SKOWHEGAN — Tensions over selecting a new high school sports mascot reignited Thursday night when the School Administrative District 54 board of directors met to discuss and outline a transition plan after deciding earlier this year to retire the “Indians” nickname.

The board voted March 7 to retire the Indian mascot after years of debating between community members, school board representatives, students and members of Penobscot Nation.

At Thursday night’s meeting, those on both sides of the mascot debate offered thoughts on how to move forward.

The crowd was divided, with some sporting Skowhegan Indians apparel.

The mascot-transition plan, introduced by Superintendent Brent Colbry, is a six-step effort that begins with a brainstorming session. The first step calls for the superintendent, principals, assistant principals and athletic director to collect information from students and the community through paper forms and online portals.

After that, the staff will present their findings to the school board. Students in grades six through 12 will then be asked to provide feedback, which will go back to the board.

While it is unclear how long the mascot-transition effort is likely to take, Colbry assured the community the new mascot, if one is selected, will be implemented during the 2020-21 school year.

“This tension around the mascot issue in our community has been a continuous source of division in an otherwise very cohesive community,” said Derek Ellis, a member of the school board. “Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of our number one responsibility as school board and community members.”

Prior to the meeting, tensions arose on the “Skowhegan neighborhood watch and information page” on Facebook, where adults in the community discussed ideas for getting rid of a mascot altogether.

“First of all, I would like to apologize to everybody here for something that I put on Facebook this morning,” Gloria Gordon said. “I could stand here with my head hung down in shame, but I am not. I feel like I am woman enough to come and say I’m sorry.

“I am tired of crap that’s going on with the Indians name. I know that we don’t have it anymore, but it cannot be taken away from us older ones. We will continue wearing our clothing and if people say anything about others making the clothing, they can’t stop them.”

Gordon was referring to school board member Todd Smith, who also owns Maine Fire Equipment Co. Last month, he drew sharp criticism after posting on social media that his business had a sale for its “Indian Outlaw” T-shirts and hoodies, which are products that Smith had been making by request for nearly a decade.

“I cannot understand why anybody from outside of the district have been able to come in and cause these problems that we’re having. We voted in (2015) to keep it.” Gordon said.

“Outsiders shouldn’t be allowed at board meetings. I know that we need to move on and I am moving on, but I still wish that they wouldn’t be allowed in to influence and harass people. The kids should come up with names instead of outsiders or board members. The kids should have input.”

Resident Francis Kelso also spoke in support of the Indian mascot, saying she is part of the 1,800-member “Skowhegan Indian Pride” group on Facebook. Kelso said she got involved in school board meetings when the mascot issue first arose a few years ago.

“I have lived (in Skowhegan) all of my life,” she said. “I know that we (members of “Indian Pride”) are not racists, we are not white extremists. We are tax-paying members of the district and proud members of the community.”

Kelso also challenged some members of the board, who she said did not listen to their constituents.

“I voted for who I thought was trustworthy and people that I thought had integrity,” she said. “I am glad that they listened to the voice of the people that they served (in 2015).

“In March, my thoughts on the integrity of the board were shattered. We had the Indians for almost 100 years, and this is not something that we can just get over. (I feel) betrayed by people we trusted, and we do not need a name that we do not want. I feel disrespected and not listened to. This was not fair.”

Stacie Bourassa, who has lived in the Skowhegan area for more than a decade, offered a differing view.

“I have lived in the dis trict for 14 years. I am not an outsider,” Bourassa said. “I stand tonight to encourage the board to move forward. Letting time pass is only adding to the division. We are continuing to frame this as a loss, and it will only continue to be seen as such by creating this space for anger and racist commentary. This is an opportunity.

“An apology does not exclude that behavior. This community chose to remove a racist and harmful mascot. If there are members (of the board) profiting off of this decision, they should recuse themselves from the vote.”

Opponents to retiring the Indian name hold signs Thursday as Stacie Bourassa speaks against the Indian mascot during a School Administrative District 54 board meeting at Skowhegan Middle School. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

A local parent also encouraged others to look forward.

“I understand that people have memories of this mascot and that’s great, but the bottom line is that we need to move forward,” said John Donoghue, who has four children attending schools in the district.

Tensions were high throughout the meeting but came to a peak during a disagreement between Bourassa and another community member.

“This (hoodie) does not make me racist,” Michelle Lewis said. “We got rid of the mascot, but this is still the town’s identity. We’re not bringing it into the school. We can wear it outside if we want. It’s not against the law to wear these shirts in the school.

“Secondly, why can’t we leave it as just Skowhegan. The (kids) are sick of it. They don’t care about a mascot. We have not had a physical mascot since the ’90s.

“This affects boosters, sports and parents,” Lewis continued. “We are the ones that raise money. We are at bake sales and car washes. All the fundraisers we do to raise money every single time you guys want to change the name. It needs to stop. We shouldn’t have one side here, one side there. We should all be working together to try to figure out how to get an education for our kids.”

 

Maureen Calder speaks about the importance to move on from the mascot debate Thursday during a School Administrative District 54 board meeting at Skowhegan Middle School. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Ellis, the school board member, said the communities’ students “should be our number one priority.”

“This affects them and only them. The adult role moving forward should be that of a support system and facilitators for our children’s decision-making process. Our youth are what matters most,” Ellis said. “I hope we, as a united community, can find it within ourselves to check our own feelings at the door and to do what is right by the next generation. So far, we haven’t set the best example for them.”

“Thank you for including the community in this,” school board member Todd Smith said. “A community member did come forward to the board asking for a vote and we denied that voice to them. I would hope that our community and our board right now would open their minds up to have a voice.”

In other matters, the board held a public hearing to discuss a referendum that will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot to renovate and Skowhegan Area High School facilities at a cost of up to $950,000.

The referendum is only asking for $750,000. Another $100,000 is coming from a donation from New Balance and $100,000 from the school savings.

The bonded funding will allow the district to rebuild the high school track and soccer field, improve the bathrooms in the high school lobby and install new seating and flooring in the auditorium.

According to school officials, the high school track is not used for competitions because it is dangerous, while improvements to the soccer field are to include an irrigation system to save on labor costs and improve the quality of the field.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.