High School Mascots:
A Long-Standing Tradition in a New Era of Controversy
By Dennis House
If you haven’t heard yet, we’re in the middle of a major mascot overhaul in Connecticut, with plenty of high schools in the process of making a change. I thought I’d start here by suggesting a few new monikers for local teams. What about the Pomperaug Porcupines? Or how about the Conard Copperheads, or the West Haven Whales?
All over Connecticut, some cities and towns have been grappling with how to replace school mascots that are insensitive to Native Americans. Not too long ago, several schools in the state called themselves the Indians and now have renamed their mascots. On the national level we’ve seen this, too. The Cleveland Indians are now the Cleveland Guardians, and the Washington Redskins are now the Commanders.
In the town of West Hartford, there was tremendous debate over the retiring of the mascots of its two public high schools: the Hall Warriors and the Conard Chieftains. The names were deemed insensitive and offensive to some, and in June, the board of education unveiled their new brand names and logos. They’re now called the Conard Red Wolves and the Hall Titans.
A half hour away from West Hartford, however, the town of Watertown is embracing its new mascot, the Warriors, which was chosen to replace a racially insensitive mascot, the Indians. Wilton and Canton also kept Warriors but erased anything questionable from the logos. This has some people asking the question, “How can a mascot be insensitive in one town and not the other?”
The issue of retiring Warriors and Chieftains was such a controversial issue in West Hartford that a petition was started. I spoke to several who signed it, and they told me the townspeople should have decided, not the board of education. West Hartford rightly eliminated all Native American imagery from both mascots years ago, and proponents of a change argue that Warriors and Chieftains do not actually refer to Native Americans. They referred me to a book written by a guy from West Hartford, Noah Webster.
What Does Webster’s Dictionary Say?
Definition of warrior: a person engaged or experienced in warfare
broadly: a person engaged in some struggle or conflict
Definition of chieftain: 1. A captain, leader, or commander; a chief; the head of a troop, army, or clan.
Despite what Webster’s dictionary states, the move to replace Native American mascots began more than a decade ago and has picked up steam in the past year. Last year, a state law was passed, which says public schools which use Native American names or images for mascots, nicknames, logos, or team names could lose state funding in 2023. The funding comes from slot revenues from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes.
Montville recently dumped its Indians name when the specter of losing $1.4 million in state funding from the state loomed over the town. Killingly, which changed its Redmen nickname to Red Hawks then reversed the decision. It could lose big bucks in 2023, the date lawmakers gave towns to rid themselves of offensive nicknames.
Mascots Were a Different Story Back in the Day
At the turn of the century, there were no fewer than eight schools that called themselves the Indians, and some towns were actually right next to each other. Farmington and Newington share a border and had identical nicknames, and right next door in West Hartford, Northwest Catholic was also the Indians. A few miles away, there were the Manchester Indians, and Indians also played in North Haven, Guilford, Montville, and Watertown.
Other Native Americans nicknames were RHAM (Hebron) Sachems, the Coventry Chieftains, and Rocky Hill were Chieftains, too. There were also the Wilton Warriors and the Glastonbury Tomahawks.
Connecticut has some great original and unique mascots. Among my favorites are the Wreckers of Staples High in Westport, and the Whippets of Windham. I’m also a fan of the New London Whalers — appropriate for the Whaling City — and the Wilbur Cross (New Haven) Governors.
Wilbur Cross was governor of Connecticut from 1931 to 1939. And another one of the best is The Danbury Mad Hatters, a perfect choice for the Hat City. Another great name is the East Hampton Bellringers, although they do not have a football team. Bells were made there for years.
Then there are two team names that represent geography. The New Milford Green Wave is an homage to the Litchfield Hills surrounding this bucolic town. Ditto for Darien: The Blue Wave is a salute to Long Island Sound, where this town sits.
Some schools have nicknames that you won’t hear anywhere else in our state, including among others:
- The Bloomfield Warhawks
- Fairfield Prep Jesuits
- Hartford Public Owls
- Hyde-New Haven Howling Wolves
- New Britain Golden Hurricanes
- Shelton Gaels
There is also a flock of football Falcons, including:
- Fitch of Groton
- Ludlowe of Fairfield
- Barlow of Redding
- St. Paul of Bristol
- Xavier of Middletown
There was some disappointment in Enfield when Enfield High and Fermi High merged and chose a nickname. They went with Eagles, which is already used in Wethersfield and nine other schools in Connecticut. The two towns play each other, so what do the cheerleaders say? “Go Eagles, beat the Eagles?”
Masuk of Monroe and Wilby of Waterbury share the same logo with different colors, but different names. They are the Masuk Panthers and the Wilby Wildcats. But want to know what my all-time favorites are? The Kingswood Oxford Wyverns and the Avon Old Farms Winged Beavers.
What Might’ve Been and What Could Be
Back to Copperheads and Porcupines. These are animals that exist in Connecticut but are not honored in mascotland. My friend, Ronni Newton, the founder and publisher of we-ha.com, suggested some great marketing ideas if Conard chose Copperheads. By the way, these snakes are indigenous to the Conard district.
Ronni said the student section could be the Viper Den. Ronni also reported on a suggestion for Hall High to go with – the Monitors. Get it, the Hall Monitors? A monitor lizard could be the mascot.
Bears are ubiquitous in Connecticut, yet I could only find one town that uses Bears. There are some very cool unique mascots you’ll find nowhere else, like the Marvelwood Pterodactyls, the Moodus Noises, and the Terryville Kangaroos. And on the collegiate level, how do you not like Connecticut College Camels?
Mascots Are a Tradition
So, why are mascots such a big deal? It’s really quite simple. They’re rooted in tradition. They bring a town or school an identity, and often, school colors become the town’s colors. Mascots can also be entertaining and raise school and town spirit long after the games and seasons are over. If the mascot is unique, it can really make you stand out.
For the record, my high school was the Xaverian Brothers Hawks, and my college, the Assumption Greyhounds, was offensive to no one I believe.
Though I have to say, I’m partial to my dad’s alma mater, The Haverhill (MA) Hillies, though the brown and yellow colors could stand a makeover.
But no matter what a team is called, the whole concept of being part of a team is for students to come together to work toward a common goal, and to cheer each other on in the process. For that reason, it makes perfect sense for the name to be something inclusive that can be celebrated by everyone for years to come.