The Home of the Taconic TBDs.
At least for now, anyway.
In a Pittsfield School Committee meeting Wednesday, members of the committee voted on a motion to remove the Braves mascot from Taconic, in favor of a to-be-determined new mascot. The vote passed 5-1, with only committee member Daniel Elias voting against the change.
Starting with the public comments section of the meeting, proponents and opponents of the name change made their voices heard.
Committee members also indicated that they had been hit with a flood of emails on both sides of the divide. In the end, the members who voted in favor of the name change came back to an overarching theme: How is the Braves mascot honoring Native Americans?
"We all went to the movies and we cheered when the Indians were being slaughtered because we were taught they were bad people," said committee member Dennis Powell. "We didn't really honor them, and I don't think naming a mascot after any tribe is honoring them."
"I just want to emphasize that while looking at this, we have an opportunity to look at this as adding a culturally diverse decision instead of taking away a piece of history," said Alison McGee. "We would acknowledge that it was changing something that was one way in the past, but if we look at it as a contribution rather than something we are taking away, that emphasizes our job as a school committee to make a meaningful change."
Elias noted that, in his opinion, the Braves mascot was not demeaning of any Native American tribe. Rather, it was a mascot meant to honor Native Americans from the region.
"As long as it's done in an honorable and respectful fashion, I think the name should stay," Elias said. "If the discussion goes forward, the students should be a piece of this equation, their thoughts matter. But also the people, the Native American people to this area, should have an input."
With the decision now made to change the mascot, the school committee will shift its focus to identifying potential new mascots. No timeline was given on that decision.
One suggestion on a new name was thrown out during the public comments section. Current Taconic student William Garrity, a rising junior, suggested the name Bravehearts; as a way of keeping part of the Brave tradition alive at the school, while also turning the focus away from Native Americans.
Garrity pointed to the Worcester Bravehearts, who play in the Futures League along with the Pittsfield Suns. Worcester uses the name Bravehearts to honor firefighters in the city (brave) and to indicate that Worcester is the center (heart) of the state.
While the meaning would shift for Taconic — Garrity suggested the emphasis of being brave and compassionate (brave and heart) — the suggestion by the junior ticked an important box for him: "It keeps respectability and not being offensive. Honestly, it's the only idea that I can see happen in the future."
Immediately after the discussion about the Taconic mascot, the committee turned its focus to the Pittsfield Generals mascot. Unlike Taconic, however, the school committee agreed that the Pittsfield mascot does not have to be changed — yet. The committee's vote on its initial motion, to get rid of the mascot, was unanimously voted down. The committee did, however, commit to studying the mascot more, and to potentially make a change in the future. The motion to study the mascot more passed 4-2, with Elias and committee chair Katherine Yon voting no.
"I understand the point that people who criticize the mascot are making," said Dr. William Cameron. "They take this to be an endorsement of militarism. I have to say that leadership in war is not necessarily militarism. Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur and Ulysses [S.] Grant and Williams Tecumseh Sherman and George Washington and any other number of military figures who were generals, were not fighting for unjust causes.
"And certainly with some of those, there would have been a disastrous outcome if no resistance was put up."
Cameron also noted that residents of Pittsfield have served as generals in the U.S. Army, including Williams Francis Bartlett, who served as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War and was wounded four times.
Elias also voiced his backing for the Generals mascot, saying: "Sometimes our country has to go to war, and thankfully there are [strong generals] to lead. I think it's disingenuous to our veterans and many of our students leave us to join the military at West Point. I view the term General as something that is honorable."
The committee did not set a date for discussing a change to the Generals mascot, although Mark Brazeau agreed to provide an update to the committee during its next regular session with more background on the history of the word "Generals," plus potential input from PHS administrators and students.
"I'm more than willing to reach out to administrators and the student council, so we can get a little more research done," Brazeau said.
The next regular school committee meeting is set for Sept. 9.
Geoff Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.