There was no shortage of conviction at West Hartford Town Hall on Thursday, but when it came to keeping or changing the high schools' Native American mascots, there was also no sign of compromise.
“I came tonight because I am a huge supporter of the Chieftain name,” said West Hartford resident Jake Reynolds.
Hundreds were in attendance, and as strongly as some residents adhered with tradition, others spoke in favor of change.
“I am very strongly ‘Change the Chieftain,” Grace Downes said.
Conard’s Chieftains and Hall’s Warriors brought hundreds before the West Hartford Board of Education to present opinions on the longstanding debate.
“One [side] definitely wants to instill a tradition that they grew up with, that they feel is very dear to them,” Cantor said. “The other sees these as offensive names, outdated, something that propagates a false history.”
Among the 60 or so residents who signed up to speak at the board of education meeting, both factions were represented at the podium. One speaker urging the board to “choose respect over tradition,” while the following speaker said he thought the mascots were “nothing racist, nothing offensive, nothing derogatory and nothing belittling.”
For Reynolds, a varsity athlete, the mascot has taken on a new meaning and served as a symbol he and his teammates work to respect.
“We always strive to be of a Chieftain and do things as chieftains would: be courageous on sports fields and in classrooms,” Reynolds explained.
Conard sophomore Leah Kelly argues those feelings shouldn't disappear if the mascot does, that school pride should stick with all of Hall and Conard’s teams regardless.
“The feeling isn’t going to go away just because you change some logo,” Kelly said.
The board of education said the subject is sensitive but that open dialogue is the only way to reach a decision.
“This is another step in a long process for us,” said Board of Education Chairman Mark Overmyer-Velazquez.
According to Overmyer-Velazquez, that decision could result in anything from the names being retired completely to things staying just as they are now.