The Seneca School Board voted 6-0 to retire the school’s Indian mascot at their regular monthly meeting on Monday.
The motion to end using the Indian as the school’s mascot was made by board member Chad Sime and seconded by board president Mark Johnson. It passed unanimously. Board member Larry Kelley did not attend the meeting.
At their last meeting, the board tabled the vote on the mascot to place it on the July meeting agenda. The matter was tabled because many people who might want to speak about it were attending the Seneca-DeSoto sectional semifinal softball game and were not present at the June meeting.
Well, those people were represented by 20-some individuals that attended the meeting Monday night.
At one point or another, almost all of those who spoke at the meeting expressed an opinion against retiring the Indian mascot.
Several speakers said the Indian mascot honored Indians. Others said use of the mascot was clearly not racist.
However, district administrator Dave Boland and several board members expressed a different opinion on the question of keeping or retiring the Indian mascot.
Boland told those assembled that pressure in society had grown to drop Native American names. He noted that despite their financial and legal resources both the Washington Redskins football team and the Cleveland Indian baseball team had discontinued the use of the mascots.
Boland also pointed out that the Indian mascot has not been used on Seneca uniforms or elsewhere for the past 45 years.
There are some images in the gym that still have the Indian logo. Most notable are the wall pads under the backboard and an image painted on a wall. The gym floor is also painted with the words Seneca Indians.
Boland noted those references could be removed going forward if the mascot was retired.
The school does not use the word Indians on the website.
“It would be nice to get something we could use,” Boland said.
One person attending the meeting asked if the school could keep the name and change the logo.
Someone asked if the tribes had been contacted. Boland said he had tried reaching out to tribes and there had been no response.
There are about 12 teams left in the state that still use the name Indians and a couple more that use the name Warriors, Boland noted. It’s possible a team could keep the name Warriors if they changed the logo image to some non-Native American themed Warrior.
Boland said teams attending state tournaments have faced protestors targeting them because of the Indian mascot.
“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” the district administrator and veteran basketball coach said.
“Going to state is about the kids’ effort and accomplishments not the mascot,” Boland said.
Boland noted the alumni have contacted the district and said things like their feelings on the mascot had changed and they now believed it was the time to change it.
“I thought the name Indians honored them,” a woman said of the mascot. “I wish they would see it that way.”
Boland said the tribe he contacted would not touch the matter.
“Why do we have to budge?” someone asked.
Boland said the district did not have to change the mascot, but pressure was growing as fewer and fewer schools were left with the Indians mascot.
“We only may have dodged the thing thus far because we’re not a big school,” Boland said. He noted that LaCrosse Central was one of the last schools to change their mascot.
Boland noted that there had been reporting statewide on schools, including Seneca, that still had the Indian mascot.
Board president Mark Johnson described the moment he changed his mind about the mascot.
“I told Dave Boland that I don’t want to change the mascot,” Johnson recalled. ‘I want to be the Indians,’ I said. I want to shout ‘Let’s go Indians.’
“Dave said to me, ‘When was the last time you saw us using the Indians on our uniforms or any other places?’ It’s time to make the change.”
A member of the Seneca Indian tribe visited the school 15 years ago, reviewed the logos and made suggestions. However, he made it clear he was not representing everyone with those suggestions, Boland explained. That kind of input has ceased to be available.
Johnson said that he had asked 40 people about retiring the mascot and 36 had told him it was time to change the mascot, while four did not think it should be changed.
Board member Tyler Aspenson read a text message he received from a community person.
“We touched base on this 20 years ago, but times change,” the text read. “Racism is an acute issue in our society now. We need to change the mascot and come up with a new one. We need to drop Indians now. We need to stop fighting it and embrace the change.”
A woman said she did not see the mascot as racist.
Local resident Wade Varo acknowledged the situation needed to be dealt with going forward.
“The thing is continually going to be this,” Varo said.” “It takes time away from more important things that need to be discussed
“Major league teams dropped their mascots and went to something else,” Varo said. “Obviously, we have bigger issues that need to get done. We need to move on to bigger things.”
Board member Charles Clark said the children in his family see the mascot issue both ways,
Board member Brittany Joy questioned how she would feel if she were an Indian and saw a team using the name as a mascot.
Varo added, “If this is going to happen, it should be up to the students to pick a new mascot.”
Boland said the way it is often done elsewhere, is the students come up with ideas, as do the parents, teachers, coaches and community members. Then, in something like a Google Poll, the top three or so are chosen and the choice is made from there by the board.
“If this is something that’s going to happen, now is as good of time as ever,” board member Chad Sime said of retiring the mascot.
Johnson said the process of selecting a new mascot should be kept separate from deciding what to do about the current mascot. The board president said naming other mascots and saying do you like them or the current mascot would only cause confusion and the two decisions were best kept entirely separate.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to retire the Indians mascot. Board member Larry Kelley was not present for the meeting.
In other business, the Seneca School Board:
• adopted a 2021 start of the year COVID draft plan that will be much like last year’s plan with some adjustments–masks will be optional if local COVID infection rates remain low, parents present for the discussion emphasized their desire to have mask wearing optional and having parental consent for rapid testing of COVID
• approved pledging $50,000 toward a broadband expansion grant application from Vernon Communications that would make broadband available in unserved portions of northern Crawford County and provide service to 70 percent of the district’s families
• decided to offer employees an HMO option through Gundersen Health that would reduce costs for both the district and the employee
• approved a bid for flooring in the elementary school from Todd Foley of $10,316 to do a classroom, two offices and hallway
• learned there were currently no bids for bread and the usual lone bidder might be having production problems due to staffing issues
• approved the Prairie Farms milk bid-the only bid
• approved employee handbook changes that included a uniform leave of absence policy and $5 per day raise for substitute teachers
• approved the 2021 athletic event passes, registration and fees to be the same as last year, except Seneca students will be admitted free to all home athletic events
• set the Seneca Area School District Annual Meeting date of Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
• learned there were no seclusion or restraint incidents in the previous school year–an annual report of such incidents is required by law• took no action on a paraprofessional vacancy and part time cleaning vacancy after discussing them in closed session-application for the positions remains open through July 23