Voters in the Hurley School District will decide whether to do away with its school mascot. The Hurley School Board decided at its November meeting to hold a referendum in April on its midget mascot.
Hurley School District Administrator Chris Patritto said he and school board members have received numerous informal complaints over the years from alumni and others outside the district.
"They felt the name was derogatory and doesn’t need to be here anymore. In the society we’re in nowadays, a lot of people think it’s a demeaning name. I don’t think it was ever put out to be that way," said Patritto. "There’s a lot of pride in the name. I think it goes back to the strength and the mightiness of the miners and the forestry people that we’re working here — the lumberjacks — years ago. I don’t think that it was anything that was meant to be demeaning, but we all know as times change, things change."
Patritto said the district felt it was a good time to have a discussion on how to move forward and let voters decide the outcome. Advocates for people with dwarfism argue the word "midget" is often used to demean and bully people of short stature, said Joe Tateoka, district director for Illinois and Wisconsin with the nonprofit group Little People of America.
"If you think back to the 1800s at the height of the 'freak show' era, the 'm' word was used to really describe short-statured individuals who were on display for public amusement whether that was in circuses or whatnot for people to pay money to see these individuals," said Tateoka.
He said the organization does not approve of using midgets as a school mascot and advocates for districts to change them nationwide. The group delivered a 4,400-signature petition to the Freeburg Community High School in Freeburg, Illinois, several years ago that asked officials to phase out the nickname.
"The Little People of America does not approve of having this type of representation as a mascot because it really teaches our youth that the 'm' word is appropriate to be used to describe a person of short stature and also that it’s acceptable and often times humorous," said Tateoka.
Tateoka said they encourage schools to phase out the use of the mascot. Hurley’s district administrator said the community should have input on the mascot’s fate since it’s been the district’s symbol for decades.
"I think a lot of people have varying opinions on it. I think (the board) made a good decision to put it out to the voters as a binding resolution," said Patritto. "Whatever the results of that referendum are, we’re going to follow through with."
The referendum will go before voters April 2.