FreeSport: A New Frontier
It was an unusually warm night as I maneuvered my Chevy across the Greenfield-Deerfield line. I was in a good mood because of my destination for the evening. I've long been an admirer of the Frontier Regional School football program; what's more, going to Deerfield is always a bit of a homecoming for me. I got my start as a full-time journalist covering the town and the Frontier district for the Recorder.
Back then, the biggest controversy was a proposed $21 million renovation of Frontier Regional School. The price tag wound up being closer to $28 million, but covering the seemingly endless public hearings and committee meetings related to that project provided my first introduction to the stubborn Yankee spirit that is so much a part of that school district.
That same spirit would emerge a few years later in 1997, when the school district decided to do away with the "Redskin" as the school's mascot.
Part of the reason Frontier did away with its long-time mascot was the guy running the district at the time. You'd have to go to the halls of Capitol or Beacon hills to find a slicker political operator than Frontier School Superintendent Jack Welch. It was obvious that Frontier was not going to be the last stop on this guy's resume. It was also apparent that he was no fan of the Redskin, and was looking for any excuse to ditch the mascot once and for all.
Local resident Glen Douglas provided the opening Welch was looking for when he and a group of supporters approached Frontier and other area schools to ask them to do away with their mascots, which he argued were "offensive" to residents of Native American descent, Douglas among them.
"I remember that well," long-time Frontier parent and football PA announcer Dave Blanchette said. "We all got letters, us, Turners, Ware and Mohawk, pushing us to change it, but we were the only ones stupid enough to answer."
While Frontier may have been one of the few schools to respond, the same scenario played out in a number of school districts across the country. It played out even at the national level: the NFL's Washington Redskins took heat for their mascot. But most of those requests were sloughed off as nothing more than political correctness run amok.
Yet other organizations, like Frontier, have changed their mascots, not only because of outside political pressure, but because of what the term "Redskin" represents.
There are dozens of theories about the origin of the term Redskin. But the one cited most by anti-Redskin groups refers to a practice by trappers and bounty hunters of bringing in Native American scalps—"redskins"—in order to collect bounty payments. When you think about it in those terms, it may not be the most flattering term for a sports program.
But in the Frontier district, the term Redskin was a symbol of 44 years of honor and tradition. Frontier was one of 1,800-plus schools across the United States which have mascots of Native American origin.
Welch and the Frontier School Committee saw it differently, however, and voted in 1997 to remove the Redskin mascot and delete any reference to the term. There were a lot of upset people, and the embers from those flames of discontent burned for a long time.
Then a funny thing happened. A new tradition emerged.
After a couple of years without a mascot, the powers that be at Frontier decided to adopt the "Red Hawk" as the district's primary identifier.
People not only adapted to the change, they embraced it. Now "Red Hawk Pride" consumes the towns of Conway, Whately, Sunderland and Deerfield as Frontier's football team marches toward yet another Super Bowl.
The Frontier Redskin controversy proves that the heart and soul of any school isn't found in its mascot. It's found in the people that wear those colors—the students, parents and fans. That spirit can also be found in the diehards who still believe in "Redskin pride."
"Every year at Homecoming, I welcome back all returning Redskins," Blanchette said. "You can't forget your history."
No, you can't. But you certainly can change it, and it makes it easier when that change involves doing the right thing.
Chris Collins is Director of News and Programming at WHMP Radio and a part-time political columnist and sportswriter for the Greenfield Recorder.