150 attend meeting on Red Lodge High School mascot

Live: Updates from tonight's board meeting
2011-02-09T17:10:00Z 2011-02-10T06:14:07Z 150 attend meeting on Red Lodge High School mascotROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
February 09, 2011 5:10 pm  • 

The Red Lodge School District board decided to meet next Tuesday night in a special meeting to vote on changing the high school's mascot.

Trustees spoke forcefully on the issue at a Wednesday meeting at Red Lodge High School after listening to an hour of public comment from more than two dozen community members.

"I heard a convicting testimony tonight," said Trustee Steve Haman. "We cannot continue to call ourselves Redskins."

Comment through the night was evenly divided between mascot supporters and detractors. However, trustees said they felt compelled to make the change.

"For me it doesn't even seem optional," said Trustee John Elsberry.

Weighing heavily on the trustees was a letter from the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council imploring the high school to change its mascot. To trustees, the letter seemed to suggest the tribe would not allow Lame Deer High School to compete with Red Lodge while the mascot remained.

Many students spoke out at the meeting.

"I strongly support the effort to change the mascot," said freshman Ivan Brighton. "Dignity and respect are far more important than tradition."

Student Marshall Metcalf asked the board to respect the school's past and keep the mascot.

"Allow me to be a Redskin," he said.

Roughly 150 people were present at the high school for the discussion.

"We are the Redskins. Long live the Redskins," said Nancy Dimich, addressing the board.

She said the school has a strong heritage in the community and that its mascot should be respected.

Many of those speaking in favor of keeping the mascot were graduates of the school. Teresa Thormahlen, class of 1980, while wearing a Red Lodge High Redskins sweatshirt, passed out copies of the school's fight song to the trustees.

Imploring them to not change the mascot, she spoke of the long tradition the high school has been in her family. Her father was the school's score keeper for basketball and football games. She then spoke directly to those at the meeting who had moved into Red Lodge later in life.

"Newcomers, I ask that you embrace what is here," she said.

Among those speaking for the mascot change were a handful of American Indians, both from the community and from elsewhere.

Nona Main, who was at the meeting at the request of someone else, said she was not a Red Lodge resident but is a proud Native American. She asked that out of respect of her heritage, the board change the mascot.

"We are not asking you to change your religious beliefs or the language you speak," she said. "The change we ask for is minimal compared to the changes we have gone through."

Mike Sullivan, offensive coordinator for the high school's football team asked the board to change the mascot. He noted he'd only lived in town for three years and that his status as an outsider gives him a different perspective from those who have lived in Red Lodge their whole lives.

Redskin is seen as a slur in most other towns, he said. "This does not represent this community well."

The board ended public comment shortly after 8:30 p.m.



WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON REPORT:

The Red Lodge School District board is meeting tonight and will discuss the issue of whether or not to change Red Lodge High School's mascot, the Redskins.

A number of groups from the community will address the board and then trustees, later in the meeting, will discuss the matter themselves.

Talk of changing the mascot, the Redskins, to something less racially charged comes up every year or so within the community. This year the board has sought to take on the issue to try to get it resolved.

Editor's note: The Billings Gazette will be posting live updates of the meeting on this page.

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