities to eradicate the especially vile nickname ”˜redskins’ at their schools.”

Rice said he’s attempted to work with the remaining schools, but has not seen much progress. He has written to all the members of the RSU 54 School Board, which oversees Skowhegan Area High School, and none have responded to him.

Wells High School Athletic Director Jack Molloy said, in a phone interview Monday, that he doesn’t believe the school’s Warrior team name is offensive.

“We celebrate the Indians here,” he said.

In addition, said Molloy, school representatives have spoken with local Indians, “and they’re all for us retaining the name.”

The school has no plans to retire the name, he said.

Rice, however, said American Indians don’t consider having teams named after them as an honor, he said.

“They’re human beings, not mascots,” he said. “There are an incredible number of schools across the country who are stopping this.”

Wells-Ogunquit Community School District Superintendent of Schools Ellen Schneider said the only place she’s aware of the American Indian warrior head being displayed at the school is in the Wells High School gym, and she’s not sure if there are plans to include the image in the new gym when the high school is renovated.

“We don’t have a mascot” in Wells, said Schneider. Instead, she said, the high school emphasizes the “W.”

“In Wells, we have a long history with the Abenaki people. We celebrate the history and culture of the Abenaki,” she said. “As far as I know, we’ve never been approached by the Abenaki” regarding the issue.

Two years ago, the Sanford School Committee was embroiled in a debate on whether to retire the Redskins moniker that Sanford High School students had rallied around for years.

Sanford was one of more than 30 schools in Maine that had, at one time or another, American Indian-related mascots.

In 2012, the Sanford School Committee ultimately decided to retire the Redskins name, voting for a change to Spartans.

Rice commended the schools that have eliminated their Indian nicknames and mascots.

“There are 29 schools in Maine that have stopped this,” he said. “What makes these three schools so special?”

Rice, author of “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis: Penobscot Legend, Cleveland Indian,” had initially tried, unsuccessfully, to get the Cleveland Indians to retire that team’s racist mascot, Chief Wahoo. That is an ongoing effort by American Indian organizations. Rice said he decided to work on a more local effort where he felt he could have more of an impact.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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