By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
NORTHBOROUGH/SOUTHBOROUGH – Algonquin Regional High School’s (ARHS) sixteen member Mascot Study Group recommended the retirement of the “Tomahawk” mascot at a special Regional School Committee meeting April 15.
An informational presentation highlighted work compiled over the last seven months. The final fate of the mascot will be voted on at the Regional School Committee meeting Wednesday, April 28.
Principal Sean Bevan, who led this group, said preparing the recommendation took a great deal of preparation, research, and discussion. Transparency in the process was a priority with regular communication to stakeholders.
Tomahawk mascot ‘may be detrimental’ to some, group says
The Study Group was formed in response to a petition last spring emphasizing growing concern that the mascot may be detrimental to people of Native American heritage.
The mascot was adopted after the merger of Peter’s High School in Southborough and Northborough High School to create Algonquin in 1959.
Now, the Study Group says it is time for a change.
“Any school’s mascot should unify the school community, communicating a shared set of values,” the Group stated, “….the Tomahawk served this purpose…But, times and standards change, and our understanding of the impact of this choice has deepened.”
In a community that has strived to promote dignity for all with a school Equity Coalition and a Diversity and Equity Coalition at the town level, this group concluded “the Tomahawk may be detrimental to some members of the school and [the] community.”
As a result, it said, the mascot “has fostered division, an outcome that is precisely the opposite role a mascot is designed to serve.”
The study group also noted a quote from a Ted Talk by Maulian Dana, the Ambassador for the Penobscot Nation.
“If we tell you something hurts, you don’t get to decide it doesn’t,” she said.
Group eyes education as it seeks change
Changing community sentiment will have its challenges, study group members said.
“Schools are a community’s maybe strongest source of tradition and the maintenance and establishment of important traditions is one of the key roles that schools can play,” said Bevan. “Right now we are in a moment in our school’s history where that is incompatible with the real mission of schools.
He elaborated, saying, ”Our history and our need to progress are at a bit of an impasse.”
The power of education to shift minds will be important, group members said. They highlighted this with data surrounding student and staff attitudes.
The percentages of students and teachers who agreed the mascot should be retired dramatically jumped after the specific groups were educated through videos, resources, and discussions, they said.
Northborough, Southborough weigh path forward
State legislation to prohibit the use of Native American mascots by public schools in Massachusetts is already being considered. If that passes, the Algonquin mascot would have to change regardless of how the school committee votes on April 28.
If Algonquin moves forward with this change, through local action or to comply with state law, the process of choosing a new mascot will take time, funding and a subcommittee to determine next steps.
Study Group Member and Athletic Director Mike Mocerino presented a five to seven year sample transition plan April 15.
Although there may be grants available to accelerate the transition process, the implementation of a new mascot has a significant rebranding cost to consider, he said.
The athletic program budget implications alone are high, involving replacing uniforms, scoreboards, and resurfacing the gym floor logo.
Multiple budget scenarios were presented, such as whether to replace all uniforms immediately or to just replace varsity uniforms first and phase in other changes.
Mocerino said all this has to be done “at a pace that is realistic and fiscally responsible.”
Discussing this, the Study Group also argued that changing the mascot does not erase the school’s past accomplishments or history.
“We would be remiss if we were to simply adopt a new logo and pretend like this logo never happened,” said Bevan.
The full presentation is available on YouTube via the Northborough Cable channel. As there were no public comments on April 15, community thoughts can be shared by completing a feedback form by Friday, April 23 at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf5Wkjcv9RYisMpX0XGwS4saRwWEQJz_dRh88x_7fmr9CRT8w/viewform.