Editor’s note: This update reflects a correction about when the Bears mascot name will be implemented to our story posted Aug. 18, 2023)
CONCORD, CA (Aug. 21, 2023) — This week, the Mt. Diablo Unified School District governing board approved by a 4-1 vote changing the Concord High School mascot to Bears, ending 57 years with Minutemen as the school nickname. Board members supporting the action in order to make the school “more welcoming and inclusive” to its students.
Several alumni spoke before the board vote, all in opposition to the change. One of those speakers mentioned that of 2400 comments on the issue in an online forum there was not one comment in favor of the change.
At its previous late June meeting the governing body failed to approve changing the Concord High mascot due to a tie vote with board member Cherise Khaund absent on an educational trip to Israel.
There were comments by the public and board members this week concerning the protocol for voting again on a matter that was not approved at the previous board meeting. General counsel Carlos Alvarado gave the legal justification on why the vote at Wednesday’s meeting was acceptable under state board guidelines.
Following the June vote Concord principal Julene MacKinnon requested the item be placed on the Aug. 16 board agenda when trustee Khaund, who in the past has spoken of approving such a change, was expected to attend. The school was confident she would join the board’s newest members, Keisha Nzewi and Erin McFerrin, in passing the resolution.
Trustees Linda Mayo and Debra Mason each voted against the change last month. This time Mayo changed her vote in favor after her research on the student effort to change the name.
Name change origination
The name Minutemen was chosen as the mascot when the school opened in 1966 in honor of the men who formed the Minutemen militia in Concord, Massachusetts as the American Revolution was beginning in 1775.
The Pioneer first spoke to former Concord High principal Rianne Pfaltzgraff during the 2020-21 school year when she stated she had a discussion with some of her teachers when the idea was brought up that “Minutemen” refers to only one gender and the symbol holding a rifle is not reflective of the school in the third decade of the 21st Century.
At that time, it was not mentioned that students had brought the issue forward.
Trustee Mason said at this week’s meeting that the students who had spoken on the matter said that none of the votes on campus ever included a question if they should change the mascot, only as to what new nickname should be adopted.
New student trustee Susana Barrios, who is not a Concord High student, said she did speak to a few Concord High students about the issue. Barrios stated that the majority of CHS students are Latinx and the students she spoke to said they do not even know what a Minuteman is and thus do not feel pride in the mascot. She did acknowledge that the students also told her they were never given a choice of keeping Minutemen as the mascot.
In discussing when the name and visuals will change from Minutemen to Bears, Principal MacKinnon told the Pioneer last month before the vote, “Fall Sports will have to wait until the following year as they will already be in pre-season, but we can try to order uniforms for [2023-24] winter and spring sports.”
A District spokesman today said the school has one year to implement the name change and that the school or district cannot specify when exactly that might occur. The fall sports calendar begins this Friday when the Concord High football team travels to Salinas for its first game of the season in what will undoubtedly be their final one as Minutemen.
$200,00 cost to replace Minutemen
By voting to retire the Minutemen mascot, which goes back to the school’s opening in the fall of 1966, the board, which has faced budgetary challenges in recent years, including talk of closing schools, has approved $200,000 in district funds to make the change.
That is the estimated cost to remove all vestiges of the school’s Minutemen mascot name and image, and produce new Bear signage on campus. This includes the gymnasium floor, scoreboards, football/soccer turf field, Concord Boulevard school marquee and staff parking signs.
All school uniforms (bands, athletic teams, PE gear, school SWAG) will need to be changed, although that is expected to be phased in.
The mascot change is the second recently at a MDUSD high school after Ygnacio Valley switched from the Warriors to the Wolves a year ago. Warriors had been tied to Ygnacio Valley since the Concord school opened in 1962.
When the subject of changing the two school’s mascots first became public Khaund was MDUSD board president. She cited AB 30, the 2015 California Racial Mascots Act, which states that “the use of racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames in California public schools is antithetical to the California school mission of providing an equal education to all.”
Khaund said, “The Mt. Diablo Unified School District Governing Board is committed to providing equal opportunity for all individuals in education. We as a school district should listen carefully to student concerns, especially if they feel unwelcome or unsafe on our campuses.”
She also pointed to MDUSD board policy 0410 which states that “District programs and activities shall also be free of any racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames.”
Honors Revolutionary War heroes
The artwork of a Minuteman on the Concord school marquee and parking lot signs shows him holding a rifle. The gender specificity of the name and having the Minuteman holding a weapon are what are concerning to those wishing to change the CHS mascot.
Although a new teacher at Ygnacio Valley and former Concord High principal Pfaltzgraff played the key role in advocating for the mascot changes, each school relied on current students to select new names. From all reliable reports to the Pioneer, neither school had much feedback from alumni or the public, although each did some outreach.
When Pfaltzgraff first brought up the Concord High change student votes selected Crocodiles as the new name. With the pandemic still greatly impacting schools in 2021 the subject was placed on the back burner until this January.
Besides campus meetings with administrators, teachers and students, Concord High held a sparsely attended community meeting on Feb. 15.
Student discussions sought the attributes they wanted their new mascot to embody. Strong, spirited, inclusive, cool, persevering, “one to be proud of” and “creates a community” were cited in a report to the MDUSD board.
Crocodiles missed out this time around
After a process of elimination, mascot name suggestions were whittled down to 10 in the first vote and then five during the second. From that second vote the three finalists were Bears, Crocodiles and Chargers (Lightning Bolts like the San Diego Charger NFL team). Bears won the final tally with 38.2% of the 500 votes and the Crocs and Chargers essentially tied for second.
Locally, the University of California has had the Bear as its mascot since 1895. The Chicago Bears are one of the original NFL teams. There are 235 high schools and 32 colleges in America with Bear mascots.
There are 29 high schools and the University of Massachusetts still carrying the Minutemen nickname.
Interestingly, Warriors is the fifth most popular high school mascot in the US.
Mt. Diablo High next?
Perhaps because of the news surrounding Concord’s proposed change, there has been increased social media chatter about the district’s oldest high school, Mt. Diablo, also changing its Red Devils mascot. The mascot relates to the school’s name which celebrates nearby Mt. Diablo. A district official said there was a community member who spoke during public comments at a June board meeting requesting the change of MDHS mascot from the Red Devils.
In the professional and collegiate ranks there are Red Devils (Manchester United soccer team), New Jersey Devils (NHL hockey team), Blue Devils (Duke University) and Sun Devils (Arizona State) mascots. Locally, the 21-time World Champion Blue Devils from Concord are the most prominent drum and bugle corps in the world. There are 183 Blue Devils and 121 Red Devils school mascots in the US.
Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.