POOLESVILLE, Md. – School district officials have decided that the Poolesville High School Indians' mascot is offensive, and that when its teams kick off the season, they'll be playing under a different name.
"We are a school district that's changing. We are a school district that, in order to have high achievement from all children, need to support each and every child in a way that they feel supported," school superintendent Jerry Weast said.
In a county with 400 Native American students, activists applauded the decision, saying the change is long overdue.
"Who gave Poolesville permission to use that name? What tribes did they talk to? Did they talk to Maryland tribes? Did they talk to national tribes?" Richard Regan, a Native American activist, asked.
"We were just asking Poolesville to give us some respect and give us our name back," he said.
Critics, including most of the town's residents, say the decision is another example of political correctness gone too far. They say they associate the name with courage and honor, and that there is nothing offensive about it.
"It's been the Indians since I have lived here and long before that," Poolesville alumnus Michaela Szaley said
"These kids for years have had this mascot and now they are going to have to spend all this money to change it," she said.
Complying with the board will not come cheap. The county will spend an estimated $80,000 to remove the Indian image from every part of Poolesville High, including the recently refurbished gymnasium.
"It's just an outrage. It's stupid. It's an unnecessary expense," Szaley said.
Most of the money will be spent getting rid of the Indian in the gymnasium's center court. In order to do that, the school will have to sand down to the hardwood floor, removing all of the paint and varnish, essentially starting from scratch.
The school board has also taken aim at another county high school. The Sherwood Warriors can keep their Robin Hood mascot, but the football team must change its logo, which depicts an Indian spear. In addition, the cheerleaders will have to drop their war chant.
One board member disagreed with the changes, saying officials may have gone too far.
"In Montgomery County, there is a very fine line between reasonable and absurd," he said.
The debate over political correctness has been bubbling up for years with professional sports teams. Despite protests aimed at baseball's Cleveland Indians, no changes have been made.
At the college level, nobody has suggested breaking from tradition despite names that at first glance might sound derogatory. Examples include the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or the Syracuse Orange Men.
Poolesville High School has a year to come up with a new mascot, a move that doesn't sit well with some local residents — especially former students.
"Before somebody picks on the little small town high school ... maybe they ought to look at the bigger organizations out there ... like the Redskins," Poolesville alumnus Tadd Bodmer said.