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Gustine chooses new mascot after governor bans Redskins

Chowchilla High is one of three high schools in the state that still bears the Redskins nickname. Gustine High School is changing its nickname to the Reds, becoming the first California school to comply with the California Racial Mascots Act.
Chowchilla High is one of three high schools in the state that still bears the Redskins nickname. Gustine High School is changing its nickname to the Reds, becoming the first California school to comply with the California Racial Mascots Act. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

After a new state law banned the Redskins mascot, Gustine High School will return to its roots by changing its nickname to the Reds, becoming the first of four California schools to move forward in complying with the law.

The Gustine Unified School board voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve the change. The meeting venue was moved to the high school auditorium to accommodate a large audience. The school district also intends to create a new logo at a later date that doesn’t depict anything related to Native Americans, said Superintendent Bill Morones.

“I’m relieved,” said John Petrone, Gustine High principal. “This has been, obviously, very emotional and stressful for everybody. Just having at least the name-choosing part finally completed – it’s like a big weight lifted off our shoulders, at least for now.”

Gustine High first used the Reds to describe itself beginning in 1913, Petrone said. Old school yearbooks depicted athletic uniforms with a red block “G” as the logo, and the school’s fight song begins “Sons of the Gustine Reds.”

Pat Snoke, a local historian, said a newspaperman by the name of John J. Azevedo called the Gustine High football players the Redskins for the first time in 1936, in reaction to the perceived communist threat pervasive at the time.

“It stuck since then,” she said.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 30, or the California Racial Mascots Act, into law in October. The bill calls for public schools to phase out the team name by Jan. 1, 2017. Three other high schools in the state bear the nickname, considered by many a racial slur: Calaveras High in Calaveras County; Chowchilla High in Madera County; and Tulare Union High in Tulare County.

The other three schools are in various stages of forming a name-change committee and soliciting ideas for new mascots. Chowchilla has said in the past it plans to leave the mascot in place until after the school celebrates its centennial anniversary in October.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo, D-Watsonville, called Gustine a leader for quickly taking action to comply with the law.

“I commend the Gustine High School community for making the right decision to adopt a new mascot that will continue to instill a sense of pride and yet be respectful to all students,” Alejo said in a statement. “It’s a great sign of community leadership that the new mascot will not make any reference to Native Americans, and it sets a good example throughout the entire state.”

Gustine Mayor Dennis Brazil, who opposed the bill, commended the five-member school board for choosing Reds. Other names suggested by the committee were Aggies, Chiefs and Toros.

Scott Holbrook, an attorney for the Gustine Unified School District, initially had some legal questions about the nickname Reds, he said. But after learning Gustine’s history with the nickname and suggesting using non-Native American imagery, his opinion of Reds changed.

“When (Reds) was used, it was not used in relation to any Native American mascot,” Holbrook said. “It was simply used because of school color. In that context … my opinion is, if they move forward in using Reds as the nickname, with a non-Native American mascot, they are in a strong position to assert compliance with law.”

Morones said the district hopes to have all the necessary changes in place by the start of the 2016-17 school year. The school’s athletic director already has begun ordering athletic uniforms sans Redskins this school year. The biggest challenge will be replacing the floor of the gym, which Morones estimated will cost $25,000 to $50,000. The district is waiting on clarification whether the state will chip in with costs to change mascot names, he said.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

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