RED LODGE — Amid raucous cheers and a standing ovation, the Red Lodge School District board voted unanimously Tuesday night to change the mascot of its high school, the Redskins.
Trustee John Elsberry made the motion, asking the district to “embrace the Redskins mascot” until a new mascot is chosen by students and the community. The board will start laying out the process it will use to change the mascot at March's board meeting.
Speaking before the vote was taken, Superintendent Mark Brajcich warned those at the meeting.
“It's going to have a divisive effect,” he said. “We know that.”
But he called for unity, asking the crowd — roughly 100 people — to come together after the vote and move forward regardless of the lingering differences they may have.
“Once this vote is taken, we need to rally,” he said.
Most of the room stood to give him a standing ovation following his remarks.
The vote was the only item of business on the board's agenda. For about 45 minutes before the vote roughly a dozen resident stood to speak, advocating that the mascot be changed.
Only one person, Scott Boggio, asked that the board keep the mascot. He chided trustees for seemingly making a decision to change the mascot before coming before the public. “Tonight's meeting is a validation of a political agenda,” he said.
He said the silent majority will be heard when elections are held in May.
Some in the crowd stood to speak, rejecting Boggio's accusation that the board was trying to keep the decision from the public, saying that meetings are open and people are always welcome to come.
Brajcich agreed, saying its frustrating at times trying to get the public more involved with the district.
“How do you get the public involved when there isn't some hot-button issue?” he asked.
The meeting drew comments from past teachers, Red Lodge High alumni and even the town's Episcopal priest.
Pam Hellerud, a graduate of the class of 1975, said she was a Redskin and that she'd always be a Redskin.
“Just like I was a Pitcher before I got married and will still always be a Pitcher,” she said.
Similarly, alumni don't need to fear that a change in mascot will change their identity.
“You can always still be a Redskin,” she said.
But, she said, the high school needs to change its mascot.
Helen McKay, a retired teacher who had taught at Red Lodge High for 20 years, said her husband, children and grandchildren were all Redskins.
Walking into the high school's commons area, a metal sculpture of an American Indian headdress is prominently displayed. McKay said it makes her think of a warrior.
“Unfortunately, our name isn't the Warriors,” she said. “It's the Redskins and that's an insult.”
The district hopes to use a committee of trustees, community members and students to begin the process of changing the mascot. Trustees said they want everyone represented to make sure changing the mascot unifies the community.
Speaking directly before the vote, Trustee Rich Lynde said he struggled with the issue. He described himself as conservative, “spending a lot of windshield time with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.”
But, he said, changing the mascot is the right thing to do. “It's beyond political correctness,” he said. “It's just correct.”