SENECA - The potentially most controversial item on the Seneca School Board agenda at their meeting Monday night was consideration of retiring the school mascot. The matter was discussed briefly and tabled for discussion and possible action at the July meeting.
The Seneca mascot has been the Indian for the past century. Like all Native American team mascots from professional sports to college sports to high school sports, there has been public pressure to change those mascots.
Many Native American mascots have already been changed. The Washington Redskins have dropped their mascot. The Marquette Warriors changed their mascot to the Golden Eagles several years ago.
At one point, Seneca School District Administrator Dave Boland noted that for the last 30-some years, the name Indians or the depiction of the mascot has not appeared on school athletic uniforms or elsewhere.
In deference to the many players, coaches, parents and fans who were not at the meeting because they had traveled to the WIAA Regional Championship Softball Game between Seneca and DeSoto, it was decided to put off any decision on retiring the mascot to the next meeting.
School board member Chad Sime was the first to discuss tabling action on the proposal to retire the school mascot until the next meeting. He said he sought to table the mascot matter until the July meeting to give people the time for more discussion.
Seneca School Board President Mark Johnson also favored giving time to all of the people who were attending the softball game on Monday night to express themselves on the matter.
Boland told the board that there was no question that the mascot would be retired at some point in the future. It was just a matter of when and how that would happen.
The district administrator noted that Cleveland Indians are looking into changing their mascot and the Washington Redskins had already made the move. He noted if organizations with resources like the professional sports teams can’t or won’t fight the dropping of Native American-themed mascots, it was doubtful the Seneca School District would be able to oppose making the changes.
“The fewer schools that have it, the bigger the target on the back of those who still do,” Boland noted.
Several board members including Johnson said that they had not heard much from people abut opposing changing the mascot.
Johnson asked Larry Kelley, who was attending the meeting remotely via computer, if he had heard objections to making a mascot change.
“I sure have,” Kelley replied.
Kelley said the school district should hear from the groups that oppose the use of the mascot and want it stopped. He said he had not personally heard from the opponents of the mascot.
“We need to hear from those people, before we stick our neck out and get it cut off,” Kelley said. He estimated that 50 percent of the population opposed changing the mascot from the current Indians.
Boland said that he had heard from many former alumni that never gave the name a thought, but now they believe changing the mascot is in the best interest of the school.
“I’ve coached here for 32 years and never saw the name on a uniform,” Boland said. “Why have a mascot, if you don’t use it.’
Board member Rachael George had an interesting take on the mascot subject. She said that she had grown up and gone to school in Prairie du Chien, where the mascot was the Blackhawks. It was a name taken form the name of the famous Native American chief. George noted the school had struggled with that issue.
“I’m not from here, so I really feel it’s more up to the people who have grown up here with the name to make that decision,” George said.
At one point in the discussion, Larry Kelley noted that the Seneca mascot had been the Indian for 100 years.
Boland said that while that may be true, it hasn’t been used for the last 32 years.
Board president Mark Johnson said that of all the people he had talked to about changing the Indian mascot there had not been any pushback. He noted the one person that had a problem with making the change away from Indians was not from the school district.
Boland noted the Native American mascots are very controversial at this point. He believes it’s only matter of time before there’s some sort of incident over it at a state tournament or something like that.
Board member Charles Clark pointed out that the district is now back in the same position it was three years ago on the question of the school mascot.
Boland agreed the matter should be tabled to the July meeting to allow residents an opportunity to discuss retiring the mascot.
The district administrator noted that the issue was a bit of generational thing. He explained that many younger people do not feel the attachment to the Indian mascot since they have not grown up with it like previous generations.
After a closed session meeting to consider personnel matter, the board reconvened in open session to accept the resignations of two middle school coaches. Those who resigned are middle school volleyball coach Kayla Chambers and middle school girls basketball coach Brad Wright.
In other business, the Seneca Area School District Board of Education:
• gave the Seneca Area School District’s Monthly Recognition Award to Deb Bensih, who retired after 32 years of teaching Kindergarten; Shannon Kriel, a school paraprofessional, who retired after eight years with the district; and to school custodians Dan and Cheryl Groh, who stepped up to fill a gap in cleaning by taking on additional duties during the COVID pandemic.
• approved the 2021-2022 open enrollment plan that included two students coming in and one going out-noting the students don’t have to commit until the school year begins
• learned the district had signed up for the federal extended summer universal free lunch program which is set to run until next June
• approved a new property insurance policy with an increased premium based on increased claims in the Midwest due to more severe storms that’s become a trend they expect to see continue because of global warming-the annual fee increased from $57,400 to $61,400
• approved a shared service agreement with the Monroe School District that allows the Seneca speech therapist to work with students from that school district two-and-a-half days per week
• approved the purchase of a floor cleaner
• approved trading the school’s Kubota tractor for a new John Deere tractor at a net cost of just $17,000
• approved an annual membership in Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance
• approve an annual membership in the Wisconsin Association of School Boards• approved an annual membership in the Association of Equity in Funding