Warriors, Minutemen nicknames on the chopping block at Concord, Ygnacio Valley high schools?
CONCORD, CA — While the Mt. Diablo Unified School District has grappled with perhaps the most difficult 13 months of its existence due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is now just over a month into having students return to campus on a limited basis two afternoons a week, the district’s new superintendent and governing board is discussing changing the mascots of Ygnacio Valley and Concord high schools.
Ygnacio Valley began in the fall of 1962 and the school athletic teams have used the nickname Warriors since then. Concord High opened four years later with the Minutemen as their nickname.
A teacher new to Ygnacio Valley is leading a charge along with some of her students to “get our school’s Native [American] mascot/logo/name changed.” At Concord High, the principal had a discussion with some of her teachers over a year ago when the idea that “Minutemen” referring to only one gender and the symbol holding a rifle is not reflective of the school in the third decade of the 21st Century was brought up.
School Board meeting
New MDUSD superintendent Dr. Adam Clark included both issues during his report at the most recent school board zoom meeting April 28. It was one of several topics Clark reported on that evening. He neither received any questions nor comments from board members following his mascot report.
Clark told The Pioneer this week, “Our primary focus is leading our students through the remainder of this challenging year. The mascot conversation is long overdue, and it is time to ensure that all students, staff and community members feel comfortable with images at our schools.”
Board president Cherise Khaund cites 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.”
She 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.”
Khaund 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.”
Linda Mayo has served on the Board since her 1997 election. Mayo says in 2002 the Board updated all district policies that had last been reviewed in 1989. Then in 2015 and 2017 further updates were made in response to state laws including AB 1266 (Pupil Rights) and the aforementioned AB 30.
She does not recall the issue of a specific school’s mascot or imaging ever coming before the board.
Both Clark and Khaund said student concerns brought the mascot issues to the fore. Multiple sources to The Pioneer contradict those statements.
New YVHS teacher sparks mascot challenge
A politically active, award-winning teacher at Ygnacio Valley is leading an effort to remove Warriors from her new school. English teacher Rosie Reid, the 2019 California teacher of the year, transferred from Northgate to Ygnacio Valley for the beginning of this school year. She has been the leader of the effort to change the Warrior mascot.
Reid endorsed and campaigned for both new MDUSD board members, Erin McFerrin and Keisha Nzewi, in last November’s election. Both new board members have reportedly spoken in favor of the mascot changes, sources at each school have told The Pioneer. They won the first-ever trustee elections by district with Nzewi representing the Ygnacio Valley High feeder area and McFerrin Concord High.
Ygnacio Valley originally had an Indian headdress as the visual Warrior mascot symbol and decades ago had a female student mascot dressed in Indian garb at some events.
Athletic Director Mark Tran has been at the school for 22 years and says the only place the headdress still appears on campus or is associated with any of the school’s athletic teams is on the scoreboard at Richard Ryan Stadium. It has been suggested by Tran and requested to the district by some students (who volunteered to do the work) that the image be painted over on the scoreboard.
For several years, a large W with a spear and feather has been the graphic symbol for Warriors.
Revolutionary War heroes inspired Concord mascot
At Concord High, the name Minutemen came about in honor of the men who formed the Minutemen militia in Concord, Massachusetts as the American Revolution was beginning in 1775.
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.
Rianne Pfaltzgraff, in her seventh year as principal at Concord, says, “I am starting a discussion committee to look at changing the mascot and have inquired at the District level about the process for changing the mascot.” She said the topic first arose last school year but she put it on the backburner in light of the challenges of the pandemic.
Nearby schools that also have male-oriented nicknames which may have militaristic and/or violent include De La Salle Spartans, Miramonte Matadors, Acalanes Dons and Las Lomas Knights. De La Salle is, of course, an all-boys private school while the other three are co-ed public schools.
School name changes not popular during pandemic
Changing mascot names gives rise to comparisons with the San Francisco Board of Education announcing in January it would change the names of 44 public schools it deemed politically incorrect, including removing the names of public figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein from their schools.
Mayor London Breed was one of many voices reacting angrily to the near unanimous vote of the board in the midst of all its school campuses being closed for 10 months at that time. Last month, the board rescinded its action, at least temporarily, quite apparently due to the public outcry.
A group of MDUSD parents announced earlier this year their intention to recall all five MDUSD board members due to their inability to get students back in the classroom. That effort seems to have lost steam since the District resumed limited classroom instruction at the end of March.
There are just weeks remaining in the school year, which ends June 2. At last week’s board meeting, Clark reiterated his desire to have all classrooms fully open come the beginning of the 2021-22 term on Aug. 12.
The number of students actually attending classes on campus in the hybrid learning program varies greatly from campus to campus. It has been reliably reported that less than 100 students are attending class on campus at Ygnacio Valley. The school had to cancel its football program part way through the shortened six-week spring season due to a lack of players.
Ygnacio Valley teacher, coach Shaw speaks out
Ygnacio Valley alumnus and current ethnic studies teacher and varsity football coach Bryan Shaw says, “We talk about cultural appropriation as part of my class. I agree that the imagery associated with Indigenous Persons should be reimagined, and, for the most part, it has been. I think the mascot of the Warrior, if utilized correctly, could be powerful. Many cultures have their version of the ‘warrior.’
“With the football program and in my classroom, we worked to redefine what a ‘warrior’ is and what a ‘warrior’ was. We focused on the concepts of ‘warrior’ using a quote attributed to Sitting Bull as a starting point:
The “warrior,” for us, is one who sacrifices himself, or herself, for the good of others. Their task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children – the future of humanity.
Reid organized a Zoom rally about the mascot removal last Saturday and had a similar Zoom presentation Tuesday evening, which was attended by YVHS principal Efa Huckaby (who will be leaving the school for Liberty High in Brentwood this summer), four school board members as well as a number of faculty and staff from the school. There were about 50 people on the zoom Tuesday, which was led by a group of juniors from YVHS.
Pioneer interviews with YVHS staff and faculty plus a review of emails shows Reid to be very dismissive of those challenging any of her assertions concerning the mascot issue.
The PowerPoint presentation on the zoom call said that an unsuccessful effort to change the nickname from Warriors to Bullfrogs was undertaken in 1972. It was further stated that Ygnacio Valley students voted to change the mascot to Wolves (mascot of San Ramon Valley High in Danville) during the 2015-16 school year but at the beginning of the next term Warriors was still used.
Tran says that the vote conducted by the school’s leadership class was to choose another symbol to depict the Warriors mascot. The winning choice was Wolves (Orca was the second top vote getter). There was no follow-up to implement the vote.
Pro sports teams adapting
The Bay Area’s NBA team adopted their Warriors nickname when the team was founded in Philadelphia in 1946. A cartoonish Indian dribbling a basketball was depicted in the logo until the team moved to San Francisco in 1962. An Indian headdress was in the logo until 1969. Since then, the Golden Gate Bridge, a cable car, Thunder mascot and map of the state have been part of the Golden State Warriors logo at various times.
GSW was listed by Forbes today as the sixth most valuable sports franchise in the world, valued at $4.7 billion. Golden State is known for its outreach and deep commitment to minority communities and disenfranchised groups while proudly carrying the Warriors moniker.
The Washington Redskins dropped Redskins from their name and began operating as the Washington Football Club during the 2020 NFL season while they decide on a new name by 2022. The Cleveland Indians will also change their nickname next year.
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.