A MOCK design by Mothership of All Design depicts what a new MHS Raider name could look like.

 

 


Salvaging Raider can’t be off the table

Commentary

By JENNIFER GENTILE

MELROSE—I know one nine-year-old who didn’t know why Red Raider is considered (by some) to be offensive as a team name at Melrose High. Bless his heart. Because of the removal of feathers and other imagery 20 years ago, there was no realization that the logo was once clumsily connected to Native Americans. And that was the purpose back then. It worked.

It is those students who will be the eventual bearers of whatever nickname Melrose decides on this year. And it’s those students who will embrace the new branding. However, I don’t know how many want to be a bird. Red Hawks are not unique to Melrose. Neither was a train (“Express” was stupid). Of course, neither were Red Raiders exclusive to Melrose, but after a 100 years, names stick. The Raider name is almost as old as the city of Melrose, which was named after a town in Scotland. Speaking of which, Highlanders actually has a cool connection here, and wasn’t the worst idea from the MHS Steering Committee, but isn’t that appropriating a culture of people? And come to find out, Red Hawks are considered sacred to Native Americans, particularly Cherokees. And here we are, back to square one. You just can’t avoid finding offense.

The work by the MHS Steering Committee to find a new moniker was no doubt thorough. Well intentioned.

But it was premature. So is the rush for the School Committee to tackle this apparently vital issue during a war and a pandemic.

The decision to remove the Red Raider name was made without community input or that of the Melrose Athletic Hall of Fame, curators of over 100 years of Melrose High athletic memorabilia. The Hall of Fame was left in the dark despite overseeing the Hall itself at the high school and inducting classes every two years at their own financial expense. President Nick Scofield took it upon himself to address the School Committee a few weeks back. He was not invited to speak. Why? And has the School Committee taken into consideration the nearly 200 high school students who signed a petition to keep the name?

How many high school athletes (who actually wear the logo) were invited to take part in the Steering Committee? Sport captains? Coaches? Or, a historian such as John Connery (former Hall President) who knows more about the history of Melrose High than anyone sitting on the steering or school committee combined.

There was an odd secrecy about the removal and rebranding process, which prompted The Transparency Initiative to get involved and ask questions. Roll your eyes, sure, but someday they might be requesting financials or legal papers for a local matter that you do care about.

Those who support the current name, or a version of it, and those who support an open process in municipal matters, want it to go to a vote in November. Fair enough.

 

RUSS PRIESTLEY (pictured) passed away on Feb. 25 2022 at age 99. He was a famed WW2 bombardier and MHS athletic legend. (photo courtesy of book The Last of The Priestleys: Sports Legends)

 

But a Red Hawk?

The process of renaming is not so easy, admittedly. However, the Middlesex League schools have not been so drastic in their renaming. Winchester went from Sachem (an actual tribe) to Red and Black. Watertown went from Red Raider to Raiders. They are the only two schools in the league who have changed their names. They did not turn into an animal or a choo-choo train overnight.

Raiders, however, are marauders, pirates, plunderers, correct? This is not spinning—it’s logic. And we know it is no longer acceptable to make a connection between indigenous people and a raider. That’s done. So much that some young children don’t even make the connection. So, there’s simply no reason not to keep the Raider name and rebrand it.

Local advocates such as Cal Finnachario and Ward Hamilton have long advocated that the Red Raider name honor WW2 vets (including famed bombing squads) with a new logo/design, one of which is called simply Raiders with a warplane. Let’s not forget that our Middle School is named after our veterans. So, how is that a problem? Jimmy Doolittle’s Raiders were legendary in the Pacific theater. Many Melrose athletes in the 1940s were pilots, such as a recently deceased MHS legend Russ Priestley, a WW2 test pilot and one of the most gifted athletes who ever graced the MHS halls. Moreover, if MHS wanted a Raider design to be a goofy pirate, like the Oakland Raiders, how too would that be problematic? Remember, sport teams want to crush opponents, not run over and tickle them.

We are living in a very divided and sensitive time where nothing can be scoured enough to please to the masses. To some extent, I wonder if this is even about the name anymore, or rather a culture clash between old Melrose and new Melrose that permeates in Facebook community pages.

Unlike Wakefield, we’re not going to tear our community apart over a mascot or logo. That’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean that people are less sensitive and passionate just because they haven’t caused a Hatfield and McCoy battle over it. Be grateful, Melrose Schools. And start thinking compromise. There have been tens of thousands of proud Melrose athletes who wore the Red Raider name and many are asking for a salvaging of it. Long after local pols or educators move on to other communities—they always seem to, right?—a host of former Red Raiders remain in Melrose, and it matters to them. Their voices count.

The MHS administration and School Committee need to think compromise. This is how good faith is gained and lost. And people remember that when they go to the polls.