Written by MARK JAEGER
Wednesday, 02 October 2013 18:18
Despite heated debate over Indian nicknames, Ozaukee High School moniker remains unchallenged
Republican legislators have proposed a law that would make it more difficult to force Wisconsin school districts to drop race-related nicknames, adding new fuel to the heated debate about racism in team mascots.
The legislation would take the teeth out of a state law adopted in 2010, which forced districts to defend the use of mascots or nicknames if as few as one person complained. That law was put into place when Democrats controlled the Legislature.
That bill was crafted by the Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force, which at the time noted that 36 Wisconsin school districts had race-based nicknames for their athletic teams. Several districts have changed their school mascots since the law was enacted.
Under the existing law, if a petition is filed, the district has the burden of proof of showing their mascot or nickname does not promote racial discrimination. A final ruling on whether a nickname must be dropped is made by the Department of Public Instruction.
Although the law created furor in some parts of the state, it hasn’t caused even a ripple of controversy in Ozaukee County.
The Ozaukee High School is the only county athletic program that draws on American Indian themes for its team nickname — the Warriors.
After several iterations over the years, the current Warrior logo depicts the profile of a feathered Indian brave.
When the 2010 law was enacted, Northern Ozaukee School District officials said they would address any concerns raised about the mascot.
No public objections were voiced.
Despite that, Supt. Blake Peuse said the district remains sensitive to the subliminal message its mascot and nickname relates.
“I think our stance on the Warrior name has always been about respect for the Native American culture and rich heritage,” said Peuse, who is in his second year leading the Fredonia district.
“We take very seriously the ability to carry on a prestigious name for so many years and would like to remain as is for the present time. If we were to hear comments that requested us to change the name, we would certainly give those comments great credence and consider options accordingly.”
The Grafton School District sidestepped the mascot issue in 1998 with a subtle change.
The Grafton High School sports team formerly used the nickname Blackhawks, a tribute to the Sauk tribal chief.
With little fanfare, the school changed its nickname to the Black Hawks, using a fierce bird as its new mascot.
The Legislature is expected to soon consider the revised mascot law authored by Representatives Stephen Nass of Whitewater, Dave Craig of Big Bend and Mary Lazich of New Berlin.
The most critical change would require the equivalent of at least 10% of the student population sign a petition demanding a hearing on a school mascot or name change.
If that number of signatures is obtained, the challenge would be brought before the state Department of Administration rather than the DPI.
Image Information: THE WARRIOR MASCOT is featured prominently on the entry sign at Ozaukee High School. The sign designates the Fredonia school as “Home of the Warriors.” Photo by Sam Arendt