Mascot controversies sweep the state

Abby Shapiro and Sarah Shapiro

(Editor’s Note: Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills decided to remove their mascot, the Indians and Cowboys, in June. Recently, several high schools across New Jersey have questioned their controversial mascots and nicknames. In our 10th installment of our “What’s in a Name?” coverage package, staff editor Abby Shapiro and staff writer Sarah Shapiro report on a similar situation at Wayne Valley High School.)

Alyssa Sherry said she has always had a problem with her school’s Indian mascot. 

“I remember when I went to my first Wayne Valley football game I saw a huge Native American blow up over the field, and as soon as I saw it I thought it was so wrong,” said Sherry, a junior at the school, and editor for its student-run publication, Smoke Signals.

The Wayne Valley mascot and nickname, the Indian, was put in place around 65 years ago and has recently received “major” scrutiny from the community, according to Sherry. 

Senior Amanda Keil said that some students at the school “needed a way to bring this issue to light.” With that in mind, Keil decided to create a petition for the removal of the mascot. The petition has over 7,400 signatures. 

Keil has tried to talk to the BOE about this issue in the past and says that they “kind of brushed it off.” 

At the beginning of the Wayne Valley Board of Education meeting on June 25, Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback read a resolution addressing the mascot situation.

“The Board further recognizes that formally taking a stand against racism in all forms is an important step for all institutions [sic], and that the Wayne Board of Education, in word, and through action, seeks to clearly communicate our position against racism, and stands with the Black community to condemn the violence, marginalization, micro-aggressions, and other behaviors that have devastated and devalued so many lives,” Toback said.

In recent years, Wayne Valley has been using a “W” as its school symbol rather than the Indian head. The BOE stated that it will “take any and all action necessary to establish and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

After a PV Student Publication staff writer reached out to Toback for a comment, he requested to be emailed questions about the topic but did not respond.

“[The BOE] said that they will address anything, including mascots, that might get in the way of them teaching tolerance and anti-racism,” Kiel said. “I do think that if they truly want to eliminate racism, like they say they do, then they are going to get rid of it. However, there’s a lot of pushback from the town.”

Sherry said that some community members have created Instagram pages and stories for and against the removal of the mascot.

“Since the mascot has been [in place] for so long, the BOE might be hesitant just because it is a tradition,” Sherry said.

Keil found that “the Black Lives Matter movement has been a catalyst for the discussion of our school mascot in our town.”

“Our school started an Instagram story trend where athletes post pictures of themselves in games with the hashtag ‘Save the Indians’,” Sherry said. “They basically made racism into an Instagram trend.”

According to Keil, the school doesn’t discuss racism often because it tends to make residents uncomfortable, but she believes, “it’s something that has to be talked about.”

“We need a way to bring this issue to light to a further extent so we can make a change,” Keil said.

A map of New Jersey high schools with Native American and other controversial mascots. Click on the pins to learn more about each school’s situation.