RUTLAND — Rutland High School has a new mascot.
The city’s Board of School Commissioners voted 6-4 on Tuesday to approve the “Rutland Ravens,” a name that a group of Rutland High School students selected after seeking suggestions from city residents and other students in the district.
The on-the-spot approval of the new mascot squeaked into the last meeting before Town Meeting Day on March 2.
Seven candidates are vying for three seats on the school board, and the mascot issue has been central to some of their platforms. In another 4-4 vote, board members rejected a motion to table the decision until the next meeting after the election.
A group of alumni, students and residents asked the district to drop the “Raider” name and its arrowhead imagery in July, citing the racism inherent in the mascot’s origins. In the 1930s, sports reporters compared Rutland High athletes to violent Native American warriors, who were portrayed by cartoon caricatures in the first version of the mascot, the “Red Raiders.”
Mayor David Allaire expressed support for maintaining the Raider name.
People advocating to keep the mascot have cited nostalgia, city pride and the cost of new uniforms and rebranded athletic facilities. Joanne Pencak, chair of the board’s finance committee, told the Rutland Herald the estimated transition costs would be $125,000.
The change is part of a movement away from discriminatory mascots across the state and country. It followed the Vermont Principals’ Association statement that “any mascot, nickname, symbol, or logo that has marginalizing, racist, or exclusionary elements should be replaced to demonstrate what it means to be an inclusive, welcoming, and strong community.”
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The board asked Rutland High School Principal Greg Schillinger to navigate the transition with students. This fall, he invited students to join a committee assigned to come up with a new name.
On Tuesday, Schillinger and three students from the committee, Caleb Dundas, Kathryn Moore and Jack Wallace, delivered a PowerPoint presentation to the board that detailed the process they used to choose the name.
“I must begin with a public acknowledgment of the students who addressed this work with maturity, civility and a commitment to the common good,” Schillinger at the beginning of the presentation.
After collecting name ideas from the community through a survey, along with the concepts that community members hoped the mascot would reflect, the committee narrowed the 10 most popular choices to the names that they thought symbolized “working hard and persistence,” Moore said.
They landed with four choices: Railers, Ravens, Rams and Royals. In several additional rounds of surveys among the students, Ravens emerged with the most votes.
After the students’ presentation, board members debated the students’ process for selecting the name and whether members needed more information before making the decision.
Board member Hurley Cavacas asked the students if they had looked into religious and cultural connotations of ravens, which he worried were negative and tied to Native American mythology.
Schillinger replied that it would be impossible to avoid negative connotations entirely. His comment prompted board member Brittany Cavacas to ask why the Raider name should be changed if the committee couldn’t find other names without negative connotations.
“A raven, in my religion, means death. I’m a Catholic,” she said.
Cavacas asked how many students voted for the original Raider name. Schillinger said around 10% of students wrote in “Raiders” in the survey.
Board member Matthew Olewnik later said the group that initially asked the board to change the mascot was concerned about “making a mascot out of Native American people,” and that calling athletes “Raiders” was “in direct reference to actual human beings who live in our community.”
“Certainly, the raven is symbology used in many cultures across the world,” he said. “But I think that misses the point about what the original concern for the change was.”
Cavacas also questioned the other top mascot names that were selected and said she was confronted at a local yoga class by a parent concerned that a top mascot choice had been “Railers.”
“That mother was appalled that her student was using it as a sexual connotation,” she said. “As a female, and most females would agree, the word ‘railers’ can be used that way. The reason why her son voted for that was for that reason. There was a large group of that junior class that thought it was really funny that they be called the ‘railers.’”
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Schillinger replied that “Ravens” was the recommendation from the committee and the administration, and other choices had already been filtered out. Dundas clarified that the “Railers” choice was a reference, made through community suggestions, to a historical industry in the city.
“The railroad in Vermont has a huge history,” he said. “The entire plaza downtown with Walmart and Price Chopper used to be a railyard. A railer, if you look at the dictionary definition and ignore the connotation, is someone that built a railroad. That was chosen in good faith.”
Dundas encouraged the board to think about imagery to accompany the new name that would mitigate any negative interpretations of the raven symbol, like a raven sitting on a live tree branch.
All six board members who voted to retire the Raider mascot in October voted to approve “Ravens,” and those who opposed the change in October also opposed it on Tuesday.
Ann Dages, Dena Goldberg, Kevin Kiefaber, Cathy Solsaa, Matthew Olewnik and Joanne Pencak voted to approve “Ravens,” while Brittany Cavacas, Hurley Cavacas, Charlene Seward and Erin Shimp voted against.
Before the vote, Dages commended the students on the committee for their clear-headedness throughout the process.
“I know that you guys had some tough conversations. You spent a lot of time,” she said. “It’s a difficult decision among a lot of contentious adults.”
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