Community members discuss proposal to change SHS mascot

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Photo by/Laura Hayes
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer and Chair Jon Wensky listen to speakers.

By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer

SHREWSBURY — Arguments for both keeping and changing Shrewsbury High School’s mascot were voiced by community members and alumni during a June 16 School Committee meeting.

A majority of attendees advocated for the committee to keep the “Colonial” mascot. 

“We’re all Colonials, so please, please don’t change history,” said Diane Crouse, who graduated in 1969. “History is always going to be history. But it seems like we’re just taking up and just wiping history out. Let us not. Let us please keep the Colonials. I beg you from my heart.” 

The School Committee may decide whether to change the mascot during its June 23 meeting at 7 p.m.

Native leaders provide feedback

Whether Shrewsbury should change its mascot was raised after a student submitted a petition for the change. After the School Committee then received a counter-petition, Superintendent Joseph Sawyer was tasked with forming an ad hoc committee.

That committee offered two options: change the mascot or keep the “Colonials” name, but update its presentation.

The ad hoc committee had attempted to get feedback from Native American groups, and three members participated during the School Committee meeting. 

“This is a first for me tonight, to be talking about a settler-colonial mascot,” said Rhonda Anderson, who is the Western Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs.

Photo by/Laura Hayes
Western Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs Rhonda Anderson speaks via Zoom during the School Committee meeting.

Anderson, who is from the Alaskan Native Iñupiaq-Athabascan tribe, is an activist for removing Native mascots and decided not to send her child to a local high school whose mascot is the “Warriors.”

“I don’t want her to have the same issues with a mascot that I grew up with,” Anderson said.

Parents are going to be proud of their children, no matter what their mascot is, she said.

However, the Colonial life in the 17th Century wasn’t romantic, said Nipmuc Tribal Anti-Mascot Representative Brittney Walley.

Sawyer asked if other names — like Minutemen or Patriots — would also be concerning. 

Anderson said she generally didn’t agree with humans as mascots, adding that a name like the “Eagles” would also be patriotic.

“You will not be losing identity,” Anderson said. “You will not be losing memories. Instead, you will gain community spirit, community cooperation and coming together to create a new mascot or name that everyone can truly be proud to stand behind.”

Community reacts

Photo by/Laura Hayes
Nick Todisco speaks during a School Committee meeting.

Speakers, who raised points both for and against the change, were allotted three minutes to address the School Committee.

“We were Colonials. We were proud to be Colonials. We’re still proud to be Colonials. I believe based on what we heard tonight, maybe there needs to be a review of what’s taught in history class, but I don’t believe that the word ‘colonial’ should be taken as a derogatory word or meaning,” said Donna O’Connor, who graduated from Shrewsbury in 1970.

She said when her mother passed away, family knew she wanted money to go to the SHS booster club. 

“I don’t believe that a lot of the boosters that donated would have been so generous had they learned that the name of Colonial was taken from our identity,” O’Connor said.

One resident asked how changing the mascot would be paid for. 

The ad hoc committee’s study noted that if any change was phased in over time, these costs would be part of the operating budget, such as the district’s cycle of updating athletic uniforms and resurfacing the basketball court when needed.

The district has estimated the cost for changing the mascot entirely between $430,000 to $790,000, but staff have noted that those costs depend on what and when items are replaced.

Photo by/Laura Hayes
Joshua Choi, a 2020 grad, addresses the School Committee.

For Joshua Choi, who graduated in 2020, Shrewsbury’s mascot debate is reminiscent of a similar debate at the College of the Holy Cross, which he attends, to change its mascot, the Crusader. 

“At Holy Cross, tradition won out,” Choi said.

He added that, while the lance was removed from the Crusader image, the concerns still persisted. 

“You all have a chance to succeed where my school failed,” Choi said. “…This decision that you eventually will make is decisively going to show whether our community stands with our students in the present or the facade of the past.” 

Resident Robert Sallese said he could see both sides, but he added that a majority of the people surveyed — including students — favored keeping the mascot. 

“We just need to find a way to coexist and find some common ground,” Sallese said.