Nov. 17, 2018 — The Mapleton School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to uphold a community vote to keep Salty the Sailor as the school district mascot. The decision follows weeks of public deliberation on the mascot’s future.
“We appreciate the engagement of the community and their willingness to provide their input throughout the process,” said Board Chair Mizu Burruss.
The vote ended with 188 community votes in favor of Salty versus 96 to replace the decades-old mascot with an “M” logo.
Salty the Sailor has been a part of the Mapleton High School gym’s center design since the 1970s when it was painted by local artist John Gay.
Elsewhere, the mascot appears on the school district website and on the boys’ locker room door. Salty’s female counterpart, Sally, appears on the girls’ locker room door.
The prospect of changing mascots was raised by the school board in October in response to the gym floor’s upcoming resurfacing. As part of ongoing bond-funded renovations to Mapleton’s schools, the gym is slated to receive its upgrade in December, which prompted school officials to question whether it was time for a new design.
The board solicited ideas from the community, asking that submissions fit into categories of a new mascot, symbol, a letter or a combination of the three.
Among guidelines for designs, the board requested that “all submissions exhibit equity to all potential team participants,” and that they include a description of how the design incorporates that equity.
Submitted concepts up for consideration included a burly sailor, an anchor, a warship and the letter “M” accompanied by a slogan.
Although the Oct. 3 school board meeting was expected to reveal the board’s final vote, there were concerns that a full inventory of local opinion had not been accounted for. This prompted the board to expand the voting process to the entire community.
“Anyone can cast their vote for the design they would prefer to see in the center of the Mapleton High School gym floor,” the school district said in a press release. “Everyone should get an equal vote.”
With the choices pared down to either keeping the original logo or an “M” accompanied by the slogan “Home of the Sailors,” the board committed to upholding whichever design the community favored.
Giving the vote to the community was a decision made in light of an influx of opinions, both in person and in writing. While the initial question of Salty’s future was framed as an opportunity for a modern, equitable upgrade, the subtext of gender inclusivity spurred some public comments.
“We have always been Sailors! It is a sad country when gender is a problem with a school mascot,” read one comment on the district’s website.
Debates on discriminatory mascots are nothing new. Nationwide, controversy about using Native American names and imagery has been going on for years. Oregon itself passed a law in 2012 prohibiting Oregon public schools from using Native American names, symbols or images as school mascots. At least 15 Oregon high schools were affected by the ruling, which gave schools until July 1, 2017, to comply.
Outside the Native American controversy, other high schools have opted to change their mascots in the face of public pressure: South Eugene High School changed their name from “Axemen” to “Axe” after a heated debate on gender bias; South Albany High School dropped the name “Rebels” in response to the 2017 Charlottesville, Va. riots; and Franklin High School in Portland removed their Quaker mascot amid complaints it violated the separation of church and state.
Mapleton’s Salty, however, has not received such public condemnation.
“In all of the feedback, we got very little or none that strongly felt they weren’t represented because of Salty,” said Burruss. “It didn’t end up being an issue, which was interesting and good to hear.”
Community concerns were relatively mild compared to more contentious mascot debates. Still, Burruss emphasized her and other board members’ commitments to stewarding a district that is representative of community values.
“We really are trying to be conscientious and represent our student body — past, present and future,” she said.
Also resting on the board members’ minds was the issue of fiscal responsibility.
In a non-binding recommendation from the Oregon School Board Association, legal counsel stated, “A mascot should not discriminate in any way or have the effect of favoring one protected class over another (the protected class could be race, gender, religion, disability, etc.).”
A current estimate to resurface the gym floor puts the bill at $26,795. Should non-discrimination laws be passed which prohibit Salty, this number could rise.
“We want people to understand that that is a real possibility,” said Burruss. “We went ahead and made the decision to put Salty back on there, understanding that that may happen.”
Despite the possibility of future state law changes, Salty’s place in Mapleton’s community has been solidified by a process which allowed the public a brief evaluation of their identity and values.
“If people were very offended by it, that would have played a larger role in the conversation,” said Burruss. “The majority of people were supportive of leaving Salty in the middle of the gym, so that’s what we’re going to do.”