Five years after controversy gripped Natick over the School Committee’s nixing of the high school’s team nickname on grounds it belittled Native Americans, the school’s principal has called for submissions for a new moniker, with one stipulation: There will be no revival of Redmen.
Principal Rose Bertucci said that with the new Natick High School opening in September, the time is right to consider a change from the current nickname - the Red and Blue.
The name was first adopted in the early 1900s, used until 1956, and then picked up again after Redmen was dropped by the School Committee despite the opposition of many longtime residents.
The controversy even inspired the formation of a group to rally support for maintaining the tradition, Redmen Forever.
“What got left behind is the kids who were actively going through it,’’ Bertucci said of the Redmen acrimony. “I don’t really want to open up that wound again. For me, it’s all about whether the kids want a name change.’’
This time, the change will originate from within the high school community, she said - only staff and students will vote on the name.
Bertucci said she has long heard grumblings from coaches and athletes about the Red and Blue name, which, despite its historic precedence, doesn’t have the same ring or source of pride as the Redmen.
“All the students and coaches want a mascot to get behind,’’ said Natick High’s athletic director, Tim Collins. “We hear a lot in the headlines and the sports papers about the ‘R and B,’ and a lot of the schools are asking ‘What does that mean? What does that stand for?’ . . . The Red and Blue is really a unique name,’’ he said, and some rival schools “don’t quite know what to make of it.’’
Collins said that even Natick’s cheerleaders have been vexed by the Red and Blue as they’ve tried to figure out how to turn it into a catchy cheer.
“The change was hard for a lot of people,’’ said head football coach Mark Mortarelli. “I’ve heard comments like, ‘You’re the red and blue what?’ I think the kids are going to feel more empowered’’ through selecting a new mascot.
Bertucci is collecting suggestions until March 30. After that, she’ll present the submissions to a committee made up of coaches, students, teachers, and staff. They’ll whittle down the entries to about five choices, one of which will be to keep the Red and Blue name, for a final vote by Natick High staff and students.
No matter what, the school colors will remain, as will the half-red, half-blue “N’’ symbol, said Bertucci.
The internal process is a marked change from the last time.
After the School Committee dropped Redmen in 2007, a nonbinding ballot question asking the board to “reconsider its decision’’ was backed by two-thirds of the voters in the March 2008 town election. The school board reopened its discussions, but eventually stuck with its ruling.
School Committee chairman David Margil said the board will likely stay out of the naming process this time. “The committee does not become involved unless the selected name is in some way incompatible with our mission and values,’’ he said.
Bertucci said the suggestions she’s received include the Red Hawk Men and the Nighthawks.
“I really think people are looking for some significant thing to keep the history alive. They’re not looking for some random name,’’ said Bertucci.
The principal said she has also heard from Redmen supporters, and said the tone of their e-mails has been respectful.
Jimmy Brown, founder of Redmen Forever, said he’s heard from about 200 people who want to make a bid for a Redmen resurgence.
Though Brown said he’s no longer involved with the group’s website updates, he’s still “a Redmen at heart.’’ He said many people are still smarting over a change that they felt was unwarranted, and will try to get their voices heard in some capacity.
But Bertucci is insistent that the Redmen name will live in the history books only, and the high school community will determine the next chapter of its athletics program.
“Everyone should remember the Redmen as proud Redmen,’’ said Bertucci. “Now we’ll see if we can enter into a new era with a new name.’’