CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – At one point during the process to select John Jay High School’s new mascot, Statesmen, an homage to the school’s namesake, was considered as a replacement for Indians, which is being retired after decades of debate over its appropriateness.
But as much the Katonah-Lewisboro School District was looking rid itself of a mascot tied to a race of people, it also did not want a gender-specific symbol. So, Statesmen was out.
“We wanted something we could embrace without offending people in our community,” said Christian McCarthy, athletic director of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District.
That guidance came from the school board, which unanimously voted to replace Chief Katonah in November. Leading the search for a new name would be an 18-member Mascot Steering Committee made up of administrators, coaches, teachers, parents, and students from both the high-school and middle-school level.
The committee met several times and also surveyed the school community, receiving about 800 responses. From dozens of options, the committee whittled the potential new mascots down to 10. Along with Statesmen, common names like Panthers and Tigers were quickly dismissed.
“We wanted something that had a link to the area, if possible, because we thought that would give it a little more substance,” McCarthy said. “There aren’t any tigers around here.”
The committee then narrowed the finalists down even further, until just two remained: Wolfpack and Ravens. A few other finalists were Hawks and Raptors, McCarthy revealed.
Wolves, which received the most submissions in the survey, was an obvious candidate before the process even began, given that the school is located just 2 miles down the road from the renowned Wolf Conservation Center. But the Wolves mascot was already in use by Gorton High School in Yonkers.
“We didn’t want to double up on something that was already in the area,” McCarthy said. So, the committee settled on Wolfpack as a finalist.
Ravens, the other finalist, recently returned to the area for the first time in about 100 years, McCarthy was told by the town’s historian. Additionally, “Raven Rocks” is an overlook at nearby Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.
“When we got it down to the final two, a lot of that was because they met all of our criteria,” McCarthy said of Wolfpack and Ravens.
Both are unique, inoffensive, and have relevance to the Katonah-Lewisboro community. They are also strong symbols, McCarthy argued.
“A wolfpack embodies loyalty and family and devotion to a group,” the athletic director said. “Ravens are intelligent, adaptable, and show empathy.”
The online vote was scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, June 22. Essentially everybody with a Katonah-Lewisboro Schools email address was able to cast a vote, from rising sixth graders to graduating seniors, from coaches to teachers, from administrators to maintenance staff. He estimates about 2,300 people are eligible to vote.
“We didn’t want to hear from a small portion of the community,” McCarthy said. “We felt it was critical for anyone and everyone that was part of [the school community] to click and give their opinion.”
Results of the vote will not be revealed until Thursday (June 25), as to not overshadow the high school and middle school graduations.
Knowing the mascot topic is a sensitive one for many residents, McCarthy removed the student members from the committee before choosing the two finalists.
“We wanted to protect our students from that burden,” McCarthy said.
The athletic director, who has been at Katonah-Lewisboro for a dozen years, sees little to reason to relitigate the appropriateness of the Indian mascot.
“Whether I was for or against the Indians, I feel was irrelevant,” he said. “I work for the district, I’m here to carry out what the district wants. As the athletic director, I just always wanted a mascot we could all embrace, and we weren’t able to that.”
Superintendent Andrew Selesnick, speaking at the June 16 school board meeting, answered those who might question the wisdom of holding a mascot vote in the midst of civil unrest and a pandemic.
“The vote on Monday in no way detracts from all the other work that’s necessary and important at the moment,” Selesnick said. “It also doesn’t detract any financial resources from all of the other important work that has to go on as we prepare both to finish this year but prepare, importantly, for the summer, including reopening, we hope, in the fall.”