Phasing out the logos

Before the removal of the mascots in June, uncertainty surrounded the district’s use of the PV and PH block letters


Contributed by Oklahoma State University Assistant Director Ryan Cameron

The Oklahoma State University Pistol Pete mascot at a football game. Pascack Hills used a version of Pistol Pete as their mascot until 2005.

Rachel Cohen, Former Editor in Chief

(Editor’s Note: A few years ago, the district began utilizing the PV block letters instead of the Indian head logo on official documents and athletic wear — a practice which had many community members confused. Pascack Hills went through a similar situation a few years prior with their Pistol Pete logo. In our sixth installment of our “What’s in a Name?” coverage package, former Editor in Chief Rachel Cohen, explores the district’s logo practice and PH’s retirement of Pistol Pete. Much of the article was written prior to the retirement of the mascots and involves quotes from an interview of district Superintendent Erik Gundersen conducted last school year.)

While the district’s decision to retire the Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills mascots and logos in June took many by surprise, it was not the first step taken to phase out the logos. The district has replaced the Indian head and cowboy silhouette logos on letterheads, business cards, gym signage, and new athletic uniforms with PV and PH block letters. However, this is not an official policy, leaving many community members confused as to the rules regarding the use of logos.

District Superintendent Erik Gundersen said he made this shift around two years ago.

“There are individuals both within our district and outside of our district, and myself included, who recognized that [PV’s] logo of a warrior Indian can be perceived and is perceived by individuals as being not respectful to the Indigenous people that used to inhabit this land,” Gundersen said.

In 2016, a group of students sold t-shirts displaying the Indian head logo and were faced with concern from community members who thought that the logo was being phased out. In an interview for the article, Gundersen clarified the situation and said that while his intent had been to phase out the Indian head entirely, the Board of Education “made it quite clear” that they were not looking to do so at that time. The district continued to use the Indian head and PV block letters as official logos of the school. 

Gundersen said using the block letters was a practice enforced by both the school administrations and the district. Since the New Jersey Department of Education does not have a mandate on the use of Native American logos and mascots, using block letters was not an official policy that the BOE made from NJ state laws. 

The PH block letters that are used to represent Pascack Hills. The letters have been implemented in place of the cowboy silhouette in recent years. (Contributed by PH Assistant Principal Phil Paspalas)

“It was more of a practice that we were encouraging the PV block letters on uniforms and publications because we recognized that the Indian head logo was an offensive image to a wide number of individuals,” Gundersen said. “That’s why that happened years ago [and we began using] a variety of other letterheads on team uniforms and so on.”

Prior to the removal of the mascot, Gundersen said any groups or organizations that are not school-funded nor school-approved could utilize the Indian head logo.

“We’re not able to govern what they sell and what they do,” Gundersen said last school year. “We can try to influence. As an administrative team, and as superintendent, I believe we are influencing [these groups] by signage. We are purchasing and implementing PV block letters and not the Indian head logo.”

However, several groups and individuals have continued to make and sell clothing with the Indian head logo. During an April BOE meeting, PV students expressed concern over a t-shirt created by a parent. The t-shirt displayed the Indian head logo with a mask over its face. 

“We have not been approving any apparel with the Indian head logo on it for quite some time,” Gundersen said at the board meeting. “I can understand why it’s offensive.”

Pascack Hills “Pistol Pete” Logo

The Oklahoma State University logo (left) and the Pascack Hills (right) “Pistol Pete” logos. The PH logo above, which was taken from an old PH wrestling website, was modeled after the Oklahoma State University’s. (Left: Contributed by Oklahoma State University Director of Communications Gavin Lang)

Pascack Hills underwent a similar change with “Pistol Pete,” a remake of the Oklahoma State Cowboys logo. The Pistol Pete logo was used since the 1960s until former Principal Sarah Van Gunten formed a committee of students, parents, coaches, and administrators in 2005 to adopt an official logo and pick school colors, according to PH Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Phil Paspalas. 

Peggy White, retired PH National Honor Society advisor and district library media specialist, was asked to head the committee of 11 individuals. 

“It was an unbecoming logo — I thought it was old school and a little insulting,” White said. “We took a vote. The ‘Pistol Pete’ logo still comes up from time to time from the students and parents. When you’re starting a school and starting a tradition, choose very wisely because it’s really hard to change it.”

John Dinkey, an art teacher at Hills, created a logo inspired by the University of Wyoming of a cowboy silhouette in front of a setting sun.

I did not come up with the design —  I just drew up what they wanted,” Dinkey said in an email.

Paspalas said that Tom Gattoni, the former PV athletic director, “saw what was coming” and transitioned away from the Indian head logo. He came by the block letters from the architect’s plan when the first turf field was installed and started using the block letters. The PH block letters came from the school’s varsity letter.

The Pascack Hills cowboy silhouette logo was inspired by the University of Wyoming logo. Prior to its retirement, the official nickname and mascot was the Cowboy. (Contributed by PH Assistant Principal Phil Paspalas)

“In AutoCAD (a computer design software), I redrew the varsity PH letters and dropped the colors in,” Paspalas said. “I started using the PH as a logo.”

Before the district’s decision in June, Gundersen said the Indian head logo and PV block letters for Valley and the cowboy silhouette and PH block letters for Hills could still be used. 

“I’m looking forward to turning the corner and I know that our Board of Education is interested in determining what comes next,” Gundersen said in regards to choosing new mascots. “It will be interesting to see where we go from here with regards to selecting new mascots and new nicknames and we’ll be curious to find out what students are interested in doing in the future.”