First the good news: in 2008, when I first wrote about the last two high schools in Maine still using the racist mascot name "Redskins," Wiscasset and Sanford, I predicted that Sanford, my hometown, would be the last holdout. Too many people there are stubborn, provincial, and backwards. (See "Last of the Redskins," November 28, 2008, by Rick Wormwood.)
I was correct (and that's always good news; hooray for me!). In January, the Wiscasset School Board joined the present century by voting to let their students pick a new mascot. As of next year, their teams will be called the Wolverines, which brings to mind Red Dawn, Hugh Jackman, and Bo Schembechler, so what's not to like? I think "Wolverines" sounds cool, and even though the change was overdue, Wiscasset's people of goodwill finally did the right thing. Congratulations, and good luck. The bad news is that the Sanford School Department's official lack of empathy regarding the baldly racist term remains undiminished.
However, the two school officials in Sanford with the most influence over the situation are riding off into the sunset. Betsy St. Cyr, the superintendent, is retiring. Sanford High School Principal Allan Young, the most hardcore Redskin holdout (see "Redskin Redux," January 23, 2009, by Rick Wormwood), is also leaving at the end of the school year to become associate headmaster at Thornton Academy in Saco. Maybe that's good news, too. According to a friend who teaches at SHS, Young responded to the mascot controversy by simply forbidding his faculty, many of whom found the term "Redskins" offensive, from commenting publicly. (So much for free speech.)
I also know of several SHS alumni who wrote Young polite, impassioned letters beseeching him to reconsider his position. None of them even received a response. Young's total lack of empathy for Maine's native peoples, his complete abdication of responsibility in this matter, and his years of teaching Sanford kids that it's all right to define themselves by the color of other people's skin all point to the same conclusion: Principal Young needed to go. In this case, Sanford's loss might also be Sanford's gain, as long as his replacement doesn't share Young's myopic, outdated, and (there's no other word for it) racist worldview.
And yet, the times are changing in Sanford. Things that would have been unthinkable when I was a student have happily come to pass. A few weeks ago the SHS student body voted a gay couple the king and queen of their prom. Christian Nelsen was elected queen, and his boyfriend Caleb Jett, king. That little plebiscite probably made Young and St. Cyr severely dyspeptic, but personally, I've never been more proud of my alma mater. A student body that would do such a thing, in the name of tolerance and inclusiveness, deserves kudos of the highest order, as do Nelsen and Jett themselves. They are brave young men.
If you doubt that, just remember that plenty of Bangor locals still call their city's State Street Bridge (which Charles Howard was thrown off of, to his death, in July 1984, simply because he was gay) the "Chuckahomo Bridge." Sanford High's forward-looking, empathetic students would seem to bode well for the future of their school and town. People everywhere should embrace their collective leadership.