After weeks of debate, controversy and discussion, the School Committee came to a conclusion on what to do with the Watertown High School mascot and logo: Nothing.
Officially, the school’s mascot is the Raiders and the school has no official logo. The School Committee voted unanimously to let the situation remain the same.
This spring, the high school held a contest where students could come up with a logo for the school, with a restriction that it could not portray an American Indian or any other stereotypical display of a race or ethnicity.
Some students and community members did not like the idea of changing the long-used mascot, and felt like it had been rushed into. When objections arose, the school decided not to go on with the vote for the new logo, and see how people wanted to handle the logo/mascot situation.
WHS, however, also has an unofficial logo – the running, cartoon of an Indian holding a flag. This image has recently become a concern to some in the school system, because it portrays a Native American in a cartoonish fashion.
The logo had been discussed by the Watertown High School Site Council for several months, but the School Committee did not hear about the potential change until May when the student representatives from the high school brought it to their attention, said School Committee Chairwoman Eileen Hsu-Balzer. At the first meeting in June, many supporters of keeping the logo and others who wanted to stop using it spoke out (read more here).
Many argued that this has been the Watertown High School logo for years. While it had been used on some uniforms in the past, the school stopped using it around 2002, said Hsu-Balzer, who corresponded with former WHS athletics equipment manager Jane Jackson. One exception was a set of golf shirts that were ordered with the logo.
In recent years the logo has been featured on Watertown memorabilia sold by booster clubs and by stores in town. The School Committee does not have jurisdiction over the private booster clubs, Hsu-Balzer said, so any change of the school logo would not have to be followed by the boosters.
Tuesday, a few more people spoke out about the logo.
Middle School teacher Holly Cachimuel said when she taught kindergarten she made a presentation at a conference where she showed a video of her class dressed up as Indians and singing “Three Little Indians.”
“I was informed that that was not appropriate,” Cachimuel said. “I would not have done it if I had realized.”
Watertown resident Roberta O’Leary used to spend summers visiting her grandparents on a Miqmaq Indian reservation. She also used to cheer on her brother when he played for the Watertown High football team, but she now finds the logo offensive.
“I am asked why I was not offended before,” she said. “When I was 12 I cheered for my brother, the team and the town.”
The logo might be a long tradition, but O’Leary said the Native American tradition in the area goes back to before the founding of Watertown.
“I do not find it an honor, but offensive and disrespectful,” O’Leary said.
Watertown High School student Franky Hession said that he supports using the logo, and said it captures the name, “Raiders.”
“Raiders are defined as Native Americans who raided British settlements,” Hession said. “It is not being racist. I do not think it is representative of all Native Americans.”
Will Twombly, a member of World in Watertown, said he has seen being offended by the logo, and said that what may have been find decades ago may not be acceptable anymore.
Hsu-Balzer said she had concerns about the cartoon Indian logo being viewed as offensive, and opening the district up to charges of creating a hostile work or educational environment, and civil rights lawsuits.
Additionally, the School Committee discovered that the logo was created by a North Quincy High School student in 1957. School Committee member Elizabeth Yusem found a book about the history of the logo, which is named “Yakoo” after former North Quincy student Allan Yacubian. The story was also told in the Patriot Ledger.
Governor’s Councilor and former Town Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney suggested using the logo used by the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
Either way, the district could face copyright issues. The artist who created the Yakoo logo would be entitled to royalties, and the Blackhawks would charge a licensing fee, said Yusem, who consulted an intellectual property attorney for advice.
The best solution in terms of not running into copyright issues, the attorney told Yusem, was to have a contest where the students design a logo.
School Committee member Michael Shepard said he once tried to use Mickey Mouse on brochures for a travel agency, but found it would cost half a million to use. Similarly, the licensing fee for the Blackhawk logo would be $100,000 a year, he said.
Pettito Devaney said she did not mean the logo had to be just like the Blackhawks logo, but a similar one that presents an Indian in a realistic way.
After the previous meeting, the School Committee had planned to propose a way to come up with a new logo and possibly a new mascot. Town Council President Mark Sideris, who also sits on the School Committee, said he struggled to come up with a group that would work.
“It is impossible to put together a community that includes everyone,” Sideris said.
After the discussion and public input on Tuesday, Hsu-Balzer said she recommended something she rarely does.
“I suggest we make a motion not to act,” Hsu-Balzer said.
The other School Committee members agreed to leave the logo and mascot they way they are – no official logo and having the school mascot or nickname be the Raiders.
School Committee member Julie McMahon said the Raiders name is not just for the athletes.
“There are more than 600 students at the high school and every single one of them is a Raider,” McMahon said. “Also be mindful this was rushed into.”