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Will Rutland’s mascot controversy fade with time?

Published: Nov. 9, 2020 at 6:48 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The Rutland School Board voted in favor of changing the school’s mascot name and logo. But some community members are fighting to keep it. Our Olivia Lyons spoke with some schools that made mascot changes to see how their communities feel now.

It seems even after controversial fights to keep a school’s mascot, most people ultimately accept the new one. And in enough time, people forget or never discuss the change.

But some Rutland community members say they are not giving up the fight or the Raider name.

“I don’t know if we’re going to win or not, but it’s a battle worth fighting,” said Butch Paul, a member of the Rutland High School Class of 1968.

Paul was number 32 on the Rutland High School’s 1967 champion basketball team.

“I never once got on the court or the football field and said, ‘Oh boy, today I can demean a culture,’” Paul said.

Since the Red has already been taken from Raiders and now people are trying to eliminate Raiders completely, Paul is worried about what will be taken next.

“I liked it when it was simpler. I like it when you could go out and express yourself and celebrate and root for someone without feeling like you’re dirty for doing it,” he said.

Signs and banners all around Rutland show Raider support.

Tom DePoy is a member of Rutland City’s board of aldermen fighting for a nonbinding vote on the March ballot.

“This community really is not a racist community and that seems to be what keeps popping up in this discussion,” said DePoy, who graduated from Rutland High School in 1988.

Rutland is just the latest Vermont community to face divisions over a mascot change.

Champlain Valley Union High School faced similar community concerns when it changed its nickname from the Crusaders to the Red Hawks about 15 years ago.

“I’m not naive enough to know that there are certainly people in our communities who still feel that they are Crusaders at heart and they are entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but as a public school, I think we need to model what we’re trying to teach,” said Dan Shepardson, the student activities director at CVU.

Most of the students attending now were babies or toddlers when the decision was made.

“I had no idea! I thought it was always the Red Hawks,” said Merrill Jacobs, a ninth-grader.

“I cheer for the schools and the kids, not so much what their mascot is,” Bill Storey said.

Storey is a CVU fan of 25 years, but he also supports Essex, South Burlington and Rice.

“It will evolve and change and people will just kind of get used to what it is and hopefully enjoy it,” Storey said.

Of the CVU fans who did know about the name change, most said people get over it and move on. But there were a few who said they are Crusaders. Unfortunately, they would not go on camera and speak about those opinions.

In 2014, South Burlington High School made the switch from the Rebels to the Wolves.

Principal Patrick Burke says students now don’t think of it as a big deal.

“They’re like, ‘Oh, that was a long time ago and it was fine, you know.’ Whereas I’m kind of like, ‘It wasn’t that long ago and it really wasn’t that fine,’” Burke said.

Burke says Rutland High School has an intense school spirit, unlike most others.

“What people should remember is what a special place Rutland High School is and celebrate those things with some kind of mascot that will bring everyone together,” Burke said.

But Paul thinks the school board needs to better understand the views of the entire community, not just those fighting for the change.

“We thought as playing for the high school, as lifting up a culture. We were proud of it. That was something to attain,” Paul said.

There is a Raider Strong meeting at the rec center Tuesday night to discuss what more can be done. The group is trying to get a line on the March ballot for Rutland City but Rutland High School is not just for students who live in the city. Kids from Rutland Town, Mendon, Chittenden and occasionally some other towns also attend.

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