Former Wells football coach Ed McDonough speaks in favor of dropping school’s Native American-themed imagery but keeping the Warriors name. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

WELLS — Keep the Warriors name, ditch the Native American imagery.

That was the overwhelming sentiment expressed Tuesday night in a public forum held to discuss Wells High School’s current use of a Native American in profile to represent its Warriors nickname on walls, signs and athletic equipment.

Wells High School’s Native American-themed Warriors mascot, seen Tuesday night in the school’s athletic center. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“Make a change. Retire the imagery. Keep the Warrior name,” said Ed McDonough, a former varsity football coach at Wells and the district’s director of finance and human resources. “What’s most important is that Wells High School is respected around the state for excellence and the Native American imagery holds us back.”

McDonough was one of nine adult residents of the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District who voiced their opinions about the future of the Wells mascot. Including members of the 25-person Mascot Advisory Committee that held the forum, about 80 people attended. Also speaking were representatives of Maine’s indigenous population, including four high school students from the Penobscot Nation.

Only Rochelle Greenwood, a Wells resident wearing a sweatshirt with the words Wells Warriors above the Native American image, staunchly defended the current logo.

“We are inclusive of Native Americans and all sorts of people from all over the world,” Greenwood said. “This is inclusive and that’s why it’s lasted so long. It has nothing to do with an appropriation of culture. It has to do with including others.”

Wells and the Skowhegan Indians are the two high schools in Maine using Native American imagery.

The Warriors nickname was brought to statewide attention following an Oct. 13 football game against Lisbon. Amelia Tuplin, a Micmac from Lisbon and the mother of Lisbon’s quarterback, said Wells fans at that game mocked Native American culture.

Within three weeks of Tuplin’s original charges, the WOCSD school committee established the Mascot Advisory Committee.

Rochelle Greenwood of Wells, who wore a sweatshirt with the Native American-themed Warriors mascot to Tuesday’s forum, spoke against a change. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“It feels like this has been a long time coming,” Eileen Conlon of Wells told Tuesday’s audience.

Conlon said 14 years ago she wrote a letter to the school asking the mascot be changed. At that time, people entering the school wiped their muddy shoes on a welcome mat adorned with the Warrior head.

“When we know this is causing harm we can longer do this. This is very past due and I’m glad we’re doing this now.”

The Mascot Advisory Committee, made up of educators, administrators, students, coaches and residents of Wells and Ogunquit, heard from indigenous leaders from Maine in January, who explained that appropriating stereotyped images of Native Americans leads to racial bias – intended or not.

That message was firmly repeated in Tuesday’s public forum.

“I understand there can be a feeling of loss if the mascot is removed,” said Sherri Mitchell, an attorney and a member of the Penobscot Nation. “Whatever that feeling of loss is for you, it’s a fraction of what indigenous peoples feel with having their identities taken, misused and misrepresented.”

Students representing indigenous youths wait to speak during Tuesday’s forum on the Wells High School mascot. Left to right are Briana Brown of Old Town, Skyler Lewey of Old Town, Ellie Sockabasin of Orono, Sade Francis of Hampden Academy and Gabby Ricker of Old Town. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“Mascots put Native Americans in a glass case of history and takes away the idea that we can be a modern people,” said Sade Francis, 17, a junior at Hampden Academy.

Barbara Giammarino is the granddaughter of Valentine and Leslie Ranco, who opened the Indian Moccasin Shop of Wells in 1949. “Your sports teams will continue without Native American mascots,” said Giammarino, “but I’m not sure the Native American peoples will continue without the respect of the dominant culture.”

In February, two prominent members of the advisory committee – School Superintendent James Daley and varsity football coach Tim Roche – said they believed it was time to retire the current mascot and move away from its Native American imagery.

John Hayes, a 1960 graduate of Wells, said Tuesday he felt removing the imagery was “a foregone conclusion,” and encouraged the advisory committee to “make a conscious decision. Don’t dilly-dally.”

Advisory committee chairperson Rick Coyne said the committee hopes to meet again in two weeks. His desire is to have a recommendation ready to forward to the WOCSD school committee at its next meeting, June 6. The school committee will make the final decision.

John Massaro, a Wells resident since 2009, called for not only retiring the “Warrior head” but also removing the “singular but significant,” white feather from the school’s alternative block “W” logo.

“We can all be Warriors,” Massaro said. “We don’t need Native American stereotyped logos to remind us of who we are and who we can be.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig