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3/23/2011 2:00:00 PM
WHS Mascot Reinstated Until June
The RSU #12 Board votes on a motion to temporarily restore the
The RSU #12 Board votes on a motion to temporarily restore the "Redskin" mascot to Wiscasset High School. The vote occured during a March 17 regular meeting. (Matthew Stilphen photo)
By Matthew Stilphen

At a meeting at the Whitefield Elementary School, the RSU #12 Board voted to reinstate the "Redskin" mascot and moniker to Wiscasset High School until June. The decision came after two hours of contentious debate amongst board members and the general public.

The motion will allow seniors of the high school to graduate as "Redskins" but still requires a Mascot Committee to find a new symbol and present its decision to the board in May. In addition, all representations of the Redskin mascot at Wiscasset High must be removed before Aug. 1 and replaced by a new moniker.

"I think this is a compromise," said WHS Principal Matt Carlson. "This allows the committee to continue and respects the graduating seniors who want to be Redskins."

In January, the Board voted to immediately and permanently remove the term "Redskin" from representing any schools in the district. The decision shocked some members of the community who were anticipating, per a previous directive by the Board, that a locally organized committee would decide on the symbols fate.

Revisiting the issue March 17, the original motion to allow WHS to use the "Redskin" mascot until the end of the year passed 10-9. The official total, calculated under a weighted vote system that assigns a value commensurate with the population of each town a board member represents, was 7045 out of 13,750 votes in favor.

Two amendments to the motion, including language billed as a "timeline" by Richard Devries of Westport Island, will allow the high school to keep any historical artifacts with "Redskin" attached to it but specifically requests that a new mascot be found before a scheduled May board meeting.

Prior to the vote, Rep. Les Fossel (R-Alna) began the designated public comment section by saying the "world was closing in" on Wiscasset.

"I was elected to tell you the truth," said Fossel. "It's time to find a new symbol, I urge you to do this respectfully and not have it shoved down your throat."

Wiscasset resident Chet Grover, a sitting member of the Mascot Committee, thanked the board for revisiting the issue and urged school officials to "listen to the will of the people."

"This is an issue of proper representation," said Grover. "The people of Wiscasset have overwhelmingly supported this mascot."

Both Grover and Dresden resident Chris Teel, who organized a December survey to gauge the "temperature" of Wiscasset voters, spoke of their frustration with having the choice "ripped" from a committee.

"The process was trumped by the actions of the board," said Teel. "This is political correctness run amok. The bottom line is that three out of four Wiscasset residents are in favor of keeping the mascot."

Teel, a vocal critic of the January decision, was repeatedly reprimanded by Board Chairman Thom Birmingham for talking out of order as heated comments veered back and forth between the public and school officials. Supt. Gregory Potter, who had so far resisted an official endorsement of the January vote, said he was "surprised" when it passed.

"A mascot should be something 90 percent of the people can support," said Potter. "This is a mascot we're talking about. It is time for a change."

Board member Eugene Stover of Wiscasset cited historical evidence that suggests, in his opinion, that the term "Redskin" was a common nickname used and endorsed by Native American tribes.

"This idea of Redskin being a racist term is nothing more than a modern myth," said Stover. "It offends a small minority of people."

Stover cited a letter from the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen objecting to the board's January decision as evidence to the true wishes of the town.

Birmingham, while acknowledging the hurt imposed on some Wiscasset residents by the controversy, said Wiscasset is now "one community out of eight" after the formation of RSU #12. Board member Lester Schaeffer, who abstained from any vote, said the entire mascot debate was "bad publicity" for the nearly two-year old Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit.

In 1999, the town briefly considered changing the 'Redskin" symbol but ultimately chose to keep the moniker. The ensuing fallout led then WHS principal Susan Poppish to remove the majority of images depicting a "Redskin" except for a large painting on the school's basketball court.

Maine Indian Tribal State Commission Chairman Jamie Bissonette-Lewey, in attendance, urged the Board to end the "intergenerational" racism where it may have started.

"Bounty hunters who were sent to kill Native Americans would register in Wiscasset," said Lewey to the Board. "I respectfully ask you to stop using this name."

After the March 11 Board decision, the Wiscasset Mascot Committee placed a list of three new mascot suggestions out to the community and students for a vote. The three choices are the Red Hawks, Wolverines, or the Rebels. Online voting is limited to RSU #12 district residents only and can be done at through the Wiscasset High School link. A final decision, based on community voting and a polling of the high school student body, will be made May 2 according to SVRSU officials.

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