COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — Armed with backing of local Native American groups, Monte Woolstenhulme decided in 2013 to push Teton High School in Idaho to drop Redskins as its mascot.
Then the local community rose up in defense of the name, circulating a petition that helped convince Woolstenhulme, superintendent of the Teton school district, to abandon his quest.
“This is NOT Monte Woolstenhulme’s personal kingdom that he can rule and reign with his hypersensitive, self-imagined whims,” read the petition, which was signed by 628 people in a county of about 10,000 residents.
It continued: “We DEMAND that Mr. Woolstenhulme cease and desist of any destruction of the school property involving the REDSKINS mascot (including name and logo), until a public school board meeting can be held to address this issue with FULL public input.”
At Teton and several high schools that use the name Redskins, efforts to change the name in recent years were met with a fierce backlash from students, alumni, local groups and school administrators.
- At Lancaster High School in New York, about 150 students walked out of class in protest of a school board vote to change the name.
- Students and alumni at Tulare Union High School in California fiercely lobbied against a law that banned schools in the state from using the name.
- At Wiscasset Middle High School in Maine, after the school dropped the mascot in 2011, a woman successfully petitioned to change a street name in the town to “Redskin’s Drive,” according to the Wiscasset Newspaper. (It was changed to the name of a local Native American tribe two months later.)
In Teton, the issue came to a head at an emotionally charged school board meeting attended by about 300 people in July 2013, where Woolstenhulme explained why the name should be changed.
“I recognize tradition and the importance of heritage in our community, but I also think there are a lot of things that need a serious evaluation about why we do it and what it means and how we could move forward if something can be offensive,” Woolstenhulme said, according to a video of the meeting produced by Teton Valley News. “The more research and information I look at with having a mascot with the name of Redskins is offensive to others… that’s why I made the decision that I did.”
At the meeting, Teton alum Bob Hansen told Woolstenhulme that the decision disrespected him and people like his father.
“I told my dad about this, he’s 92 years old, he boxed for Teton High School, he played football for Teton High School, and you know what he said to me? He said, ‘I feel like I’ve been punched in the guts.’ And I feel the same way and so [do] 90 percent of these people here,” Hansen said to Woolstenhulme, according to the video. “You’ve got the audacity to take that away from us, I can’t believe you can do that.”
In an interview last week, Bob Hansen told Capital News Service he couldn’t talk his father, Jack Hansen, into attending the 2013 meeting. But his father — who passed away in 2016 — thought the move to change the name was a “disgrace,” he said.
“We were proud to fight for the name and the school,” Bob Hansen, who now lives in Idaho Falls, said in an interview. “To try to take that away from us, after all these years… it’s almost unbelievable.”
Even though nearby Shoshone-Bannock tribal leaders supported the change, Woolstenhulme expected some citizens to support it and some to oppose it.
At the meeting, attendees defended the “honor” and “tradition” that came with the name, taking turns at the microphone to lambaste Woolstenhulme, the video shows. While the school board president mostly maintained order, there were angry shouts and grumblings from the crowd throughout the meeting.
Out of the 67 people who spoke at the meeting, three were for changing the name, two were neutral, and the rest were against, according to the Teton Valley News.
“I think the most memorable thing to me was how emotional it was for some people and how personal it became,” Teton High School Athletic Director Brody Birch said in an interview with Capital News Service. “Some of their comments were aimed at the superintendent and board and it just became too personal.”
Some attendees went after Woolstenhulme, suggesting that he change his own name instead.
“You’re trying to take that all away from us because you think somebody might be offended,” said Driggs, Idaho resident Terri Fullmer, according to the video. “Well, should you change every name if people are offended by it? This is my thought. I know some Woolstenhulmes that I’m related to that are offended by what you are doing and offended that you are a Woolstenhulme. Are you going to change your name because of that? I don’t think so.”
Fullmer told Capital News Service that she does not believe the name disrespects Native Americans. Student athletes at the school are “proud to do the best that they can and say that they’re the Redskins,” she said in the interview.
When previous student body President Katie Yarbrough, who graduated from the high school in 2012, spoke in favor of changing the name, people in the crowd told her to sit down.
“A lot of students agree with me, even if no one in this room does,” Yarbrough said, according to the video. “The whole destroying history thing isn’t necessarily true because I graduated, I will be a Redskin, I will still be a Redskin, everybody that graduated will still be a Redskin, maybe the new classes won’t be but it won’t take anything away from you.”
Yarbrough could not be reached for comment.
Many of the newer residents of Driggs, Idaho, approved of the name change, but those who grew up in the area were upset, Teton Principal Samuel Zogg said in an interview with Capital News Service.
By the end of the meeting, Woolstenhulme, who was greatly outnumbered, eventually gave up.
“I would be an idiot to not listen…there is nothing saying we have to do this now,” Woolstenhulme said to the crowd.
He said the issue would be moved to the “back burner,” in order to focus on more pressing matters. It hasn’t been revisited since.
“I seriously doubt this matter will come up again, at least during Woolstenhulme’s tenure,” Ken Levy, a former photographer and journalist in the area, said in an email to Capital News Service. “The community is pretty passionate about their heritage as Redskins, and those who try to erase that name would likely face their ire.”
Erika Earles, who will be on the Driggs City Council starting in January, said she is embarrassed by Teton High School’s continual use of the name Redskins as their mascot.
“I hope we can change the name of the mascot soon. I think it’s despicable that the name is still being used,” she said in an interview with Capital News Service.
Fullmer said she hoped there wouldn’t be another attempt to change the name, adding: “That’s our heritage. We’ve been called the Redskins forever, you know?”
In an interview with Capital News Service, Woolstenhulme said he had other things to focus on.
“Three to four years ago my position was we should change the name and involve the community in making that change, but through that discussion process I found there’s a lot of bigger priorities and things we need to focus on and that’s where we are at today,” he said.