When Skowhegan Area High School teams take the field this fall, public address announcers will be able to keep it simple. Now introducing your Skowhegan Area High School (insert field hockey/soccer/football/cross country/golf team here)!

For the upcoming school year, Skowhegan teams will play without a nickname. In March, in a close and contentious vote, the school board retired the Indians mascot. Many vowed to fight to retain the nickname, but in May, Governor Janet Mills took it out of their hands when she signed legislation banning Maine high schools and universities from using mascots and logos depicting Native Americans.

For the 2019-20 school year, Skowhegan teams will be simply Skowhegan. For now, with the issue still a hot one, this feels like the correct course of action. The community will select a new nickname. Cool down and think about it.

“We are going to operate as Skowhegan this year as there will be a thorough and involved process in choosing a new nickname, to make sure that we get it ‘‘right’ or as close to ‘right’ as possible,” Skowhegan athletic director Jon Christopher said in an email.

To comply with the new law, Skowhegan will paint over the Indian mural on the gymnasium wall and remove the “Indians” from the basketball court when summer basketball is complete in early August. Most Skowhegan uniforms already showcase the town’s name, not the nickname, so expect few changes there.

There will be rumblings about retiring the mascot, and those aftershocks will likely carry on for years. You will likely hear somebody shout “Once an Indian, always an Indian!” at many Skowhegan events.

I’ve never understood the uber importance of high school nicknames. My high school, Mt. St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, Vermont, officially goes by the Green Wave. More often than not, people refer to MSJ teams as the Mounties, from the Mount, as many refer to the school.

I don’t recall any of my teammates being particularly tied to either Green Wave or Mounties. Neither defined us. Now 29 years after graduating, I’m glad I went to MSJ. I’m happy the boys basketball team won a state title last season, but I can’t say I consider myself a Green Wave or Mountie any more or less than I did when I was a student there. The goal was to beat you on the field, court, or ice, and we didn’t care what you called us as we did it.

My mascot experience hardly seems to be the norm, though. A mascot gives a community a sense of identity. It’s something to rally around when it’s us against them. With that in mind, Skowhegan should take its time selecting a new nickname. If it’s truly about honoring the town’s heritage, as those who support the Indians mascot continue to say, there are a number of options that would be fitting.

Kennebecs, the river which unites the town. Loggers, for the forest industry. Shoe Makers, for a current industry. Moose. Bucks. Somersets. Smiths, as in Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Skowhegan’s most famous and influential homegrown hero. There is no shortage of names from which Skowhegan can select. If they want or need input on how to go about the change, they can always contact one of the communities that made this move recently.

Wiscasset Redskins became Wolverines. Sanford Redskins became Spartans. Old Town Indians are now Coyotes.

Ask Old Town supporters if the state championships won in softball, baseball, and boys basketball in recent years are less special because they were won by Coyotes. Only the most bitter, who cling to the past with a white knuckle grip, would answer that question with a yes.

There’s another solution, one Christopher said he’d favor. That’s not replacing the nickname at all. Just going by Skowhegan, now and forever.

“They are going to replace it, but I thought if we left the nickname vacant then people would ask why we are the only school without a nickname, allowing the story of our old nickname and why it went away to be told,” Christopher said. “When you replace a nickname, eventually people forget the history of an old nickname, it is just how things work as time passes.”

The school board could announce a new nickname and mascot quickly, or it could take the entire school year, Christopher said. Take your time, Skowhegan. Pick something that everybody associated with Skowhegan Area High School can be proud of. At the same time, Skowhegan students need to ask themselves a question. When they think back on high school a few decades from now, do they want to remember the times spent with friends and teammates, or do they want to remember a mascot?


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