A Utah town parents group and the Navajo Nation found common ground in their opposition to the "Red Devil" mascot of Springville High School, but the majority of the community sees nothing sinister in the symbol.
Controversy over the school's mascot has been brewing for months, stirred mostly by a citizens group, Parents for Mascot Review, which objected to the figure on the grounds that it presents the devil and evil as a symbol of the school.
"As a prominent symbol of a public high school, the 'Red Devil' does not represent the views and needs of our students or our community," said Dale Munk, a committee member of the group. "It's a universal symbol of evil. This community tends to be religious in nature, and we feel a 'Red Devil' has no place in our school."
Those in the community who opposed the change said the mascot is just an innocent symbol and that students see through the more sinister connotations of the word. The Springville High School Web site has both a seal that displays a traditional gaunt devil's face and a smaller, playful winking figure in red sneakers that looks like a toddler in a devil's costume.
Some supporters of the mascot described the controversy as a struggle between the community's longtime residents and newcomers who had no respect for the history of the town.
The mascot, which came from the name of the company that laid the foundation for the district's original high school, Red Devil Cement Co., was supported by 76 percent of the people who voted in a non-binding referendum on the issue Tuesday, the results of which were announced Wednesday evening at a meeting of the Nebo School District board.
"There's good people on both sides of this issue," Nebo School District Superintendent Carl Nielson said when asked about the referendum. "We just thought we should let the people decide."
The board then voted 3-1 to keep the mascot. Support for keeping the mascot was overwhelming at Springville High School, where 92 percent of the 1,030 students and 87.5 percent of the 80 faculty members who voted wanted to keep the mascot.
Neilson said the mascot would be changed slightly to make it less sinister.
‘Welcome to Hell’
Munk said parents, many of them Mormons, have objected to their children wearing shirts bearing school mottos related to the mascot, such as "100% Devil," and do not like seeing signs around the school saying "Wrestle With the Devil" and "Welcome to Hell."
"Unfortunately, if you give young people a devil motif to decorate around, you run into trouble like that," Munk said.
The Navajo Nation only got involved when one of the members of Parents for Mascot Review contacted it about an unsigned, handwritten letter on the tribe's stationery that the group had received, according to Merle Pete, a spokesman for Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye.
It's a mystery where the letter came from, Pete said, and the Navajos decided it would be best to clarify their position, though he said that in general the nation had not gotten involved individually in any of the many American Indian mascot disputes across the country.
"We basically explained that we are opposed to anything that makes reference to 'red devil,' which is a term that is offensive to Native Americans for obvious reasons," Pete said.