As one of the main subjects of popular discussion in the community, it’s clear that almost everyone has an opinion on The Dalles Wahtonka High School’s search for a new mascot. When brought up in even the most casual of conversations, the topic almost always provides kindling for a heated debate.
Chartered by the North Wasco County School Board in October, the Mascot Committee was formed in response to the Oregon State Board of Education ruling that “prohibits Oregon public schools from using Native American names, symbols, or images as school mascots.”
According to the most recent press release issued Dec. 23, the committee has been able to narrow the long list of mascot names down to five top potential replacement candidates: Rattlers, Rapids, Megawatts, Riverhawks and Sasquatch.
Upon stepping outside the boundaries of the meeting room and into the environment that the mascot committee’s decisions will directly affect, students at the high school proved just as opinionated as their committee chairs.
“Honestly, I don’t really like many of the options we’ve been presented with,” Senior Alleta Maier said. “Out of the current top five, I think Sasquatch is the best because we could really make it our own. It gives us a lot to build on and relates to our native area.”
When asked what she thought about the other mascots, Maier said that when it came to the Megawatts and the Rapids, they both seemed “just as oppressive and disrespectful” as the Eagle Indians since each refers to something that was either generated or destroyed by the creation of The Dalles Dam.
Choosing either of them as a replacement, she said, “would be just another slap in the face.”
However, ASB Vice-President and member of the Mascot Committee, senior Cheyenne Sherard, disagreed. She said the Rapids were originally suggested “out of respect” for Celilo.
“If we keep it,” she said, “we’re honoring what was there before.”
After spending a few minutes in a freshman English class in an attempt to gauge what the students who will be most affected by the mascot decision in the long term feel about the current choices, the debate becomes even more multifaceted.
“I don’t think Sasquatch is a very good representation of our area,” Sinthia Mann told The Chronicle.
Loye Foss, also a freshman, agreed.
“I think Riverhawks is definitely the one that would act as the best representation of our town on the river.”
Only one student in the class spoke up for the often-abused Megawatts.
“I really like it,” Carlos Courtier said. “I just think it would be, I don’t know… shocking.”
High school librarian and media assistant Sally Torgerson said that while student opinion definitely appeared to be “all over the place,” when it comes down to it, the ultimate deciding power should remain theirs.
“If you let kids vote and then just completely ignore what they have to say, you end up losing an entire generation of would-be [adult] voters in the future. If we’re going to teach democracy in our schools, we’ve also got to be the ones that practice it.”
At the most recent Mascot Committee meeting Jan. 10, committee adviser Trudy Townsend said the main objective is to “figure out ways for students to become more engaged and help them be more excited about this opportunity to be creative and make a lasting impact.”
Currently in the works are plans to craft “pep-style” assemblies specifically designed to generate excitement about the different mascot choices and further engage students in the selection process.
“Right now,” she said, “the school board thinks we’re going to be coming back with a recommendation for them by the 23rd, but the way things are going, that just doesn’t seem like a realistic goal. What’s most important is that we do a really good job of engaging folks and conducting a thorough, democratic process, and we just can’t do that in two weeks.”
While there is a “slight chance” that one or more of the current top choices might be altered, the mascot committee is operating under the assumption that these five are, in fact, final.
According to the press release, the committee is still “hoping to engage the multiple talents of our students; staff and community in developing presentations that will help us all visualize a future with a new mascot to represent our school and community.”
These presentations, the committee says, will likely play a role in the upcoming mascot assemblies, which are still in the earliest planning stages.
For more information about the committee’s progress and lists of previously vetted mascots, visit the North Wasco County School District website at http://www.nwasco.k12.or.us/Page/627.