Process begins to retire Athol High School’s Native American mascot, logo

  • The Red Raider, pictured, was the mascot for Athol High School sports teams until the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee voted unanimously earlier this month to retire it. The process now begins to remove it from the school grounds. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

For the Recorder
Published: 11/24/2020 6:04:22 PM

ATHOL — A plan of action has been developed to retire the Red Raider name and logo associated with Athol High School’s athletic teams.

Athol High School Principal Dave King updated the Athol Royalston Regional School District School Committeelast week, which earlier this month voted unanimously to make the change.

King said the first step will include removing three large signs adorned with a cartoonish caricature of a Native American wielding a tomahawk and a spear, as well as a graphic painted on the wall of the school’s gymnasium. He said a banner in the gym that says “Home of the Red Raiders” can be easily taken down, along with another banner. Any other signs in the building that say Red Raiders or include the mascot are expected to be removed this week.

“The next layer of actionable items,” King continued, “would be the week of Nov. 30, and what we’re thinking is, in the front driveway there are a couple of signs that we could either paint over or purchase a sticker that goes over the mascot itself.”

King also pointed out that every classroom has a “Raider Pride” poster. He said stickers reading “AHS” may be purchased and placed over the word “Raider” so that the posters read “AHS Pride.”

The next significant step, King said, is the matter of the gym floor.

“I’ve met with the athletic director, Dan Bevis, numerous times,” he said. “He’s met with local vendors who could help provide us guidance on how to best handle this situation. The center court mascot is a significant item there. It’s within the center of the circle, and after looking at it we feel we could belt sand that off — remove it — and just leave that plain for now. Additionally, at the baseline there is the ‘Red Raider’ wording and I feel we could sand that as well.”

Changes to the football field scoreboard and to banners hanging in the gym wouldn’t be made until a new mascot is chosen. King added that the district will incur a significant expense when it comes to changes in athletic and band attire, but the cost and the process will be nailed down at a later date.

King asked for guidance from the School Committee on a couple of items, one of which is a monument — a gift from the Class of 1988 — that stands at the entrance to the athletic complex.

“It does have a Red Raider logo on it,” he said. “It does have a mascot on it, and the words ‘Red Raider’ on it. So, I’m looking for some guidance from the School Committee on how to proceed with that.”

Committee Chair Lee Chauvette said a bill moving through the state Legislature provides some leeway for the preservation of a logo or moniker that exists on something that may be difficult or excessively expensive to alter, as long as there’s a good faith effort to make overall changes within the space of a year.

“I would not personally be in favor of changing something like the granite donation — the class gift,” Chauvette said. “That was not paid for with taxpayers’ funds. Either removing or trying to re-do or reface the granite — I’m not sure that’s exactly in our wheelhouse, or my wheelhouse, anyway.”

The monument’s logo is a rough depiction of the same Native American caricature employed throughout the high school.

“I understand the concern about it being a class gift,” School Committee member Mitch Grosky said. “But my feeling would be a bit different if we had a noble, majestic-looking Native American there. Then I could say, ‘OK, it stays as part of our heritage. If that image does bear resemblance to the (current logo), then my feeling is that it wouldn’t be appropriate to continue it.”

Chauvette then asked King to reach out to other districts to see how they have handled similar issues. In recent years, Frontier Regional School, Turners Falls High School and Mohawk Trail Regional School have stopped using Native American names and images as their team mascots.

In the meantime, King has put together an advisory committee to guide the mascot/logo changeover. He said he hopes to sign an agreement with the Hurd Group, a company the specializes in rebranding, to assist with the committee’s efforts. King noted the company has offered to provide its guidance at no cost to the school district, adding that it is working on the same issue with two other districts in Massachusetts.

King said the committee will actively seek input from the community and from students, some of whom will form a subcommittee to participate in deliberations with the AHS mascot committee.

King said he hopes to have a final strategy on how to proceed finalized by Nov. 30, after first meeting with Superintendent Darcy Fernandes. The plan will formally be presented to the School Committee on Dec. 16.

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