LENOX — Once a Millionaire, always a Millionaire.
That's the verdict following a decisive student vote at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School on the future of the unofficial team slogan and mascot that dates back to the 1930s, beloved by most longtime residents, accepted by many students but questioned by others.
As announced to the school community by the Student Council on Wednesday afternoon, 213 students, or 51 percent, voted to keep the mascot, while 134, or 32 percent, voted to change it, and 74, or 17 percent, had no opinion.
"Turnout" for the vote was 96 percent — 421 out of 438 students at the middle and high school.
In an effort to win a maximum student participation, voting began on Feb. 14 during lunch hours. Assistant Principal Brian Cogsworth checked off names so he could follow up with those who didn't cast ballots at that time because they were absent.
"This puts the issue to rest," Schools Superintendent Timothy Lee told The Eagle. "The School Committee had decided that if we don't have a compelling majority of students wanting to consider a change, the issue should die, and that looks like what has happened."
Lee voiced pride in the students "because the issue has been around and has come back and forth for a number of years. But in recent years, there was always the potential that it could get divisive, especially through social media. It could have become nasty, and the discussion could have fallen apart."
However, he commented, "that's not what happened here. The students were always respectful of others' opinions. I've heard of no conflict among students about their opinions. I'm proud they were able to listen to each other's perspectives and to discuss the issue respectfully."
As Principal Michael Knybel commented on polling day, "We're aiming for the most fair, dipstick test."
Voters were asked to check off one of the following:
— I would like to change the Millionaire Nickname/Mascot for LMMHS.
— I would like to keep the Millionaire Nickname/Mascot for LMMHS.
— I do not have a strong opinion or I prefer not to say.
Ballots were alternately distributed between "keep" and "change" as the first question so as not to sway the vote.
Superintendent Lee praised Student Council members Julie Monteleone and Josie Usow for their "very articulate, respectful presentation of the issue." They made several appearances before the School Committee starting last June.
"As much as this was a distraction at times," Lee added, "I'm pleased that the students maintained a respectful tone throughout."
If a majority of students had voted to eliminate the slogan, most likely the issue would have been submitted to registered Lenox voters through a ballot question at the May 7 annual town election. But now, that won't be necessary.
The outcome announced Wednesday represented a sharp turnaround from an informal, 27-question survey taken by 78 percent of LMMHS students last spring showing that two-thirds favored dropping the nickname.
The Millionaires slogan has surfaced as a point of contention from time to time, most recently as some students stated that they had been taunted at games, especially by out-of-town student athletes and parents.
"Our goal in changing the mascot is to take one small step toward making Lenox a more welcoming and inclusive environment, providing students and the community with a symbol that unites and excites rather than divides," Student Council leader Julie Monteleone told the School Committee last September.
But many local residents were firmly in favor of keeping the nickname in recognition of well-heeled Gilded Age "cottagers" who employed townspeople and helped fund new schools and other town projects.
As Thomas Romeo, a third-generation native, has put it, "Those of us whose family members, including my grandfather, father and uncles, and others from several European countries who worked on the estates, never were or felt like elitists but were proud of their hard work to maintain the estates. So for many of us who have strong roots in Lenox, the Millionaire mascot is more of a recounting of our roots and actually the opposite of elitism."
To help clear up confusion over the origin of the slogan, Romeo, a retired Berkshire Health Systems executive who served on the Lenox School Committee for 24 years, unearthed a 1934 Springfield newspaper column that referred to the Millionaires.
He also found a 1940 Berkshire Eagle sports column by John G.W Mahanna using the slogan in a report on the Lenox High baseball team's victory over Lee for the Southern Berkshire championship.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com or 413-637-2551.