In Dedham, Natick, and Watertown, among other communities, school mascots deemed offensive have been retired.
But not in Quincy, where residents and city officials have resisted past attempts to dispatch Yakoo, an angry-looking representation of a Native American that has been used as the mascot for the North Quincy High School’s sports teams for nearly 60 years.
A group of school parents has initiated a new effort to replace the symbol, and its members are hoping that changing attitudes on cultural appropriation will allow for a different result this time.
“Offensive but legal should not be the standard for our district,” the volunteer parents group, called Citywide PTO, wrote in a recent letter to Superintendent Richard DeChristofaro and the Quincy School Committee.
The organization argued that schools should be teaching students to value and respect each other’s uniqueness, and the mascot interferes with that objective.
It’s not clear how much support they have.
Mayor Thomas Koch, who chairs the School Committee, took a dim view of the initiative. He said that he could only speak for himself, but that he does not sense that the School Committee has an appetite for revisiting the issue, unless the school community at North Quincy High wanted a change. Yakoo is a symbol of pride for the school, he said in an interview.
“I know there are some well-meaning social justice zealots out there who know what’s best for everybody,” Koch said. “I think it’s an issue at North. ... It shouldn’t be dictated by outsiders.”
Sherrie Noble, a former Quincy resident who has advocated for ending the use of Native American mascots in sports, said Yakoo reflects on all of Quincy. When North Quincy sports teams travel to other schools to play, they represent the city, and the whole city should have a say in the discussion, she told the School Committee at a Dec. 6 meeting.
“It impacts all of us, everyday,” Noble said.
Yakoo, the school mascot created in 1957, is a caricature of a North Quincy High graduate, Dr. Allan Yacubian, a retired dentist who has been a longtime booster of school programs. When Yacubian attended North Quincy High, a fellow student drew a profile of Yacubian as part of a contest to create a new mascot for the Red Raiders football team. Yacubian, whose family is respected in Quincy, is actually of Armenian descent.
Yacubian appeared before the City Council on Dec. 4 to make a $400,000 donation for college scholarships for Quincy students. Five graduates each from Quincy High and North Quincy High will receive scholarships of equal amounts each year, according to details of the donation filed with the council.
“We owe him a debt of gratitude,” Koch told the School Committee.
Citywide PTO’s Dec. 5 letter stated that its objection to Yakoo is not intended to take away from Yacubian’s contributions. It pointed out that the US Department of Education in the past had asked the school to voluntarily remove the mascot and that in 1995 the Boston office of the federal civil rights office also found the mascot to be offensive, but legal, given free speech rights.
The response on social media to the letter has been intense, with many people defending Yakoo and others saying it’s past time for a change. Citywide PTO co-presidents Scott Alessandro and Courtney Perdios said the reaction has reinforced their goal of a community discussion on the issue, one that involves students.
The organization suggested that the School Committee enlist support from the district’s diversity consultant, Visions Inc., to provide a framework for discussions about Yakoo.
At the Dec. 6 meeting, John Rodophele, a North Quincy graduate, told the committee that he supports keeping the mascot.
“There’s nothing racist at all about Mr. Yakoo,” Rodophele said.
North Quincy High, meanwhile, recently dropped “Red” from its team names and is now calling them the “Raiders” on new uniforms and athletic equipment, said school principal Robert Shaw.
Anthony Andronico, a 2011 North Quincy High School graduate and a newly elected School Committee member who will take office in January, said he doesn’t have strong feelings on the topic, but he welcomes a discussion. He commended Citywide PTO for its letter and said he appreciates the organization’s effort to make sure that people on all sides of the debate feel they are being heard and understood.
“I don’t have an opinion either way,” he said in an interview.
Earlier this year, when legislation banning mascots that reference Native Americans was introduced on Beacon Hill and threatened to take the matter out of Quincy’s hands, the City Council considered a resolution that would formally support Yakoo and oppose the state legislation. Both the state legislation and local resolution have not moved out of committee.
City Councilor Bill Harris, who represents North Quincy, said his constituents have not wavered in their support of Yakoo and, accordingly, he has not either.
“I believe it should remain in place,” Harris said. “I will fight for it well into my next term if I have to.”