CORNELL — School mascots’ names are in the news, but that doesn’t mean changes for some area districts.
Last week, La Crosse Central High School changed its mascot to the RiverHawks, choosing to drop its long-held moniker the “Red Raiders.” In January, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) passed a resolution that encourages districts across the state to drop racial and ethnic mascots. And Gov. Tony Evers — who as state school superintendent encouraged districts for years to drop the mascot names — is exploring a plan to use tribal casino revenue to create a grant to help school districts pay to adopt a new nickname or logo for school merchandise, team uniforms and scoreboards, among other costs.
However, it is a non-issue in the Cornell School District, said superintendent Paul Schley. The district’s nickname has been the Chiefs for decades, and Schley doesn’t see it changing anytime soon.
“There is no talk of changing it in Cornell,” Schley said. “It’s not even on our radar. It’s not been an issue locally, and we believe in local control.”
Several years ago, the district altered the logo, removing the face of a Native American from the design.
Board member Eileen Sykora attended the WASB conference in January, where the resolution to encourage eliminating Native American mascots was approved. Schley said Sykora voted against the measure, and the resolution hasn’t been brought up at their meetings.
Schley said around 15 years ago, he received a letter from someone in the Wisconsin Dells area, asking for the mascot name to be changed. He said he hasn’t received any comments from local residents who want it removed.
Just eight miles north are the Lake Holcombe Chieftains. When the two school districts decided in 2012 to consolidate for a football team, they created an entirely new mascot, the Knights. In recent years, the two districts have consolidated for cross country, track, softball and baseball, using the Knights mascot in all those sports.
Additionally, those districts share a wrestling team with the Gilman School District, and that team is known as the Wolfpack. The football merger will end next fall, as both Lake Holcombe and Cornell will be switching to the 8-man football format, he added, but the rest of the consolidated teams will move forward as the Knights.
Lake Holcombe School Superintendent Kurt Lindau said the school retired its Native American mascot several years ago but intends to keep its nickname.
“I am not aware of any issue with the continued use of the Chieftain name,” Lindau said.
Statewide trend to change mascots
There are 28 school districts in the state that have mascots with Native American names. Three other districts dropped their mascot name in the past two years besides La Crosse Central. In December 2019, the Menomonee Falls School District opted to drop its Indians mascot, switching to the Phoenix.
The Auburndale School District also announced it was phasing out its Apaches mascot, and that school recently became the Eagles. The Elmwood-Plum City School District also switched from the Raiders to the Wolves.
In the past two decades, the Osseo-Fairchild Chieftains and Menomonie Indians were dropped by their respective school districts. Menomonie became the Mustangs in 2011, while Osseo-Fairchild switched to the Thunder.
The La Crosse School District picked the RiverHawks from eight finalists that included the Titans, Pride, Bandits, Chargers, Cardinals, Golden Bears and Lumberjacks. Officials are hopeful they can begin introducing the new logo and nickname immediately, anticipating using it for sports this spring. A grand opening event is planned for later to hand out the new gear.
The WASB resolution passed in January on a 182-67 vote.
In 2010, then-Gov. Jim Doyle signed Act 250, a bill that allowed the Deparment of Public Instruction to begin a review process if a complaint was received from a district resident (even if only a single resident) that a school’s nickname, mascot or logo is offensive, the WASB resolution explains. Under that law, a hearing (conducted by the DPI) had to be scheduled within 45 days. Unless the state superintendent found the use of the nickname or team name, alone or in conjunction with a logo or mascot, was ambiguous as to whether it was race-based, the district had the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that its mascot or nickname did not promote discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping.
In 2013 former Gov. Scott Walker signed a new law that largely rolled back Act 250, saying at the time that the previous law infringed on free speech rights, the WASB resolution states. The 2013 law substantially increased the burden on the petitioners bringing complaints. It said any complaints filed had to include a petition signed by community residents equivalent to 10 percent or more of the school district’s student population.
Hearings under the new law are conducted by the Department of Administration, not the DPI. At the hearing, the school district resident who filed the complaint has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the use of the race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or team name promotes discrimination, pupil harassment or stereotyping, as defined by the state superintendent by rule.