VPA tells schools to replace offensive team mascots, nicknames with more inclusive options

The Vermont Principals’ Association wants its member schools to reconsider their team nicknames and mascots if they perpetuate divisive stereotypes or marginalize a group of people.

In a statement released Friday, the VPA’s executive council said school nicknames are “powerful symbols” and “should support feelings of belonging and inclusivity for students and the wider community.”

“Any mascot, nickname, symbol, or logo that has marginalizing, racist, or exclusionary elements should be replaced to demonstrate what it means to be an inclusive, welcoming, and strong community,” the statement said.

When reached by phone Friday, Jay Nichols, the VPA’s executive director, said the statement stemmed from several school leaders looking to the organization for feedback as they work through similar conversations in their districts.

A conversation has already started at Rutland High School. Supporters began preparing last month to petition the school on removing Raiders, a reference to Native Americans, as the school’s moniker, according to the Rutland Herald.

Nichols said the VPA’s statement comes in light of the national movement to support people of color who have been historically marginalized.

“Our bottom line is, whatever you are going to have for a mascot, whatever you are going to have for a symbol … think about it in a lens of being inclusive of everybody,” Nichols said. “That’s what the focus needs to be on. That’s what public schools are all about.”

Context matters, too, said Nichols, who gave an example with the Rebel name. At South Burlington, that nickname was replaced three years ago because of ties to the Confederacy. Elsewhere, Rebels have instead been linked to the Revolutionary War. 

A sign outside of polls in South Burlington advocates for the “Rebel” moniker, which the South Burlington School Board voted to shed.

Nichols, though, said the VPA is not singling out any schools. Nor can the state’s governing body of athletics mandate a school to change its mascot or nickname.

“We have no authority to tell (schools) to do anything. But if it’s not inclusive, welcoming and supportive to what you are about as a community, then you ought to think about replacing it,” Nichols said. “Tradition is important, but not all traditions should go on forever.

“We do not improve as a society if we just blindly follow tradition.”

Notable mascot, nickname changes

Several Vermont high schools have changed their nickname or iconography in the past. 

Brattleboro: During the 2003-04 school year, the school decided to ditch its Colonel logo — a near carbon-copy of the confederate “Colonel Rebel” mascot used by the University of Mississippi — but retain the name. Another layer in the debate: The town itself was named after Col. William Brattle in the 1700s.

Champlain Valley: Vermont’s largest public high school transformed from the Crusaders, its nickname for 40 years, to the Redhawks in 2005.

Randolph: The central Vermont school has gone by the Galloping Ghosts since the name took root in the 1940s because of its speedy, white-clad basketball team, according to Seven Days. Its superintendent decided earlier this year to erase a longstanding mural that depicted a hooded figure on horseback that looked like a Ku Klux Klansman.

Rice: A year before CVU, the Catholic school in South Burlington shed its longtime nickname in 2004 when it became home to the Green Knights after spending decades as the Little Indians.

Rutland: Currently called the Raiders, with an arrowhead logo, they were known as the Red Raiders until the early 2000s. That was when the school dropped the word “Red” and imagery featuring a Native American wearing a headdress. 

South Burlington: A lengthy and contentious debate led to the school shedding the Rebels moniker to become the Wolves in 2017.

Prior coverage:South Burlington’s Rebel debate goes back decades

Vermont high school mascots

A group of supporters want to see Rutland High School remove the "Raiders" nickname.

The VPA-affiliated high schools and their mascot(s), in alphabetical order:

  • Arlington Memorial: Eagles
  • Bellows Falls: Terriers
  • BFA-Fairfax: Bullets
  • BFA-St. Albans: Bobwhites (boys) and Comets (girls)
  • Blue Mountain: Bucks
  • Brattleboro: Colonels
  • Burlington: Seahorses
  • Burr and Burton Academy: Bulldogs
  • Champlain Valley: Redhawks
  • Colchester: Lakers
  • Craftsbury Academy: Chargers
  • Danville: Indians
  • Enosburg Falls: Hornets
  • Essex: Hornets
  • Fair Haven: Slaters
  • Green Mountain: Chieftains
  • Green Mountain Valley School: Gumbies
  • Hartford: Hurricanes
  • Harwood: Highlanders
  • Hazen: Wildcats
  • Lake Champlain Waldorf: Wildcats
  • Lake Region: Rangers
  • Lamoille: Lancers
  • Leland & Gray: Rebels
  • Long Trail School: Lynx
  • Lyndon Institute: Vikings
  • Middlebury: Tigers
  • Mid-Vermont Christian: Eagles
  • Mill River: Minutemen
  • Milton: Yellowjackets
  • Missisquoi: Thunderbirds
  • Montpelier: Solons
  • Mount Abraham: Eagles
  • Mount Anthony: Patriots
  • Mount Mansfield: Cougars
  • Mount St. Joseph Academy: Mounties
  • Northfield: Marauders
  • North Country: Falcons
  • Otter Valley: Otters
  • Oxbow: Olympians
  • Peoples Academy: Wolves
  • Poultney: Blue Devils
  • Proctor: Phantoms
  • Randolph: Galloping Ghosts
  • Rice Memorial: Green Knights
  • Richford: Falcons (boys) and Rockets (girls)
  • Rivendell: Raptors
  • Rutland: Raiders
  • Sharon Academy: Phoenix
  • South Burlington: Wolves
  • Spaulding: Crimson Tide
  • Springfield: Cosmos
  • Stowe: Raiders
  • Stratton Mountain School: Bears
  • St. Johnsbury Academy: Hilltoppers
  • Thetford Academy: Panthers
  • Twinfield: Trojans
  • Twin Valley: Wildcats
  • Union 32: Raiders
  • Vergennes: Commodores
  • Vermont Commons: Flying Turtles
  • Websterville Baptist: Warriors
  • West Rutland: Golden Horde
  • White River Valley: Wildcats
  • Williamstown: Blue Devils
  • Windsor: Yellow Jackets
  • Winooski: Spartans
  • Woodstock: Wasps

Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or edanforth@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @eadanforth.

Contact Alex Abrami at 660-1848 or aabrami@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5.

This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a subscription to the Burlington Free Press.