CONCORD, CA (July 5, 2023) — Mt. Diablo Unified School District failed to approve changing the Concord High School mascot from the Minutemen to the Bears due to a tie vote with one board member absent.
But it’s expected principal Julene MacKinnon will ask for the item to be placed on the Aug. 16 board agenda when trustee Cherise Khaund, who in the past has spoken of approving such a change, is expected to attend. The school is confident she will 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.
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, will approve $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, turf football/soccer field, Concord Boulevard marquee and staff parking signs.
All school uniforms (bands, athletic teams, school SWAG) will need to be changed, although that is expected to be phased in.
Warriors to wolves
The mascot change will be 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.”
The artwork of a Minuteman on the 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 reportedly what are concerning to those wishing to change the CHS mascot.
Former Concord High principal Rianne Pfaltzgraff during the 2020-21 school year said 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.
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.
Bears, Crocodiles or Chargers?
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, preserving, “one to be proud of” and “creates a community” were cited in a report to the MDUSD board.
After a process of elimination, mascot name suggestions were whittled down to 10 for a first vote and then five for a 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 will be 29 high schools and the University of Massachusetts still carrying the Minutemen nickname if MDSUD does away with it next month.
Interestingly, Warriors is the fifth most popular high school mascot in the US.
Related story: Letter to the Editor — Concord High School mascot Minutemen
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.