Rocky Road Away From 'The Raiders': The Controversy Over Rutland High School's Mascot
How do you pick a new name for a high school mascot? And what exactly does a mascot need to signify?
Last summer, a group of students and alumni asked the Rutland City School board to retire the high school’s team name"The Raiders" and its arrowhead symbol. They said it perpetuated misleading stereotypes about Native Americans and was insensitive.
But others argued it stood for a proud local tradition.
A number of Vermont high schools have been through this: South Burlington went from being Rebels to Wolves. Champlain Valley Union High School changed from the Crusaders to the Redhawks.
In Rutland, the high school prides itself on its sports teams – and the Raiders ethos is a huge part of the community. The thought of changing a name that everyone had cheered for over decades has cut deep.
At a virtual meeting last October, Rutland city’s school commissioners voted 6-4 to retire the Rutland Raider name. It was a tense meeting about an issue that had fiercely divided the community; some board members had even received threats.
After the vote, the board asked high school principal Greg Schillinger to work with students and the community on a new name and mascot.
A group of students formed a committee and set to it in November, meeting with Schillinger on Wednesday afternoons.
Step one: Creating a list of characteristics they felt represented the Rutland community.
“Things like hard work and persistence and intelligence,” Schillinger said.
Then they sent out a survey to students and families in the district, asking for suggestions that would fit those criteria. To get even broader input, they put links to the survey on Facebook and Twitter and in the local paper.
Kathryn Moore, a 17-year-old junior, is a member of the advisory committee, and she’s felt torn. She plays varsity soccer, basketball and lacrosse, and loves being a Raider.
“Very involved in the Raider Nation, I guess you could call it,” Moore said. "I wanted to keep the name."
But if the school needs a new team name, she wanted to be part of that process. Of the 168 surveys they got back, Moore says 50 of them wanted to keep the Raider name.
She says they went through the rest one by one to see how they meshed with the school’s mission statement and the core values they’d drafted.
“And factor in everything like inclusivity, unity, anything that would make a more welcoming, I guess, name,” Moore said. “So we went over that right from the jump.”
"...how it would sound if you're in a huddle or if you're watching a game? Also, does it represent us? Do we want to be this?" — Kathryn Moore, Rutland High School junior
Jack Wallace, a 17-year-old senior, says names that started with “r” were the most popular: Rhinos, Raptors, Railers or Railroaders, Red Clovers, Rockets, Rockies, Robins, Rumblers, Red Foxes, Rangers, Rutgers, Red Maples ...
They made a spreadsheet to see which names best fit the school values they’d identified. Like Rhinos showing strength, or Railroaders hearkening back to the city’s history.
Moore says the cheerleaders lobbied for names with two syllables, since they said those would sound better in cheers.
“And how it would sound if you’re in a huddle or if you're watching a game?” she added. “Also, does it represent us? Do we want to be this? Do we want to be represented by rams?...Like, a male sheep? We talked about that.”
While students were winnowing down their list, the race for Rutland's school board was heating up. Seven candidates are running for three seats in next month's election.
Charlene Seward is a current school commissioner who favors keeping the Raider name, and says it is a "huge issue."
"This is the main issue of why people are voting the way they're voting right now," Seward said.
The final decision on any name rests with the school board, and several candidates running for a seat in next month's election have pledged to try and overturn last fall’s decision, and keep the Raider name.
Kathryn Moore says their student group has stuck to their task, and she feels proud of how they’ve done that.
“You hear in the community, is people just going back and forth about it,” she said. “Like, 'It’s tradition,' but they don’t really have an explanation. Or just arguing with each other, ‘Yes, it should,’ ‘No, it shouldn’t.’ So I think our discussion was really eye-opening.”
Student Jack Wallace is a member of Rutland’s ski team and says he was in favor of changing the name from the start. But he admits trying to choose a new name has been stressful — because what if people don’t like it?
But, he says, there's also power in a name.
“If people respond to the name positively, and if it's embraced by the community, that sounds like something that would be really special,” Wallace said.
"If people respond to the name positively, and if it's embraced by the community, that sounds like something that would be really special." — Jack Wallace, Rutland High School senior
School-wide votes narrowed down the names to two finalists – the Royals and the Ravens.
The Royals had some historic ties to the city: The late Ernie Royal was a long-time restaurant ownerin Rutland, and the first African American board member of the National Restaurant Association.
Rutland also had a minor league baseball team called the Royals in the 1930s.
But after the last round of voting, the Ravens came out on top. Whether that name will be approved by the city’s board of school commissioners during their meeting next week remains unclear.
Alison Notte, the board president, says they could approve the name on the spot or ask for more suggestions. Or there might be an effort to delay the vote.
Wallace says after putting so much time and thought into a new name, the idea that it could be overruled by a future school board is frustrating.
“I’m not sure how effective that decision would be,” Wallace said. “I feel like we would find ourselves in this similar situation again.”
Change, he says, seems inevitable.
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