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Teens, adults eye mascot issue

Will school get icon? And who gets to decide?

Joren Adams unveiled his idea for a Warrior mascot logo.

Del Norte High School’s student body president had drawn a coat of arms. At the top was a feather-crested helmet. On the bottom were the words “bravery,” “loyalty,” “integrity” and “perseverance.”

“So many people don’t feel like a true warrior,” Adams said. “They’re lacking a sense of identity.”

Adams and student body vice president Eileen Rivera were the first to speak to the Del Norte Unified School District Board of Trustees about the high school’s mascot following a report from Superintendent Don Olson on Thursday. Also on hand were dozens of parents, alumni, fellow students and representatives of the local Native American tribes and the local youth football league, who have recently argued for and against the use of an American Indian profile as a Warrior logo.

At issue is not just whether the school should have a new mascot or icon, but also who should get to choose it.

Rivera, who is also the school board’s student representative, said there has been a lot of debate on the issue among student leaders. She added that the student government will conduct a schoolwide survey on the issue, and the Student Senate will discuss it at its first meeting next week.

“I feel like a lot of students want to end this once and for all,” Rivera said.

Del Norte High School has been without a mascot icon since June 1998, when officials decided to keep the Warrior name but get rid of the Indian head icon, which had depicted a chief with full headdress. In September 1998 the high school formed a committee and sought community input to come up with a new mascot icon. In April 1999 the School Board voted to recommend that the Del Norte High School icon be changed to something not associated with American Indians, Olson said.

According to a letter from high school principal Dennis Burns dated Sept. 16, 1998, the committee would have used School Board policy in determining what icon to use. The letter cited School Board Policy 5135, which states the governing board recognizes symbols such as school colors, song, motto, flag and ring as long as they “cast no aspersion upon any members of the school community with respect to color, race, sex, national origin or creed.”

The current acceptable logos are a flaming W, DN, or the shape of Del Norte County with DN over it, said Del Norte High School English teacher Alison Eckart.

“(Students are) tired of being the flaming W,” she told the School Board. “All we want to do is let our students at Del Norte High School have a bonding unit.”

Students have worked to come up with a mascot everyone can be satisfied with for more than 12 years, Eckart said. The issue had been on the Student Senate’s agenda numerous times last year,  Eckart said. At the end of the year, students requested that Olson find a graphic designer, she said.

In addition to his own idea, Adams showed the board a sweatshirt emblazoned with a blue and gold Spartan with the warrior name. A local graphic artist had created the icon, Eckart said. No mascot has been decided at this point, she said.

“I do think this is a high school decision,” Eckart told the School Board.

Controversy over the mascot logo came before the school board again during public comment period at its Aug. 9 meeting. At issue were duffle bags the Del Norte Youth Football League had issued to its players emblazoned with an Indian brave in blue and yellow contrast. 

Before the meeting, the league had reclaimed the bags and put them into storage. It ended up selling the bags to a private citizen who gave them back to the players. 

The league isn’t affiliated with the school district, but plays on school grounds and has used the Warrior name for the past three years. According to league president John Nuszkiewicz, the league adopted the mascot logo last year when it was used on sweatshirts.

During public comment at Thursday’s meeting, league representatives said they wanted to make sure the community and alumni would be involved in the high school’s search for a new mascot. Some members of the Smith River Rancheria urged the board and students to come up with a different mascot than the Warrior head. And some said it might be better to do away with the Warrior name altogether.

Scott Skerik, a coach and member of the youth football league’s board, told board members that unless the community has input the mascot issue won’t go away. On a Facebook page titled “Bring back the head,” Skerik and league vice president Danny Forkner posted that due to Board Policy 5135 the Warrior head logo will “be no longer.”

“If the community’s involved Del Norte Youth Football is 100 percent behind whatever mascot or name they choose,” Skerik said. “We will be their largest advocate for whatever they choose.”

Forkner asked the School Board if Board Policy 5135 applies to visiting sports teams and schools. He added that for the mascot issue to get resolved, the entire community including alumni, the entire student body and elementary school students should be involved.

“Some of these kids were 3 or 4 years old,” he said, referring to age of current high school students when the time when the Warrior logo was thrown out. “The senior class, they’re gone next year. Even younger kids will be whatever the mascot is. If they get the whole student body and move completely away (from the Warriors) it will be embraced and endorsed by Del Norte Youth Football up to and including a new name if that’s what they choose.”

Smith River Rancheria member Sheryl Steinruck said any organization that uses school facilities has a responsibility to comply with all School Board policies. Following the meeting, she said that she had filed a formal grievance against the Del Norte Youth Football League with Six Rivers Youth Football Conference due to the league not following board policy.

“The problem we’re having here is (there are) people who think they don’t fit into that category,” she told board members, adding that despite the board’s action in 1998 Warrior head logos are still on the high school campus. “We shouldn’t even be talking about this issue.”

Steinruck said she would like the high school to choose a mascot that doesn’t use a human icon. The use of a Spartan or a Trojan is acceptable because the culture behind it is dead, she said, but moving away from an icon that depicts a human would take race out of the argument altogether.

“If people cannot disassociate the word warrior with Indians maybe it should be stopped,” Steinruck said, echoing something Burns said in 1998: “Indians weren’t the only ones that had warriors. Every race, every tribe had warriors that fought their battles.”

Eckart said the students hope to have chosen a new mascot icon by the end of the first semester.

When asked if the students would like to have the Warrior head as a mascot again, high school Principal Coleen Parker said she couldn’t speak on behalf of 1,000 students.

“I have a lot of faith in the student body to choose something all students can get behind,” she said. “We need it resolved so we can move on.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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