Worth his salt?

(Above) One of the logos submitted for the new Mapleton Salty (Below article) Additional entries (Final photo) Original Sally the Sailor sketch

Mapleton School Board contemplates Salty the Sailor’s fate

Oct. 13, 2018 — “To make sure everybody is on the same page that we are on our timeline, we solicited designs for our new logo from the students, community, staff — anybody could turn in a logo,” Mapleton School District Superintendent Jodi O’Mara said. She was speaking at the Mapleton School Board meeting this past Wednesday, where the future of the Salty the Sailor logo, which has adorned the center of the high school gym floor since the late 1970s, was expected to be decided.

She had prepared a presentation going over seven logos that the student body had chosen the day earlier out of the 12 that had been submitted to the school. Three logos had renditions of Salty, one had an anchor, another a battleship. Two logos focused on the letter “M.”

The students had the opportunity to vote for the original Salty design, with his bell bottom pants and determined grin, but they voted against it.

After presenting the designs, O’Mara turned the discussion over to the board of directors.

“So, it’s up to us to decide our favorite, us four here?” board member Michelle Holman asked.

“Yes, as we are the representatives of the community,” Board President Mizu Burruss said. “It’s not just the students here now that this is a decision for. It’s for all the past, as well as the future students.”

The four board members (new member Mary Ellen Mansfield was absent) heard a slew of comments regarding the possibility of changing Salty over the past week.

“I’m so sick of this stupidity! Leave it alone!” read one comment on the Facebook page “You know you’re from Mapleton, Oregon when…” There were 87 comments in total, many of which simply stated, “Keep Salty.”

Burruss had received 20 comments from community members on this issue.

“Every single email I received wanted some version of Salty kept,” she said. “Some of them were, ‘Well sure, but add a female version as well.’ Every single one did want a Salty, an actual person character as a mascot.”

But the conversations that followed covered the difficulties in keeping the mascot. Much of the public discussion had been focused on gender, but there were other considerations including race, disability and America’s changing culture.

Even religion played into the discussion when it was mentioned by an audience member that the school’s often-used anchor symbol could be considered a Christian symbol, which the board hadn’t been aware of.

By the end of the meeting, a decision had not been reached.

A special session on the topic is now scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 30, as it was clear that the board needed more input from the community.

While it was difficult to say where the board members were swaying on the issue, Holman said, “I don’t see the human floor in the center of the gym anymore. I just think it’s a different time. I respect where people are coming from, and their attachments to the past. But, a lot of schools are going to letter logos for very reasonable reasons.

“I can’t tell what’s going to happen over the next week, but just to be inclusive I don’t see how Salty could represent everybody. It’s just not possible.”

The discussion will be open for the next few weeks, and it is not expected to be an easy one. The goal is to create an environment that fosters an inclusive atmosphere for everyone. But in the process, it’s possible that many may feel the exact opposite, whatever the outcome may be.

“I think that the discussion is actually divisive and difficult,” Burruss told the Siuslaw news a day after the meeting. “I don’t know if people will feel closer together after this, which I regret. But I also don’t feel like we can shy away from these kinds of discussions and decisions, and I do think that there are real things that prompted us to have this discussion. You have to have the hard discussions, too. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t think about it and talk about it.”

Mapleton needs to talk about Salty.

 Protected classes

“When I first started talking about the gym floor, I hadn’t thought about equity,” Mapleton High School Principal Brenda Moyer said. She thought the big decision would be whether or not to reproduce to the old Salty picture or have a new one designed.

The reason for the change was due to the school’s $4.8 million remodel. Much of the gym and locker rooms have had their remodeling finished, but the floor needs to be stripped down and resurfaced. The cost to sand, seal, stripe, paint and apply three coats of finish is $26,795.

But even as Mapleton began working on its initial district remodels, there were a slew of high school mascot controversies in Oregon, beginning with South Eugene late last year. The school was known as the Axemen, but a petition signed by “hundreds of students, parents, teachers’ coaches and members of the community” requested the name be changed to something “non-gender specific that better represents the entire student body,” according to a December 2017 Register-Guard article. That led to a heated, months-long discussion over the mascot, with overflowing town halls discussing the merit of changing the name to simply “Axe.”

In April, South Albany High School officially dropped the name “Rebels” after hundreds of letters and emails requested the change following the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Va., after a protest turned violent over the removal of a confederate monument.

In May, Portland’s Franklin High School determined its mascot, a Quaker, was discriminatory after parents filed a complaint in 2015, arguing the mascot violated the separation of church and state.

But those changes were spurred by community action. Has there been backlash to Salty?

“I have not been approached by one person who has come forward and said they were offended by the sailor and wanted a change,” Burruss said.

O’Mara and Moyer had not received any complaints either.

Part of the Salty debate stems from financial and legal considerations that may occur.

Reading from an email from Oregon School Board Association (OSBA) Attorney Spencer Lewis, Burruss listed the considerations the board could consider to her fellow board members:

“It’s OSBA’s recommendation that we avoid any logo that discriminates against a protected class, whether that’s race, gender, ethnicity, religion. … I think the key is whether it singles out or leaves out a group of students. This could be in the name of a mascot, or the imagery used to represent the mascot. A mascot could be offensive to other protected classes, such as students with disabilities, sexual orientation, etc.”

However, she pointed out that OSBA’s recommendations are just that: Recommendations. The only state law regarding school mascots involves Native Americans, whose use was banned in 2012, giving schools a five-year grace period to phase out appropriative mascots. But that could change.

“We do foresee that there may be additional actions, at some point, from the state,” Burruss said in the meeting. “They are always updating those kinds of laws. So, that’s one thing we’re considering because it costs a lot of money to do what we’re doing to the floor now. We want that to last.”

If the state law changes down the road, the school could be forced to do away with Salty anyway, thus forcing the school to redo the floor for another $26,795.

The board could easily hide behind this reasoning, using potential litigation as a scapegoat for the conversation. Instead, board members are taking a different route, using this moment to have an open and honest discussion on what fair representation means in schools. 

Sally the Sailor

“Not being offended and not feeling represented are two different things,” Burruss told the Siuslaw News. As a Mapleton alumna, she said she had a wonderful experience as a student, and the small family atmosphere suited her well.

“I played every sport there was to play over the years, and I spent a lot of time in the gym,” she said. “But I never had an attachment to Salty as a mascot. I more identified with the general ‘Sailors,’ which can be represented by many different images. I was a girl. I never felt represented by a male mascot myself.”

However, she stressed that she never felt underrepresented because Salty was there.

“I’m attached to a general feeling of support for the Sailors, and for me there’s many images that are representative of that,” she said.

And she never felt offended.

“I’m also not offended by someone who feels that they’re represented by Salty,” she said. “In other instances of imagery (such as Native American mascots), you’re working with people who are deeply offended by that imagery. I feel like if people were offended by Salty, that would influence our conversation strongly. But that’s not what is driving this.”

When it comes to mascots, female representations have been traditionally underrepresented.

The University of Delaware, known as the Blue Hens, has YoUDee, a fighting blue chicken. While it’s technically a hen, the portraits are more unisex, and some fans to refer to YoUDee as a male.

Most of the time, female mascots are accompanied by males. The only female mascot in professional sports, Mrs. Met of the New York Mets, is the counterpart to Mr. Met. According to a Mets spokesperson, Mrs. Met just came back from a hiatus after “her children were grown.”

However, studies have shown that fans, particularly young ones, feel an affinity toward female mascots.

In a May 2017 article on Fatherly.com, St. John Fisher College associate professor Emily Dane-Staples focused on two mascots of the Rochester Red Wings, Spikes and Mittsy.

“We did see gender preferences,” says Dane-Staples. “Girls and boys were contacting Mittsy more frequently than they were contacting Spikes.”

But the mascot performers spent the majority of their time with their male fans.

“The problem is sports are generally targeting boys and not girls,” Dane-Staples said. “The origins of mascots came from boys. Cheerleaders and yell leaders were all originally male.”

The problem with this? If girls don’t feel represented in sports, they can shy away from it altogether. Or if they do get into sports, they can feel like the “other.”

In Mapleton, girls play sports just as hard as the boys. There is even a female football player.

Plus, Mapleton does have Sally the Sailor for a female mascot, but she’s never made an appearance on the gym floor to staff knowledge. She was painted on the girl’s locker room.

At Wednesday’s meeting, there was conversation about putting a picture of Sally on the girl’s locker room door again. The picture that had been submitted, which had been drawn years earlier, portrayed Sally in rather short shorts. The comments from the female students?

“Yes, but not sexualized short shorts. … Can she wear a skirt or something?”

O’Mara and Moyer stressed that this issue is not about how females are portrayed in such drawings, however. If Salty was a Sally on the gym floor, they would be having the exact same conversation. This is not about female empowerment — it’s about inclusion.

“But let’s be honest, in the 1970s it would be unheard of to have a female mascot,” Moyer added. “I think that’s part of the reason we need to look at this. When Salty was done, culturally a female mascot would never have been chosen.”

That mindset played a role in how Burruss thought about Salty when she was in school.

“For myself, when I was in high school, playing with Salty on the floor there and not feeling super represented, I didn’t have strong feelings on it. The public conversation, at this time in the world, is equity issues and looking at representation. Those are much more publicly discussed in a broader spectrum than they have been in the past.”

And it’s these conversations that Burruss hopes students and community members can have before making a final decision on Salty.

But is the complexity of the conversation getting through to the students?

 Change

Freshmen JJ Neece thinks that the change to Salty is unnecessary.

“Everyone I talked to likes Salty,” he said. “I know it wouldn’t change in my head, but different schools would come in and see us differently.”

As far as gender inequality, Neece pointed out that “Salty” could be a girl or a boy’s name, it just depends on how you view it.

But ultimately, it came down to preserving history.

“The school is changing a lot, and it’s good to change,” he said. “But if we change our logo, we’re not Mapleton. We’re Salty the Sailor. It’s been that way for a long time.”

Moyer understood the sentiment.

“Sometimes when you’re so rooted in history, you don’t want anything to change. We’ve had a lot of changes, and so, to them seeing this one thing stay is probably comforting.”

Mapleton sophomore and volleyball champion Briena Jensen was asked about her feelings on Salty.

“Salty the Sailor has been forever, for generations,” she said. “My family has gone to Mapleton, and Salty the Sailor was on that floor. … When everybody talks about the Sailors, it’s always Salty. Salty the Sailor. That’s just the first thing you talk about.”

Jensen stated that it would be acceptable to replace Salty, but only if he were represented in another way in the gym.

“I think it’s good because I heard he might be painted on a wall,” she said.

The board has discussed doing a retrospective of Salty throughout the decades on the school gym. That way, the school could still preserve and respect the history of Salty without making him the official mascot of the court.

There was no mention if Sally would be included in the mural.

“I think that would be almost better with the world like it is,” Jensen said, couching the issue under sexual identity. “There are people that don’t go by a specific gender, so I understand why they would want something more neutral on the floor because they don’t call themselves a male or a female.”

The board was given a plan for a logo that had Sally and Salty together, but an official drawing was never submitted. There were other issues with the concept.

“In these times we are more aware of the binary notion of Salty and Sally,” Holman said in the board meeting. “There’s a continuum, and there are students in our school who don’t identify as a boy or a girl. So, that’s problematic itself.”

While gender identity issues with Salty have certainly been discussed, it’s only a small part of the broader conversation regarding representation that the board is dealing with, and the school is trying to foster in conversation with their students. What were Jensen’s views on that?

“Oh gosh, that’s a hard one,” she said. “Obviously, none of the gender stuff bothers me. I’m trying to think about this. … It’s just what it’s always been. I guess my main thing is, yes it should stay. But if there’s going to be a big talk about it, I would say put something more neutral down. But I really don’t know.” 

Christian symbol

“It starts with gender, but it also has to do with race, ethnicity and disability,” O’Mara said. “Those are four protected classes where Salty comes in.”

Comments regarding the Salty debate have been centered around the fact that he is male, but what is often overlooked is that he is also white and not visibly disabled.

“I can’t think of any human mascot that does not discriminate any protected class,” O’Mara said.

But recognizing that fact, and discussing it with the students, is what she believes makes this moment in Mapleton history important.

“I think this gives us an opportunity to help our students broaden their perspectives, instead of just staying with the status quo. It’s our jobs as educators to open our students’ minds to different perspectives, different viewpoints. When you go out into the world after high school, it’s all there. And you have to be able to adapt and work with them. That means we have to talk about these things, even if it is a hard conversation. Helping the students work through those conversations is our job, and that’s why we’re excited.”

Of course, discovering different viewpoints is something that adults constantly deal with as well, a concept that was on full display during the board meeting when the logos were revealed.

Three of the logos featured a depiction of Salty. One was a warship, submitted by former teacher Will Crook.

“It represents strength, tradition and success, relevant to all students,” was the way the logo was described. “If the students at Mapleton are sailors, all sailors belong aboard ship.”

However, a member of the audience pointed out that the ship could be considered too militaristic.

Then there was an anchor, surrounded by a ring of rope.

“The anchor is a symbol of strength and stability. The anchor relates to all students, whether they are scholars, athletes, avid readers, college bound, trade bound, actors or actresses, dancers, writers, comedians, etc. The rope keeps us from drifting apart and helps stabilize the anchor.”

The anchor is a staple within the Mapleton logo wheelhouse, gracing t-shirts and uniforms — especially as the school has a large anchor sitting outside the building.

But during public comments, the notion of using an anchor ran into a problem.

“You had a symbol of the anchor and the rope,” they said. “It’s a symbol of Christianity. It means different things. It could be honoring someone who passed. If you have a cross on it, it means someone else. If you go with the anchor, how long before someone is going to say, ‘I don’t agree with that because that’s not what I believe in.’ To me, the anchor could give a lot of uproar to different religions and beliefs.”

The board members, and most in the room, seemed surprised by the reference.

“I think we all went home and Googled that,” Burruss said the day after. “I was shocked, but also really appreciative of the comment. That is the kind of thing we’re trying to bring out into the conversation and understand exactly what the issues are out there. We were clearly missing that one.”

Mapleton has multiple logos in the school, including the anchor, a capital M, a schooner boat and, of course, Salty. As of right now, the board is only focusing on Salty in the gym.

“But I would think it makes sense for public materials to be consistent,” Burruss said. “We haven’t gotten that far in that conversation. Those decisions will be informed by the conversation we’re having now.”

Does that mean the Mapleton anchor is now an issue?

“We’re going to consider it,” Burruss said. “It’s information we didn’t have before, and it would be hard to not consider it. I personally feel, at this point, there’s enough of a separation. The use of an anchor on a boat is clear, but I could be wrong. I didn’t know about that symbology until yesterday. Of course, we’ll consider that aspect now that we know about it. Once you know, you have to add it to the conversation.”

But this conversation can be frustrating to many involved. 

Politically correct

“I’m just a little torn up about this!” one person wrote on Facebook about the issue. “Upset, mad and disappointed about this topic even being considered. Why change Salty? This is a Mapleton icon! You cannot change history! Just to make gender neutral happy. Just a bunch a crap!”

Another said, “Don’t sell out to political correctness.”

The vast majority of Americans have grown weary of political correctness. A recent study by the international research initiative More in Common fund that 80 percent of the population believes political correctness is a problem in the United States. While some of the Facebook posters blamed younger generations for the Salty debate, the study found that 79 percent of people under the age of 24 were uncomfortable with political correctness.

The reasons people are uncomfortable are various. For some, it’s the constant struggle of trying to figure out which form of language they should use. For others, it’s the fear (or for some, exhaustion) of being told they are wrong or discriminatory.

Is the discussion surrounding the possibility of changing Salty just kowtowing to an overly-sensitive minority? Are people who believe Salty should stay hateful and non-inclusive?

“My answer is an unequivocal no,” Burrus said. “I think every one of us are making the decisions that we strive to make in today’s environment, and that changes over time. What’s important to a group of people in one time can be different to what’s important to them at a different time.”

If the board does decide to take away Salty, which it has not done, will people view that as a personal attack on their heritage and morals?

“Part of the frustration to me is, I can’t answer that question in a way that makes people not feel personally attacked,” Burruss said. “Even with the suggestion that we were considering different things, I think people did feel so attacked personally to what was important to them. Some of the pain of this is, there’s no coming out of it with everybody feeling exactly what I want everyone to feel, which is included and supported. Because there are people who feel really strongly one way or the other, and we won’t be able to do the thing that people feel strongly about. There are groups that won’t feel represented, which is ironic because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, is be representative.”

And then there’s the national politics of the day. Just hours before the Mapleton School Board meeting, President Donald Trump held a political rally in which he stated he could not use the phrase “the girl who got away.”

“There’s an expression, but under the rules of #MeToo, I am not allowed to use that expression anymore. I can’t do it,” he said, talking about the Republican Party’s past inability to win the state of Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania was always the person that got away. That’s pretty good.”

With the polarization of America, it’s possible that one political party will condemn (and support) Mapleton’s decision solely based on their decision on the 30th.

“That’s why this is so hard to know that this conversation will be politicized, because it’s the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do: Value each other beyond affiliations,” Burruss said. “That’s the school’s responsibility to strive for that. But yet, it will be used to drive wedges and to separate. I don’t know how to fix that. What we’re talking about here is trying to support a student, regardless of their political opinions. It’s really trying to make a space where everybody can feel we could support them. You can come here and go about your day feeling like it’s a place where you belong. That’s the kind of place we want to create. That’s where I feel this discussion is coming from. I understand it’s a highly politicized issue, but that’s not where the school board is coming from.”

It’s an issue of community, one that Burruss and the Mapleton School board hold dear.

In the community, there are different politics and genders and sexual orientations, disabilities, religions, races and cultures. And that’s something to talk about.

“We are the Sailors and we will always will be the Sailors,” board member Marilyn Fox said during the meeting, clarifying a rumor that the board was considering doing away with the term “Sailors.”

“We’ve always been the Sailors, and it was never an intent to not be the Sailors. Now is the time for the whole community, as Sailors, to come together on this. We’re working together on this and we have the interest of the Sailors in mind. We just need to work together and come up with something that’s awesome.”

To view the final logo submissions, enter another submission, and to leave a comment for the board, visit mapleton.k12.or.us and click on the “Gym Floor Logo Comments” tab.

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