By Brett Yates
It’s official: the Rutland Raiders will become the Rutland Ravens.
On Feb. 9, a 6-4 vote by the Rutland Board of School Commissioners authorized the new athletic mascot, logo and symbol following a presentation by members of a student advisory committee from Rutland High School (RHS) and Principal Greg Schillinger. The decision capped a months-long controversy that began when local activists pointed out the Native American stereotypes associated with the Raiders’ name and logo, sparking citywide debates about white supremacy, political correctness, community identity, and the cost of new uniforms.
The Raiders’ replacement, the Ravens, emerged out of a lengthy outreach process administered in weekly meetings by student volunteers under Schillinger’s supervision. After identifying the characteristics they hoped their new mascot would embody (such as “hardworking” and “persistent”), the students solicited suggestions from the general public. They then presented selected results from this survey (including “Railers,” “Royals,” “Rams” and “Raiders”) to pupils at Rutland Middle School, Rutland Intermediate School, and RHS for a vote. In a subsequent run-off between the top two choices, the Ravens and the Royals, 57% of the ballots went for the Ravens, the favorite at all three schools.
Commissioners Ann Dages, Dena Goldberg, Kevin Kiefaber, Matthew Olewnik, Joanne Pencak, and Cathy Solsaa voted to support the change, while Brittany Cavacas, Hurley Cavacas, Charlene Seward and Erin Shimp rejected the students’ choice. The split replicated the board’s vote in October, when the same six commissioners on the yes side tasked RHS with devising a new team name.
Brittany Cavacas, an independent candidate for the Vermont Senate in 2020, objected to the Ravens on the grounds of her Catholic faith. “A raven, in my religion, means death,” she observed. “So, for me, a raven is negative.”
In agreement, Hurley Cavacas opined that conjuring the specter of death reflected especially poor taste during a pandemic. He also theorized that, because the raven has symbolic significance in some indigenous cultures, it might not resolve the original problem of insensitivity toward the Native American community.
The RHS committee acknowledged that none of the mascots under consideration was perfect from every angle. “Depending on the culture that you choose, there’s a myth that’s associated with almost every single animal or natural phenomenon,” Schillinger noted. “Every single option had a component that somebody could argue with.”
Olewnik contended that questions about the symbolic dimensions of animal mascots missed “the point about what the initial concern from the advocates for the change was, which is not having a mascot that turns human beings into a mascot in our community.”
After Shimp asked how many students had written in “Raiders” on their ballots, Schillinger admitted that about 10% of the high schoolers had done so, but the principal emphasized that the school board itself had voted in October to initiate a process to invent a new team name. This – not relitigating the question of whether to retain or replace the Raiders – had been the task of RHS’s committee. “Our job was very direct from the board,” he said.
The board’s decision to accept the Ravens took place just three weeks before Rutland City’s Town Meeting Day, where seven candidates – including some who have campaigned on a pro-Raider platform – will vie for three open seats on the school board. After Rutland’s Board of Aldermen declined in November to place the issue as referendum on March’s ballot, some Rutlanders hoped they’d have a chance to weigh in on the composition of the school board before its final vote on the matter.
Efforts to delay the decision, however, were unsuccessful.
Two and a half hours into the Feb. 9 meeting, Allison Notte, the board president, shot down Shimp’s request for an adjournment with discussion ongoing. When Pencak made a motion to accept the new mascot, Shimp suggested that the board table the motion, citing a need for “more information.” Shimp’s motion failed (4-6), whereupon the board took up Pencak’s motion, which passed (6-4).
Solsaa thanked the students “for doing such hard work in such a contentious atmosphere.”
In leaving behind the Raiders name (formerly the Red Raiders), Rutland High School follows in the footsteps of Champlain Valley Union High School and South Burlington High School, where activists pushed the Crusaders and Rebels, respectively, to become the Redhawks and the Wolves. The local trend mirrors a nationwide movement in which universities and professional sports franchises have revised their names and logos amid advocacy for greater racial sensitivity.