A banner from Wells High School, where the team name is the Warriors. Credit: York County Coast Star file photo

WELLS, Maine — The committee charged with evaluating the use of the Warrior name and Native American imagery at Wells High School will formally recommend abandoning the imagery, but retaining the Warriors name, following a secret ballot vote at a committee meeting Wednesday night.

In a news release, Superintendent Jim Daly said 24 of the 26 committee members voted via secret written ballot at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, with 17 members voting to eliminate all Native American imagery while retaining the Warriors name. Three members voted to keep the Warrior nickname and the use of Native American imagery, and four voted in favor of retaining the name and the feather with the red “W” in the logo.

Daly said there were no votes in favor of discontinuing both the name and imagery.

“Honestly, the biggest debate was about the ‘W’ with the feather. The majority of us felt like it was important to make a clean break from any imagery,” Daly said.

“People on the committee had very different beliefs, but they came together. I think people in our town handled themselves with class. I think it’s been a tough job for the committee members, it’s been very controversial, but everyone stuck with it, and we came up with a majority recommendation to bring to the board,” he said.

The recommendation will be brought to the Wells Ogunquit School Committee at its next meeting on June 6.

Daly emphasized that the final decision will lie with the school committee.

He declined to comment Friday on allegations that the secret ballot violated open meeting laws.

In his news release, Daly said: “Since December 2017, the Mascot Advisory Committee has held five public meetings and solicited feedback at a public forum on May 8, 2018. All meetings have been open to the public and records of the proceedings have been maintained. The Mascot Advisory Committee invited discussion from all. The Wells-Ogunquit CSD believes a fair reading of Maine’s Open Meeting Law under Title I, Chapter 13, Section 403(6) exempts advisory bodies having no decision-making authority from making a record of public proceedings permitting the advisory committee’s voting process.”

“Our only task was to discuss it, and I believe our process was open and included the public and anyone who wanted to be on the committee. I think we did a nice job,” said Daly

The Mascot Advisory Committee was formed in November to evaluate the use of the Warriors mascot after Lisbon parent Amelia Tuplin, a Mi’kmaq, accused fans of demonstrating racist behavior toward her and her son, a player for Lisbon High School, during an October football game. WHS officials conducted an investigation and did not find evidence of racist behavior, but the event served as the catalyst for forming the advisory committee.

At a public forum held earlier this month members of the community shared their thoughts on the mascot controversy.

Former Wells varsity football coach and the district’s current director of finance and human resources, Ed McDonough, said, “I believe the continued use of the imagery sets us back.”

McDonough said what’s most important is that Wells High School continue to be known across the state for excellence and achievement.

Eileen Conlon, a Wells resident, said she wrote her first letter urging the school committee and the superintendent to drop the Indian head logo more than 15 years ago.

“It’s been a long time coming to this point. I’m very sure that when the school district took on the name and mascot there was no intention and harm, and yet we know that the impact is hurtful and harmful. When we realize we are hurting people we can no longer continue to have a mascot that does that. I’m very grateful that we are finally at this point,” Conlon said.

Barbara Giammarino, a member of the Penobscot Tribe whose grandparents Leslie and Val Ranco founded the Indian Moccasin Shop on Route 1 in Wells almost 70 years ago, said, “Your sports teams are going to continue without Native American mascots, but I’m not sure if the Native American community will continue without the respect from the dominant society.”

“This would have broken other communities,” Daly told the crowd at the conclusion of the forum on May 8. “We didn’t break. Though we might have differed, we stuck together, and I’m proud. I think we are going to do the right thing. More importantly we came out of this process stronger.”

On Friday, Daly wouldn’t comment on the outcome of the committee vote, but said he feels at the end of the day “we shouldn’t offend anyone.”

“What I’m really pleased about is how our community handled it. And what I’m relieved about is that now our kids can go to a football game, or any school event and just be kids, without being scrutinized and without being accused of doing things they didn’t do.”

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