PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — Paw Paw Public Schools has officially replaced the Redskins mascot with the Red Wolves.
The board of education got its first look at new mascot imagery Monday night and voted unanimously to formally adopt the Red Wolves name, which had been announced as the replacement in June.
By chance, the move came the same day that the Washington NFL team said it would get rid of its Redskins mascot.
In March, after years of controversy about the mascot, Paw Paw Superintendent Rick Reo said he was concerned about the division the name was causing and its effect on students. The school board decided in a 6-1 vote to retire it.
A team of students got to work selecting a new mascot, moving their work online when the pandemic shut down schools. There were several criteria the new name had to meet: It had to instill pride, be inclusive, be noncontroversial, capture the spirit of Paw Paw and be distinctive. The student task force narrowed a list of 117 suggestions down to three: Wolves, Phoenix and Lions.
Paw Paw High School senior Charlee Bowers said she wasn’t totally on board with the Wolves name at first but that looking back at the three finalists, she’s happy with the pick.
“Wolves run as a pack where the alpha runs behind it. The alpha does not lead the pack. It rather follows them to make sure not one pack member is left behind. The alpha puts itself in the most vulnerable position to protect the pack,” she told the board Monday. “I think this represents Paw Paw; more specifically our school systems. By making this change, our leaders stayed behind us students to make sure we were not left behind. They put themselves in a dangerous position for the betterment of the pack. I hope those community members that did not stand by our administration in their decision find new comfort in the name Red Wolves.”
She said she was grateful for the help of Cory Harbaugh, the director of curriculum and instruction, who led the student task force but didn’t try to insert his opinion in the deliberations.
“He did not once explicitly share his opinion with us, which seems really hard for adults not to do,” she said. “I think if anyone else would have been the adult in this situation, it would have been a train wreck.”
Incoming freshman Avery Miller was one of the younger members on the task force. She spoke at the March meeting against changing the name. She told the board she was upset in the beginning and “didn’t want to accept it, but in such a short time, everything changed me and my views on the situation.”
Avery told the board one thing she realized as a member of the task force is that “if people, including myself, would listen to other people’s opinions and consider them, it can have an amazing outcome.”
She said despite all the long meetings and hard work, it was “worth it.”
Senior football player Connor Hindenauch told the board the thing that was important to him was how others perceived the logo.
“The one way we try to play, we try to play intimidating, we try to play fast,” he said. “And that’s one thing I wanted in a logo.”
Board member Ray Marting agreed.
“I think it (Red Wolves) is fearsome without being fearful,” he said. “We want to show some teeth but we don’t want to go beyond that.”
Hindenauch told the board that his family has lived in Paw Paw for generations. He said there are photos of his great-great-grandfather playing basketball for Paw Paw in 1917 hanging on the wall of the local Pizza Hut. He said he brought it up because his generation will get to start a new era in Paw Paw athletics:
“Now that the Redskins are gone, a new century of history can be written as Red Wolves and I believe that this is a name that will last for generations to come,” he said.
The board praised the students for working together to reach a decision.
Bowers said it wasn’t always easy to eliminate names but the team set its criteria in the beginning and stuck to it.
“We had the criteria set for a reason and no matter how much we wanted a specific nickname, we had to be true to the criteria and not give that one nickname privilege to break it over others,” she said.
Board President Brent McNitt read a prepared statement at the end of the students’ presentation.
“Even in this time of change, change is never easy. This is especially true when that change replaces a nearly 100-year history,” it said in part. “There are those that doubted the student groups would even be able to rise to such a challenge and in the end, this is another example of the quality of leadership being developed in our student body at Paw Paw.”
A theme in comments from board members was about the students’ “courage” to take on this change. Board member Shane Creiger said “it’s difficult enough as adults” to be open-minded and that “for students to step up and do that is just absolutely amazing.”
The district has already started removing the Redskins name and logo from schools and athletic facilities. Teams will begin playing as the Paw Paw Red Wolves whenever sports resume — hopefully this fall.
There are four school districts in Michigan that still use the mascot Redskins: Camden-Frontier, Clinton, Sandusky and Saranac.
Saranac schools officials told News 8 Tuesday that the board has started “initial discussions” about changing the mascot, citing similar moves elsewhere across the country, and expects to discuss it again soon. However, the district also noted it is currently focused on working out its plan for the fall semester.
Another West Michigan district, Belding Area Schools, voted in 2016 to change its name from the Redskins to the Black Knights.