BUHS community picks the Bears as next mascot

New ‘fiercely protective’ mascot and team name would replace controversial ‘Colonels’ moniker

BRATTLEBORO — It's out with the Colonels, and in with the Bears at Brattleboro Union High School.

Although the Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) board of directors has not yet voted to approve the new branding, students have chosen the Bears as their mascot going forward.

“We started the process with a school-wide process that lasted a week of having students and staff submit their ideas,” said Principal Cassie Damkoehler. “After the week, we had 136 submissions, many of which were the same.”

Also in contention at the end were the Bobcats and the Badgers.

When students and staff members were asked for submissions, they were also asked if they would like to be on a screening committee.

The seven students and four staff members who volunteered met and went through all submissions and “removed any that did not fit the requirements; i.e., no 'Colonels' or gendered names,” said Damkoehler.

“Then we all chose the suggestions we preferred and went around the table,” she said, discussing names that could be illustrated and discarding submissions that belonged to neighboring schools.

“We narrowed it down to three for a community vote,” Damkohler said. “The stipulation was if the top two were within 10%, we would have a second vote. Bears won with 47.5% of all votes.”

This summer, rebranding will take place with new uniforms and on scoreboards, badges, signs, and the school website.

The school is now awaiting design mockups from a graphic artist and those will be voted on “as a community,” she added. School colors will remain purple and white.

Damkoehler said the hope is to have the new image finalized by the close of the school year - thus by June 13, also the date of the WSESD's next regular meeting.

“There really has been no contention within the school,” the principal said. “The students seem really positive about it.”

“[I am] very proud of this collaborative process and especially proud of our students,” Superintendent Mark Speno wrote to board members.

He had previously told the board that retaining the Colonels name would violate Act 152, which relates to nondiscriminatory school branding.

'The very delicate task'

Student Eva Gould, a member of the mascot screening committee, explained the process and decision to board members in a statement.

“At the heart of this committee's work has been the very delicate task of respecting traditions from the past, while building upon a vision for the future,” she said. “The challenge for our community as we go forth is to now model the same ability to respect our past, while we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our current student body in embracing their future.

Noting the “inclusive process,” Gould described bears as “fiercely protective animals who have been known to walk upon our very campus, have powerful instincts, high intelligence, highly developed communication skills, and are well known for their self-confidence and strength and therefore symbolize worthy characteristics for our mascot.”

“Thank you to everyone who participated in the process and Go, Bears!” she concluded.

Out with the old

The BUHS student council adopted the Colonels moniker for its sports team in the 1950s, after the school had moved to Fairground Road to a new campus built on a former military mustering site during the Civil War, according to Brattleboro Area Middle School teacher Joe Rivers at a WSESD school board meeting.

The image is said to have been modeled after Col. William Brattle, a Revolutionary War soldier after whom the town was named. Brattle lived in and owned property in eastern Massachusetts but was a proprietor of land chartered by New Hampshire Gov. Benning Wentworth in 1753 - land that the Abenaki people had lived on for 10,000 years. Brattle's father is said to have been a slave owner, and records show that Brattle himself owned at least one slave.

The mascot image morphed over time, and eventually became the image of a Southern colonel, identical to the mascot graphic used by the University of Mississippi, which warned the school district that it was violating trademark laws.

The district banned the image in 2004 - the same year Mississippi dropped the same logo - but sports teams continued to use the Colonels name despite controversy over the image with an overt connection to Southern plantation ownership, slavery, and racist roots.

In February, two nonprofit advocacy groups - the Rutland Area NAACP and Gedakina - filed formal complaints about school mascots across the state, including, in addition to the BUHS Colonels, the Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School's Thunderbirds, U-32 and Stowe High School's Raiders, Vermont Commons School's Flying Turtles, and Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School's Rebels.

The complainants object to the Flying Turtles name because “our creation story is about the turtle that gave its life for us,” Judy Dow, the executive director of Gedakina and Mia Schultz, president of the Rutland Area NAACP, wrote to the schools.

The Thunderbirds, Colonels, and Rebels mascots were deemed by the groups to be “upholding harmful legacies that continue to harm our children.”

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