Gar-Field High School will retire its “Indians” mascot at the end of this school year at the request of student leaders who have called on the school to make the change “to promote a culture of respect and expand understanding for all,” Principal Matthew Mathison said Monday.
In a letter to the Gar-Field High School community, Mathison noted that both students and alumni are “very proud” of their school and its many traditions and athletic achievements. Mathison said it’s also important to note “that the intent of Gar-Field High School has never been to disrespect or disparage Native Americans or their cultures.”
Still, Mathison said it is “imperative” that the school address the impact of the mascot on the school community.
“Gar-Field High School represents a diverse school community, which not only accepts but celebrates the many cultures represented by our families,” Mathison wrote. “Our students are extremely proud of our diversity and learn so much about the world through the cultures of their classmates and teachers. I am proud that it has been our students who are demonstrating their commitment to Gar-Field by taking leadership on this matter.”
Dear Gar-Field High School Community,
Ten of Prince William County’s 12 high schools use animals for school mascots. Patriot High School uses “Pioneers,” a term that connotes explorers or those who push boundaries, but carries no racial or ethnic connotation. Woodbridge Senior High School uses the "Vikings," a term for largely mythical Norseman warriors that is generally not considered an ethnic slur.
In recent years, some professional, college and high school teams have dropped mascots derived from Native American tribes or nicknames in response to longtime criticism that they disparage and even dehumanize Native Americans. Most notably, last year the Washington Football Team abandoned its former moniker, which had long been widely recognized as a racial slur.
In his letter to the Gar-Field High School community, Mathison noted that the “Indians” mascot name actually originated with the long-closed Occoquan District High School and was adopted by Gar-Field High when it opened in 1953.
The school then took on the “Big Red” slogan in the 1980s and the “School of Champions” motto in the early 1990s, Mathison wrote.
But more recently, Mathison said, even Gar-Field High School alumni have expressed support for changing the mascot’s name, Mathison wrote.
Suggestions due by April 4
The process of changing Gar-Field High’s mascot name will include gathering input from the community and forming a selection committee comprised of representatives from “all stakeholder groups,” Mathison wrote.
“Connection to Gar-Field history and traditions will be a very important factor in the selection process,” he added.
Students, staff, alumni, and community members are invited to submit suggestions through Sunday, April 4, by submitting them here.
A committee of representatives including students, staff, alumni, parents, and community members will evaluate mascot suggestions and identify finalist mascot submissions.
Finally, a “community preference survey” will be conducted to allow all students, parents, staff and community members to express their preference from the “finalist” mascot submissions, Mathison’s letter said.
Costs of changing uniforms, murals, signs, and other items will be covered by the Prince William County school division, he added. No approximate cost was given for the changes, however.
Mathison acknowledged the mixed feelings likely involved with changing the mascot and called on the community to unite around the task of choosing a new one.
“I understand the prospect of any change can evoke a wide array of feelings and varied reactions. All of us who have ever been fortunate to have attended or worked at Gar-Field know our identity is more than our mascot,” Mathison wrote.
“We are Big Red, we are Champions, we are Gar-Field. I am very hopeful this process will be an opportunity to bring our community closer together. I call on all members of the Gar-Field community to remain united as we seek to select a mascot which fully reflects our values of inclusiveness, respect, and being champions for others.”
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