Jaywalking: Turners Falls’ nickname heads to polls

Monday, May 01, 2017

In 13 days, people in the Gill-Montague Regional School District will be going to the polls to vote on the fate of three of the nine spots on the School Committee.

Plenty of people will be interested to see which of the five people running for the three seats will win on May 15, but it may be a question that has little to no bearing on the future of the district that will draw much more attention on Election Day.

Thanks to some tireless work by the group of people known on social media as “Save the TF Indians Logo,” voters in Montague and Erving will also have a non-binding question on their ballots asking voters if they would wish to retain the Indian nickname formerly used at Turners Falls High School.

As you know by now, back on Feb. 14, the Gill-Montague School Committee voted 6-3 to abolish the use of the Indian as the school nickname at Turners Falls High School. To some, it was the most recent example of a Valentine’s Day Massacre, while others found even more reason to kiss on Valentine’s Day as they celebrated the end of what they perceived as a discriminatory nickname.

No matter which side you fall on, the vote seemingly marked the end of months of contentious debate in the district between those who identified the nearly 90-year-old nickname at the school with tradition, and those who felt that using the nickname was disgusting and racist, especially considering the village of Turners Falls is named in honor of someone who led English colonists in the massacre of hundreds of Native Americans during King Philip’s War.

That vote should have effectively ended the debate, since in the end, the fate of the nickname was solely in the hands of the school committee. The problem was that those who were fighting to keep the name intact took offense to a number of issues. They argued that the vote did not reflect the overwhelming opinions of many who live in the town, because, in their views, those who lived in town felt that sense of tradition when it came to the nickname, and they meant no disrespect by using it. They also argued that the process used by the school committee in getting to the vote was unfair. Many felt that the best way to gauge the feelings of those in the district was to hold a townwide vote. In order to do that, they began soliciting signatures from registered voters around Montague and as they closed in on getting the appropriate number of signatures, the town Selectboard decided it best to put the question on the ballot.

The “Save the TF Indians Logo” group did get enough Erving signatures to put the question on that ballot as well, but when the group approached the Gill Selectboard, the three-member board voted 2-1 to keep the question off the ballot, saying they felt that the school committee did its due diligence when voting in the first place.

So residents of Montague and Erving will have the chance to have their voices heard. Remember, no matter how the vote turns out, it’s a non-binding question. Nothing is going to change unless the “Save the TF Indians Logo” group follows it up, which they certainly will do, although Chris Pinardi and others in the group are not showing their hands just yet.

But voting to “Overturn the Vote,” as the hashtag on signs suggests, will not actually overturn anything. Instead, it will likely further cement what we already know — that many people in that town love their former nickname. In fact, the only thing that would be revealing in all of this would be if the vote was actually close. Imagine that. It would be akin to the November presidential election, when those who voted for Donald Trump remained relatively silent until Election Day, only to shock the nation. Living in Turners Falls and wanting to change the nickname is akin to being a Trump supporter. It’s not something many people vocalize for fear of being shunned. And that’s not to say that those who support keeping the nickname don’t take a beating for being “racists” among other things, but in Turners Falls, the most popular group appears to be the “Save the Name” folks.

As for whether or not a change among the members of the school committee is going to help the “Save the TF Indians Logo” folks: It could a bit but not enough to make a huge difference right away, since two of the three contested seats are by members who voted to keep the name intact, those being April Reipold and Mike Langknecht. It’s likely that the gap will close a bit among members, but if another vote was taken, the “Change the Name” folks would still likely prevail, 5-4. And that’s not even something that is in the works.

So when the dust settles on May 15, nothing will change when it comes to the fate of the Indian nickname. The supporters will continue to fight to get the moniker back, while those on the “Change” side will keep supporting the school committee while it moves forward with choosing a new nickname.

The future of the nickname still remains cloudy. The “Save the TF Indians Logo” folks don’t seem ready to call it quits any time soon, but there is still nothing to suggest that the Feb. 14 vote will change. No matter what, you have to admire the fight from both sides. This is a topic that just keeps on going.

Speaking of a new nickname, the student council at Turners Falls High School conducted a survey of students on Feb. 15, one day after the school committee voted to change the nickname. 

The student council asked students a variety of questions about getting rid of the nickname and the resounding response from the students was that they would like to keep the nickname. One final question asked students, “Besides the Indians, what do you think could be a suitable nickname?”

The overwhelming response was to keep the Indian nickname, although there were also a lot of respondents that said they didn’t know or didn’t care.

But not everyone was indifferent or unable to come up with any fresh ideas. Some people went the comedic route, such as one respondent who said the new nickname should be a snake because that’s how administration acted during the process. There were also a few other names that were inappropriate to print.

Some people put some thought into their responses and came up with some very good ideas. Here are the top five from where I sit.

5. River Rats — Yes, it’s been the derogatory nickname those of us from Greenfield have always given to our rivals on the other side of the river. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the name? 

4. Blue Jays, Blue Wave, Blue Tide — Really anything with “blue” in the name. The school’s colors are blue and white, and I don’t hate any name that includes the color. Blue Wave would be interesting since their rivals with the Green Wave, while I just kind of like Blue Jays.

3. Tribe — Tribe was already used as sort of a nickname for the nickname, although this may be too close to Indians to be feasible. You would have to eliminate anything pertaining to Indians, but you could keep a nickname the school is comfortable with.

2. Titans — The Turners Falls Titans just kind of has a nice ring to it.

1. Pride — I thought the best idea was the Turners Falls Pride for a number of reasons. You could easily make the mascot a Lion, but after the ongoing debate that has taken place, it’s also a great play-on-words to a district that clearly has a lot of pride in its sports teams and its nickname.

Don’t plan on any resolution too soon. It’s likely going to take no less than six months from the start of the school year in the fall for any decision to be finalized. Sorry incoming seniors.

Finally, I owe Franklin County Technical School baseball player Tim Fritz an apology. I have continually called him by the name of one of his cousins this season. So far, in addition to the times I’ve actually gotten his name correct, I have also called him Jay Fritz and Jon Fritz, both of whom are cousins, but wrong nonetheless.

Tim and his family have been really understanding about my case of the yips when it comes to getting his name right. My apologies.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.