Tomah District Superintendent Bob Fasbender can relax as he anticipates his July 1 retirement, knowing he won't have at least one more hot-button battle on his plate before he departs.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill into law May 5 imposing new restrictions upon schools using Native American mascots. That would have been a problem for Tomah before 2006, when the district switched its mascot from Indians to Timberwolves.
"It seemed like this was going to keep coming up and keep coming up," Fasbender said. "The way the legislation is written, any citizen can file a complaint, and the burden is up to the school district to defend the mascot. We don't have time for that; we're here to educate students."
Tomah represents one of eight Wisconsin schools that have converted from a Native American mascot in the past 20 years, while 29 others may be affected by the new measure.
Mukwonago, a partner with the Waukesha schools in the Classic 8 Conference, would be among them by using the mascot "Indians."
Comply or pay
Other schools have altered images associated with mascots to shift the focus from a clear Native American representation. That doesn't mean everyone has been happy about it.
"The people more opposed to the change were alumni, and not students," said Fasbender, who detailed a cooperative relationship with the local Ho-Chunk nation. "We do one or two class reunions a year in our buildings, and somebody always brings up, 'Why did we change the mascot?' "
The result came after many years of discussion in Tomah, which prepared for a switch by phasing out the name "Indians" from uniforms and other school merchandise. That kept costs down, but that luxury won't be afforded to other schools should they be compelled to make a transition.
Under the legislation, once a complaint is issued against a school and the state superintendent does not feel the school's mascot is defensible, the school will most likely have a year to make a change, barring extenuating circumstances related to cost.
Failure to comply would lead to monetary penalties.
Remembering the Redmen
Milton, which changed from the Redmen to the Redhawks in 1999, also phased out the old mascot, but the community uproar was significant.
"It came up quickly and kind of caught people by surprise a little bit," said Athletics Director Brian Hammil, a graduate of Milton and teacher there for 16 years. "It was a more emotionally charged topic probably than anything else. We're a small community where a lot of people stick around (after they graduate). There's a lot of pride, particularly for the sports teams from the past."
Three recall elections were held for school board officials who voted in favor of the change, though all won the right to close out their terms. The Janesville Gazettespeculated those recalls provided the biggest voter turnout in community history.
Members of the community still occasionally reminisce about Redmen days, but Hammil said the lingering bitterness is limited.
"We don't have anyone saying now to bring it back; it's been very accepted and, really, it didn't take long after we made the change for the majority to accept it," he said. "It was still a little bit weird for a while."
Change is good
Seymour, which made the move from Indians to Thunder in the mid-1990s, commemorates its heritage with a trophy case showcasing the old logo.
Seymour has also enjoyed a cooperative relationship with the prominent local Oneida nation, which includes 20 percent of the student body in the high school.
"With the growing scrutiny of logos and their portrayals, we decided with the Oneida nation that it would be time for a change," said Athletics Director Mark Zahn, who was a teacher in Seymour at the time. "We continued to just have Seymour (on our jerseys) for a few years after that as a transition period to honor our former name. It made the transition easier to our present name."
Zahn added that members of the Oneida nation were sad to see the representation go, but they agreed with the school that the change was a good thing.
"There's no issue whatsoever (today)," Zahn said. "It's been a smooth transition, and the community has been very supportive and still recognized the proud tradition."
A sampling of schools that may be forced to change their mascot and nickname under new laws:
|Gale Ettrick Trempealeau||Redmen|
|Prairie du Chien||Blackhawks|
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