Port Townsend School Board sets up panel on mascot
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The Port Townsend board Monday created a committee to study the matter during the 2012-2013 school year after about 40 people spoke up.
The board heard differing viewpoints from those at the Monday meeting: that the name was an offensive racial slur that teaches the wrong message to students and, conversely, that it is a source of school pride that has nothing to do with race.
“This is an education issue and not a mascot issue,” teacher Ben Dow told the board.
“That mascot is continuing to allow people to speak to each other in a way that other students are ending up in tears, and the kids are being put into positions where they cannot learn,” he added.
Terri McQuillen, a 1975 Port Townsend High School graduate and a member of the Makah tribe, said the team name — which has been in use since about 1926 — was a source of pride.
“The name of this school was given to us for a good reason, and the only reason to take it away would be to shame us,” she said.
“The ultimate test of a school is to teach our children to hold their heads up high and be proud no matter what they are called.”
After about an hour of public comment, the board unanimously approved the creation of a study committee.
Board President Jennifer James Wilson said the panel should have eight to 10 members, with representation from the board, staff, community and students, if they choose to participate.
The committee will meet once a month through the 2012-2013 school year before it presents a report and recommendations to the School Board.
No action will be taken until that time.
The passions that were shown Monday night will be put on hold, including those of John Stroeder, a 1976 Port Townsend High School graduate who played for the Milwaukee Bucks before returning home.
“If you change the name, I'm done here,” said Stroeder, a former coach.
“I will take my jersey out of the cabinet,” where it is on display, he said.
“I'm very passionate about this, and I'm not passionate about a lot of things.”
Stroeder told the board that if the name is changed, “you will probably lose a lot of money and support from people around town.
“I think we should put this to rest after this little committee or whatever you are doing, and we shouldn't have to talk about it any more.”
Students have voted several times on the possibility of changing the mascot, the last time in 2000, but each time chose to retain the Redskins name.
Andrew Sheldon, whose June 5 letter to the School Board opened the discussion, predicted that courts will force all Native American mascots to be changed in the next few years.
“I would like to see us choose a word that doesn't have negative connotations for many people in the community,” Sheldon said.
“It's an educational issue, and it's about the stereotypes that we are teaching our children that will carry on.
“This is a school. If some people find the name offensive, let us come together under a different name.”
Curt Goodrich directed his comments at Superintendent David Engle, who began work at the district this summer, saying the new superintendent had said that the Redskins symbol didn't reflect the community.
“You owe this town an apology,” Goodrich said.
“You come in here, you think you know this town. You don't know anything. How long you been in this community? Five minutes?
“We've been Redskins for 86 years,” Goodrich said.
“Let's get behind our team.”
Engle said Tuesday: “I wondered if this mascot reflected this community, and I still wonder that.”
Engle said that though he is new to Port Townsend, he has lived and worked in the Puget Sound area for 60-some years.
“I was kind of amazed to be called an outsider,” he said, adding that the meeting was emotionally charged.
Sheldon said later, during a conversation with McQuillen, that he would like to see another name used.
“What would you call us, the Turtles?” McQuillen asked. “The fighting Turtles?”
McQuillen said she didn't want Sheldon to fight for her rights.
“If you really want to fight for something, go in there and fight for the budget,” she said.
Sheldon said later he was satisfied with the board's action, though he added: “If I were in charge, I wouldn't take that long.”
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: July 24. 2012 5:54PM