By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
NORTHBOROUGH/SOUTHBOROUGH –The Northborough Southborough Regional School Committee (RSC) voted to retire the Algonquin High School “Tomahawk” mascot following the recommendation of the Algonquin Mascot Study Group April 28.
All nine members who were present voted in favor of the decision. Southborough Regional School Committee member Dan Kolenda, who was not present for the actual vote, was not in favor without giving the community additional time to voice concerns before a final vote.
Community members weigh in
The divide on the topic was highlighted by community members speaking during the fifteen-minute public sharing section of the meeting.
There were concerns that the process of the Study Group led members to a predetermined outcome.
Northborough resident Rebecca Roman said she wasn’t sure the recommendation properly incorporated the majority of the individuals who wanted to have a voice. She suggested that the outcome should be left to a town vote.
The community did have the opportunity to respond via a survey and through emails to committee members, many of which were received in the days leading up to the vote.
Mascot Study Group member Beth Wittcoff assured people that the students were not led by any of the adults on the committee.
“Students…were the leaders, and …who see this change as necessary and important,” she said.
School Committee member urges caution
Kolenda was not in favor of having the final vote for the decision at this time due to the outpouring of community input in the last few days.
He said he was “fearful that we may do something tonight that does not reflect the overall consensus of both communities.”
“For this to be successful ‒ to retire or not ‒ we need to hear more from the community,” he added.
Regional School Committee member Chris Covino expressed how much the decision has weighed on him the last few weeks. He addressed concerns regarding losing school pride.
“The effort to change the mascot does not minimize the accomplishments of clubs or teams,” he said. “It’s the people who made those accomplishments, and those accomplishments will continue.”
Ultimately, he said it is the responsibility of the committee and of the school “to ensure that everybody feels valued and welcomed at the school they are attending.”
Community considers history
Another community worry was that the Tomahawk would be erased from the history of the school.
Regional School Committee member Kathleen Polutchko said the mascot has existed since 1959.
“I hope that the student body realizes we are not erasing…just transitioning” she said.
Covino agreed that the fact that the Tomahawk has been the mascot since inception should be respected and that there was no malicious intent when chosen.
Ultimately, the mascot decision was based on how a mascot should express the values and character of the school.
Covino said that although many view the Tomahawk as a tool, it has elevated beyond a tool at this point.
“It is a symbol and has meaning; a meaning that is different to different people,” he said. “The symbol is causing harm to some of our students and violates what we believe to be a welcoming community.”
ARHS Principal Sean Bevan has been proactive for the possible transition. New sports uniforms were ordered without the name Tomahawk on them and items being sold at the school store do not display the logo.
Algonquin moves forward with mascot transition
The Study Group has proposed a five-to-seven-year timeline for fully phasing out the Tomahawk name and logo.
Regional School Committee member Paul Butka expressed his desire for a quicker transition, though, if done fiscally responsibly.
A new mascot and logo will be determined by a new study group.