The decision at Teton High School in Driggs is a way to encourage students and the community to see beyond skin color and stereotypes, said Monte Woolstenhulm, superintendent of District 401. Motivation also came from renewed efforts nationally to change nicknames and logos deemed offensive to many Native Americans.
“Students need to be taught to see people beyond the color of their skin,” said Woolstenhulm, who was a student at the school. “They need to get to know who people are without using nicknames or assumptions based on outward appearances.
Woolstenhulm expects the decision will draw some criticism, but dropping the name won initial approval from the school board Monday night.
Last month, 10 members of Congress sent letters to the owner of the Washington Redskins NFL and the league commissioner urging the team to change the name. The letter to team owner Daniel Snyder says that “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans.
Snyder has vowed he will never change the nickname. On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the congressional pressure, calling the Redskins nickname a “unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
The name is also the subject of a legal challenge from a group seeking to have the team lose its trademark protection.
At the college level, the NCAA warned more than a dozen schools in 2005 to change American Indian nicknames or logos or face sanctions. Some have followed the warning, including North Dakota, once known as the “Fighting Sioux,” while others have gotten permission from tribes to keep their names.
Meanwhile, Woolstenhulm says maintenance crews will begin removing Redskins logos and signs from around the school this summer. Uniforms for all athletic teams and cheer squads will be phased out and the school newspaper, “The War Cry,” will be renamed.
The process for picking a new nickname and mascot will begin next fall, he said.
Brody Birch, school athletic director and football coach, said the decision is unfortunate for students and alumni who identified with the nickname. Though he also understands how the name can do more harm than good.
“You have people who are indifferent and then you have people (asking) ‘What are we doing” Why are we caving in?” Birch said. “It’s not going to change what we are at Teton High School or what our values are.”