Supporters and opponents of keeping the Raiders nickname and the cartoonish logo as the symbol of Watertown High School talked about pride, tradition and the ugliness that has arisen during the public debate on the subject. They also got a history lesson on the WHS logo at Monday’s School Committee meeting.
The School Committee meeting was dominated by the WHS logo and mascot, and nothing was decided Monday. The board heard from the public and looked at options for how the decision will ultimately be made.
The School Committee generally agreeing that an ad hoc committee made up of residents, students, a school administrator – and possibly others – should discuss the issue. Town Council President Mark Sideris suggested a member of the WHS Athletic Hall of Fame and a member of World in Watertown who is an alum representing the community.
Whether the committee should come up with a process to follow or actually make the decision was not decided Monday. The School Committee decided to push the decision about the make up and mission of the committee until the next meeting on June 15 at 7 p.m. at the Watertown High School Lecture Hall.
They will discuss whether the committee should design the process for choosing the logo and mascot or make the decision itself.
Before the public forum, Town Council member Julie McMahon reported about her research into the school’s logo. McMahon, a 1984 WHS grad, said she was surprised by what she found about the logo under debate that features a cartoon-ish American Indian carrying a flag saying WHS.
“I went to the library and pulled out all the yearbooks and went through 60 years of yearbooks until they told me to leave,” McMahon said. “I searched through every team and never found the little guy on any uniform.”
There were a few instances, McMahon said, of other types of images of Native Americans, such as a realistic drawing of the side view of an American Indian with a feathers on the jerseys of one WHS boys ice hockey team.
School Committee Chairman Eileen Hsu-Balzer said she found a couple instances where WHS teams had the logo on their uniforms. One was some old golf team shirts. Another was some jerseys worn by a girls’ hockey team.
“Those turned out to be hand-me down Watertown Youth Hockey jerseys,” Hsu-Balzer said.
Some basketball seat cushions also have the logo, but they were donated by a booster group.
Whatever is decided about the WHS logo, Hsu-Balzer said the cartoon Indian logo will not be banned from use by booster groups, youth sports organizations or from being worn by students at school. She said the School Committee does not have the jurisdiction over those groups.
“Students will be able to wear any thing with the logo on it if is not part of an official uniform,” Hsu-Balzer said. “Or unless it is an event where students must appear in their official uniform at official events such as games and meets.”
Marc Barenholtz started the Save the Watertown RED Raider page on Facebook when he heard about the possible change of mascot and logo. He said many have rallied behind keeping the mascot and 725 people signed a petition to save the Watertown Red Raider.
He has been disappointed, however, with the debate that has gone on through social media.
“I am appalled to see adults on social media attacking adults, adults attacking children, children attacking adults and children attacking children,” Barenholtz said.
Those supporting the logo have been called racist and those who oppose the logo have been told their opinion does not count because the were not born and raised in Watertown, Hsu-Bazler said.
Barenholtz said the logo has deep meaning for many in Watertown.
“People support it not because they are racist but because they believe in tradition. We are proud to have the Indian represent us as our symbol. It has represented us for decades, why is this a problem, suddenly?”
Others said the symbol insults Native Americans. School Committee member Elizabeth Yusem contacted members of the Wampanoag Tribe at Plimouth Plantation and showed them the Watertown Red Raider logo.
“I asked for their impressions when they looked at the logo. They said: angry Indian, big nose, looks like he is on the war path, disrespectful to feathers, this makes me upset and why do people think they can treat my culture that way,” Yusem said.
Former Town Councilor and current Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney said the town has a long historical link with Native Americans. Just days after the Declaration of Independence, the first treaty with a foreign power was signed in Watertown when American officials signed a treaty with the Micmac Indians.
Each year the signing of the treaty is commemorated by having Chief Roland Jerome come down and sing traditional songs at the site of the signing – the Edmund Fowle House on Marshall Street.
“How can I invite Chief Jerome if we remove the Indian logo?” Petitto Devaney said.
Instead of the current logo, Petitto Devaney suggested using the logo used by the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
“Have a logo of a proud Ameirican Indian,” she said.
Watertown resident Nathan Greess, who attended Watertown schools through eighth grade, said he has a problem with the way the logo and even the Raider name portrays American Indians.
“If you look at the town seal, it said ‘In Pace Condita’ – ‘Founded in Peace.’ The opposite of aggression,” Greess said. “If we are honoring them why do we stigmatize them as ‘raiders’?”
Students at the high school seem split on the subject. Junior Daniel McCurley did a poll of 331 students at the high school after he heard that the mascot and logo would change.
“I would say 45 percent strongly want to keep the logo in some way. They don’t want to be the pirates or whatever,” McCurley said. “The rest are split. Half wanted to change it, strongly, and half did not care.”
Personally, McCurley said he has strong feelings for the logo.
“We have always had this logo. It is a logo I’m very proud of. It is a family crest,” McCurley said.
Doreen Dawson, a 1980 WHS grad, said she used to be on the pep squad when they wore deerskin dresses. Now she says she has friends who are Native Americans and traveled the country and she believes the logo is offensive.
“I don’t think of you as racist or offensive,” Dawson said. “When I see the logo it does offend me. Just because it is here now, doesn’t mean it is OK.”
Lifelong Watertown resident Michael Antonellis said for him the logo is more than just about the high school sports teams.
“It is not only about athletics, but it is the school and everything we do,” Antonellis said. “People see the logo and think about good times.”
Antonellis said he thinks the decision for what the mascot and logo should be should not be limited to the students at the high school, but also WHS graduates.
If the logo must change, Antonellis had a suggestion for alternatives, such as W for Watertown with a signature piece – like feathers.
“If we can keep the mascot as the Raiders, at least compromise and create a mascot that harkens back,” he said.
Possible Legal Problems
Even if the current logo was not controversial, it may have been copied from one used by North Quincy High School. Hsu-Balzer said former Watertown High School Head Master Steve Watson was contacted by a person associated with North Quincy High School who said the WHS logo “plagiarized” the logo from North Quincy and “vaguely threatened legal action.
The Indian in the logo is known as Chief Yakoo, and was created in the 1950s and named after long-time North Quincy supporter and alum Alan Yacubian.
Hsu-Balzer said she consulted the district’s legal council to see if the logo could violate people’s civil rights.
“The attorney told me, if it creates a hostile environment the individual would have the right to school and the district for Civil Rights violation, including discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin,” Hsu-Balzer said.
She said she worries about the possibility of facing litigation, including the cost to the taxpayers.