GM Chieftain mascot not under fire, school officials say

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The newly refinished GM gym floor. Photo provided

At least 35 students, teachers and alumni turned out for the monthly board of directors meeting of Green Mountain Union High last Thursday night, Sept. 14, to stand up for the school’s native American mascot — the Chieftain — which they see as endangered.

Board chair Alison DesLauriers moved the mascot discussion nearly to the top of the agenda and opened it by saying that there had been no recommendation to the board that the mascot be changed and that the board was not considering a change.

The issue had come up at the board’s August meeting when members confronted Principal Tom Ferenc and Superintendent Meg Powden regarding the absence of the school’s Chieftain mascot silhouette anywhere on the newly refinished gym floor. DesLauriers was not at that meeting.

Athletic director Todd Parah presents the gym floor design with two mascot logos at the GMUHS board meeting in May. Courtesy SAPA-TV

The board had been told in May that the new design called for replacing the Chieftain face in the center of the floor with a stylized map of Vermont and the GM logo. However, the new design also had sported two 30-inch Chieftain silhouettes on other parts of the floor. Those, however, are not in the finished floor.

At the August meeting, upset board members questioned Todd Parah, who is the director of facilities and athletics, about how those two Chieftain images had been left off.

Ferenc said that he did not want to say anything at the May meeting because he had not talked with his supervisor – Powden. When the two finally discussed the issue, Powden said, she agreed that it would be a good idea to leave the images off the floor.

Powden then recalled her time as a principal in Danville, when she had been through a Human Rights Commission inquiry brought about by a complaint regarding that school’s “Indian” mascot. The Danville school ended up sanding its mascot off the floor.

Over the past 11 years, and most recently in the last four with the rise in protests over the Washington, D.C., football team’s use of “Redskins” as their name and logo, students and others have discussed the appropriateness of GM using the Chieftain.

Two Rivers Superintendent Meg Powden says she stands by the decision but regrets not bringing it to the board. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

On Thursday, board member Deb Brown told Ferenc that the issue for her was not whether the Chieftain should be the mascot, but the board should have been involved in the reversal of a board decision on the floor’s appearance.

Ferenc and Powden apologized, saying that no deception was intended, but that it became a matter of timing for the work to be done. Still, Brown called for an executive session for the September meeting to look at the situation as a personnel issue.

Powden said she stands by Ferenc’s decision but regrets that she did not bring it back to the board.

“That was my error and I’m sorry,” said Powden

Chieftain logo in Green Mountain’s entrance gallery. ‘Organizations put what they value at the front door,’ said Ferenc.

Ferenc said that he and the athletic directors who have served during his tenure “never had a conversation about bringing a recommendation to the superintendent about changing the mascot.”

“Organizations put what they value by the front door … we have an art gallery,” said Ferenc, “and (former Athletic Director Brendan McNamara) and I got the bright idea to take the Chieftain that was sort of hidden by the scoreboard and put it on the brick wall at the end of the gallery.”

Ferenc said that GM will be “the Chieftains until they are not the Chieftains,” but that this discussion is not about changing the mascot.

“This is about my decision not to put two 30-inch Chieftain heads on the floor because I didn’t want to pay to sand them off if it comes to that,” said Ferenc.

DesLauriers said that any decision regarding a mascot change would take a public process that would include many stakeholders. But, she reiterated, there has been no recommendation to do that.

Amber Wilson asks if the Chieftain mascot is going away slowly.

A number of students and alumni maintained that it’s not just the floor, but the gradual disappearance of the Chieftain logo from sports uniforms as well.

“It’s very expensive changing mascots unless you do it a little at a time and don’t get caught,” said parent Amber Wilson.

Former GM athletic director McNamara told The Telegraph on the morning after the meeting: “There was never any discussion of dropping the Chieftain logo. With Tom (Ferenc), we were always the Chieftains.” McNamara, a GM alum and current Cavendish town manager, also defended some of the uniform designs done during his tenure.

“Sometimes the logos just don’t fit,” he said. “Twin Valley are the Wildcats and Bellows Falls are the Terriers, but you don’t see a Wildcat or a Terrier on every uniform.”

On Thursday night, the discussion turned to how designs of uniforms were approved and Wilson asked if there would be movement toward returning the logo to uniforms.

DesLauriers said that that was a management decision rather than a board function and Ferenc said he and Parah would make the design process more open in the future.


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  1. Deborah A Velto says:

    I thought Chester was so progressive. Bathrooms for LGBTQ students but then you fight to keep a racist caricature as your mascot? Gross.

  2. Julian Ungano says:

    As an alum of GMUHS, I can honestly say I could not care less if this logo gets changed, and the “outrage” that some people have over this topic is ridiculous. Maybe we should focus more energy on making sure kids aren’t snorting pain killers or H first, and worry about the completely tone deaf mascot later…. or better yet, not at all.
    Dictated but not written-