By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“They stood up against a bunch of bullies,” said Andrew Sheldon of Port Townsend, whose 2012 letter to the School Board began the current debate.
“The School Board had a lot of courage to do what they did.”
Terri McQuillen, a member of the Makah tribe who lobbied to keep the name, was greatly disappointed.
“I'm really heartbroken tonight,” she said Monday night after the School Board's unanimous decision.
“The goal is to teach kids to be respectful, and it's hard to be respectful when your heart is broken.”
About 275 people, some waving signs in support of the mascot, filled the high school auditorium for the discussion and decision Monday night.
Forty people spoke for about 90 minutes, 30 of them talking in favor of retaining the mascot that has been in place at the high school for 88 years.
The resolution that the School Board passed said that “in the next 12 months, the School Board [will] retire this name with honor and dignity, and a student- and community-based process to replace it be conducted.”
The cost estimate for the change has not been determined, board Chairwoman Jennifer James-Wilson said.
James-Wilson said uniform costs could add up to $1,500 per sport but noted that such costs often are paid by students or booster clubs and that not all sports teams have “Redskins” on their uniforms.
She said the single highest cost would be resurfacing the gym but had no estimate.
“It is my understanding that the gym could be close to the end of its life expectancy,” she said.
The board had been considering two motions, one to keep the name and another to retire it.
Board member Ann Burkhart made the motion to retire it.
“If our kids are to be successful and competitive in an ever-expanding world, they need to be socially aware of how their words and symbols are perceived outside this insulated community,” Burkhart said.
She read from a statement but said her mind was not made up before the meeting.
She had prepared two statements and said she was unsure when she arrived which she would read.
During the comment period, board members Pam Daly, Bill LeMaster and James-Wilson spoke in favor of retiring the mascot, while Holley Carlson did not comment.
“This isn't an easy choice, but our responsibility is to the children and not those who are sitting in this room,” LeMaster said.
“The kids who are now in Grant Street Elementary aren't tied to the Redskins name and will learn what the district and the coaches teach them.”
The meeting capped a one-year project by an eight-member committee, which submitted a report to the School Board on June 10.
The committee found that many people inside and outside the community felt the name was racist and perpetuated stereotypes.
The issue had been brought up several times over the years. The most recent debate began with a letter from Sheldon saying he was “offended, embarrassed and ashamed by our school mascot.”
Sheldon attended the meeting but did not speak. Several of the speakers addressed him directly and criticized him for writing the letter, with one saying he should “drop dead.”
Those defending the mascot said it reflected a tradition in the town and had no racist intent, with several speakers criticizing the School Board because none of its five members was born or raised in town.
“I'm a Port Townsend graduate from the Class of 1962, and I am damn proud to be a Redskin,” Harold Roger said.
“How many of you [the board] were born and raised here? None,” Roger said.
“If you don't like it here, you should move out of Port Townsend.”
Said Tyese Logan, a 2003 graduate who appeared in her cheerleading uniform: “Sadly, this so-called study group wants to come in and take away another school tradition.
“People want to change everything so it becomes politically correct.”
After the vote, Logan said Redskins boosters will disrupt School Board meetings in the future.
“None of us will support you,” she said. “We will always be in the stands cheering for the Redskins. You will never get anything done, and it will be your fault.”
A Blue Heron Middle School student also weighed in.
“Some people think the name 'Redskins' is racist,” said sixth-grader Solomon McCready, reading from handwritten notes.
“Well guess what? Most Indians say it is not racist to have that name, [and] if you think you can take that name away from us, you are wrong.”
Bill Leavitt — owner of Leavitt Trucking, who said he has contributed time, money and materials to the school since his own graduation in 1976 — said he will no longer do so.
“I have given to this community in every way. Whenever someone needs a tractor or a ballfield built, I am always there with cash or equipment,” he said.
“If you change the name, I'm finished. Forget my phone number, forget where I live, don't come up to me on the street. I am so done, it's not even funny,” Leavitt said.
Kurt Grinnell, a member of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe of Blyn, spoke in favor of retiring the mascot.
“The Jamestown tribe understands how much you honor and respect this name,” Grinnell said. “We get it, and we understand it. The truth of the matter is that times are changing.
“Take it from the Native Americans. We've seen that before, and you say that the board is not from here — we've seen that before, too. One of these days, the mascot is going to change.”
Grinnell said he had “heard a lot of honorable people speak here tonight, and the truth is that if you change the name, they will be out there supporting the kids at games because they are honorable.”
Karling Rutenbeck, a 2013 graduate, said he represented “the students who were not so comfortable or so proud about the mascot.
“While many kids were proud of the mascot, I often felt embarrassed that we were the opposite of the inclusivity that had been taught in the classroom.”
The final comment was by Walter McQuillen, who began his time at the microphone singing a Makah song that translates to “you touch my heart.”
McQuillen favored keeping the mascot but said such action would not resolve the issue.
“If you vote to change, it will all be over, but if you vote to keep 'Redskins,' it will begin again next year,” he said.
LeMaster said: “If you want to change things, you should be engaged in this community. You should run for the School Board.
“I have not seen this kind of participation when it comes to School Board meetings when we are discussing academics,” he added.
“I'd like to see people come out and see what we are doing for the kids.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.