Sydney Reed has enjoyed playing soccer, basketball and softball for Skowhegan Area High School. And she’s been proud of the name under which those teams have played.

“I loved being an Indian,” she said. “My aunt, at one point, painted a picture of a lady Indian on our gym wall. My family has always been Indians.”

Drew Bonifant column photo

But when the School Administrative District 54 board voted Thursday night to retire the Indians nickname, Reed knew it had made the right decision.

“I understand that there are people being hurt by it,” she said. “It means more to me that these people are happy than having myself be an Indian.”

A discussion that has been brought up again and again and again, to the point that it’s carved a schism of bitterness and resentment in the Skowhegan community, finally swung the other way Thursday night as the board voted 14-9 to retire a nickname that had become synonymous with controversy.

It was the right move. It was time. This had to happen. As the wave of progressive thinking claimed Native American mascots and imagery at more and more schools, Skowhegan began to stand out as “that school” that still had “that name.” Both sides had their arguments, and they were good ones — yes, true, the Indians name was deemed offensive by some of the Native Americans in the area. And yes, true, the name is tied to tradition, and tradition is a powerful thing in sports and to the people who played them.

This wasn’t a debate between one enlightened side and another that couldn’t get it. This wasn’t a debate between good and evil. But it had started to feel like one between right and wrong.

“It’s 2019,” Reed said. “The world is changing.”

It also had to happen because the community needed to come together, and that couldn’t happen with the name in place. Society is going the other way. The argument was always going to get brought up, because the momentum of the country has been going against the school board’s decisions. And as long as the community was returning to the debate, people were digging deeper into their opinions and disagreements were turning into conflicts.

Then Thursday night happened. And with Skowhegan now swimming with the current rather than against it, there was finally hope for the feuds coming to an end.

“I was happy just because it’s finally over,” Reed said. “I feel like the issue really polarized the people in my town, and it was just so sad that everyone was just so confused, and information was getting misconstrued and people were getting nasty. I’m happy that it’s all over.”

“I’m glad that the community as a whole is just going to be able to come together and focus on one thing that’s important,” added Annie Cooke, Reed’s teammate on all three teams, “instead of dividing each other and fighting with all the drama that’s going on.”

And it had to happen because the athletes didn’t deserve this. As the controversy grew and being called “Indians” began to turn more and more heads, players, coaches and administrators started to disassociate themselves with the name, focusing instead on who they were representing.

Skowhegan senior Annie Cooke goes for a loose ball with Hampden’s Alydia Brilliant during the Class A North championship game last month at the Augusta Civic Center. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

I’ve always thought of us as ‘Skowhegan,’ ” athletic director Jon Christopher said. “And maybe part of it is because there’s always been some kind of controversy around our name in the time that I’ve been here. ‘Indians’ has always been there, but it really hasn’t been any kind of major thing to me. To me, we’re ‘Skowhegan.’ ”

But the athletes wore uniforms that had ‘Skowhegan’ on the front, both home and away, rather than the mascot at home like most teams do. And they heard the talk, even if they tried to stay out of the debates themselves.

“It was always out there,” Cooke said. “It was just annoying to have that constant conflict and stuff like that.”

The athletes tried to stay out of it. They weren’t always able.

It was hard because a lot of times we would get asked questions about it and, either way, a lot of times if you voice your opinion about such a controversial issue as this, you can get slammed by either side,” Reed said. “We wanted to play sports. We didn’t want to get caught up in any drama.”

The drama probably isn’t over. This was a hotly contested topic for a reason. And just as votes didn’t kill the issue before, they might not do it this time either.

I don’t think it’s just going to go away,” Christopher said. “There’s going to be more communication that goes on because there’s going to be some passion that’s thrown back this way.”

But on Thursday, there was a step in the right direction. It wasn’t an easy step to make. But it was a necessary one.

I was relieved that it’s not going to be a big thing anymore,” Cooke said. “I’m just happy and glad that we’re finally moving forward.”

 

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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