Killingly High School student-athletes were once called the Redmen. Then, briefly, they were the Redhawks.
Now the school has no mascot at all.
The town has been divided by recent efforts by school board members to reinstate Redmen, even though the board previously dropped the name based on a recommendation from the Nipmuc Nation tribe. The tribe said Redmen and any other name or image depicting Native Americans was offensive.
At the board’s most recent meeting, members voted down the name town residents and students came up with to replace the old one: Redhawks. The board has since formed a “compromise committee” to address the mascot issue. The committee’s job is to make a recommendation on the mascot to the full board, Republican school board member Doug Farrow told Connecticut Public Radio.
“I think we all want to get this issue resolved,” Farrow said. “Our goal is to improve [Killingly public schools], and that deserves our full attention.”
The committee is made up of three school board members, including two Republicans who condemned the removal of the Redmen name when they were campaigning for office in the fall.
Democrat Hoween Flexer is on the school board, but she’s not on the committee. She doesn’t see a way toward a compromise.
“I don’t think this committee will help us get there, because the members of the committee are clear where they stand,” Flexer said.
Flexer believes the committee only serves to get the old name reinstated.
“We didn’t ask any of the Native American people who spoke at any of our meetings to be on it, we had educators stand up and ask us to keep the Redhawks name, and we didn’t engage them and we didn’t engage our students,” Flexer said. “Those are the people directly impacted, and we don’t have them.”
The next school board meeting is Jan. 8. If the board ultimately decided to reinstate Redmen, writer Paul Lukas says a switch like that would be rare.
“It would be the first such instance that I’m aware of, but it certainly speaks to how contentious the issue tends to be in many communities, and there’s a lot of push and pull,” Lukas said.
For 20 years, Lukas has written about sports team uniforms, logos and identities for a sports blog called Uni Watch, so he’s familiar with the controversy around Native American names and imagery. For example, he wrote a story on the Cleveland Indians retiring the Chief Wahoo logo from their uniforms in 2018.
“It’s an issue that has sort of become a proxy for other larger issues like red vs. blue or liberal vs. conservative,” Lukas said.
He said this issue is not going away -- he brought up the debate around a mascot in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, that led to a school board there voting to dump the team name Indians.
Until the Killingly matter is resolved, school officials say, each team will wear uniforms with only “Killingly” displayed on them.