Public hearing on Shrewsbury mascot June 16

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Photo by/Jesse Kucewicz
A Shrewsbury tennis player volleys a ball while wearing a Shrewsbury High School sports uniform.

By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer

SHREWSBURY — An ad hoc group tasked to study Shrewsbury High School’s (SHS) mascot, the Colonial, did not reach a consensus on whether Shrewsbury Public Schools should keep or change its mascot. 

However, according to a presentation to the School Committee June 9, a majority of the 31-person committee favored changing the mascot. 

Specifically, 17 people favored changing it, 12 wished to keep it and two did not make a choice. During the presentation, SHS Principal Todd Bazydlo noted that of the 12 people who favored keeping the mascot, nine members said they believed it should be updated to be more inclusive. 

The administrators presented the ad hoc committee’s report, which is now published on the district’s website, and the results of a ThoughtExchange community survey

Shrewsbury isn’t the first local community to recently consider changing its high school mascot. In April, the Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee voted to retire Algonquin’s mascot, the Tomahawk. 

Now, a public hearing will be held June 16. People are welcome to attend in person, and School Committee Chair Jon Wensky asked people to email ahead of time if they want to participate. His email is [email protected]

“I would like to make sure that everybody maintains respect and engages in civil discourse throughout the public hearing,” Wensky said. “I think it’s important that this doesn’t evolve into a live version of a Facebook comment thread that I’ve been reading over the last couple weeks.” 

Committee discusses history, future of mascot

Last fall, a Shrewsbury High School student submitted a petition requesting that the Colonial mascot be changed. Shrewsbury then received a counter-petition requesting that the mascot not be changed. 

When the School Committee received the petitions, it charged Superintendent Joseph Sawyer to form the committee, which would investigate the origins of the mascot and its historical context, solicit viewpoints and make a recommendation.

According to the committee’s report, Shrewsbury began using the mascot in the 1940s when the high school was located at the current Beal Early Childhood Center.

Before the 1940s, yearbooks show that the high school teams’ nicknames included the “Indians” and “Wearers of the S.’” 

A Worcester Telegram & Gazette cartoonist, Al Banx, gave Shrewsbury the Colonials nickname, and some believe it’s referring to the town’s colonial history. The “Colonial” was incorporated into the school seal in the 1950s, and a 1965 student guidebook connected the nickname to General Artemas Ward. 

The committee was made up of high school students, staff, alumni and parents. They met nine times over the year. 

The committee reviewed scholarly articles about settler colonialism and spoke to a college professor. The petitioners were invited to speak, but only those proposing to change the mascot actually spoke. 

The ad hoc offered two options to the School Committee: change the mascot or keep the “Colonials” name, but update how the mascot is presented.

Community provides feedback

The committee also sought out community feedback, specifically using the ThoughtExchange website in which residents voice their views but also rate other people’s opinions. 

According to ThoughtExchange CEO Dave MacLeod, 2,854 people participated and shared 3,543 thoughts. 

A total of 1,939 thoughts advocated to keep the mascot. MacLeod said some of the top-rated opinions to keep it, meanwhile, had themes of history, the cost to change the mascot and argued that it wasn’t offensive. 

According to MacLeod’s presentation, 726 people provided thoughts to change the mascot, saying it wasn’t inclusive and was outdated. 

One person, Earl Ethier, spoke during the School Committee meeting, advocating to keep the mascot. 

“It may be symbolic and politically correct to change our mascot name in these current times, but that doesn’t really advance solving critical social issues in a significant way,” Ethier said. 

He asked that the committee base its decision on the merits of the presented arguments “as opposed to making decisions that will be perceived as only politically correct” and move beyond “cancel culture,” which he said, “denigrates major historical figures and erases or revises history.”