A nonprofit representing past and present Gar-Field High School classes that has contributed over $100,000 to the school is opposing the school’s replacement of its Indians mascot, announced last month.
The group, Gar-Field Grad Events, detailed its grievances with the matter, ranging from a lack of input to unknown taxpayer costs, in a letter to Gar-Field principal Matthew Mathison, the Prince William County School Board and the Board of County Supervisors.
“As alums, we would like to see a larger outreach regarding this matter with inclusivity allowing for a fair and equitable discussion and debate,” the letter states. “If taxpayer monies are involved, then all taxpayers need to be heard and the full costs of such a change revealed and factored into the final decision.”
No information on taxpayer costs for the mascot change has been released.
On March 15, Mathison announced that Gar-Field would formally retire its Indians mascot due to increasing calls from students and community members. The mascot has been viewed by some as racist and disparaging to Native American culture, but Gar-Field Grad Events disputes that interpretation, citing group members’ admiration and respect for “the G-F [Gar-Field] Indian, Indian traditions and Indian way of life.”
Gar-Field Grad Events requested a discussion with students, administration and Native Americans to understand the feelings of those who support the replacement of the Indians mascot, which the group says it never considered in a “derogatory or offensive” manner.
“Nobody that went to Gar-Field, that I’m aware of, looked at the Indian in a negative light,” said Richard Beamer, vice chairman of the group. “The question I have is the students that are now looking at it [the mascot] and saying that it’s a racist thing, how many of them are Native American? How many Native Americans might they have asked about it?”
In addition to hoping to stop the mascot change, Gar-Field Grad Events is also inquiring into funds, which it says were about $5,000, it donated to Gar-Field High School to restore the Indians sign outside the school. Beamer said the money was used and the sign restored, but it was put in storage due to the school’s decision to change the mascot. The organization does not want the monies returned but instead reallocated.
“I would like to see it [the money] redirected to a better cause,” said David Bartee, a past chairman of Gar-Field Grad Events. “Whether that’s a scholarship or something else in the community, or to support a Native American cause.”
Gar-Field High School did not comment on the money or the sign.
In a statement to InsideNoVa, Mathison did not address the organization’s grievances but instead laid out the steps toward choosing a new mascot that would “reflect community values and connect with Gar-Field history, traditions and school colors.”
The high school is reviewing new mascot suggestions and compiling a list of finalists for students and community members to vote on.
“Staff, students, alumni, and community members have had the opportunity to submit suggestions through an online form, and we received nearly 400 submissions,” Mathison said. The school’s mascot selection committee will identify finalists for the survey, which he said would be sent to students, staff, alumni, and community members.
Mathison cited student support in the initial announcement about the mascot change.
“I’m really glad to see Gar-Field taking steps to change our mascot,” said Aubrey Venteicher-Shulman, a junior at Gar-Field. “Over the years I’ve been disappointed in many of the faculty’s hesitancy towards change, however, I am very glad that our principal has taken the initiative and is allowing for student and community input.”
Gar-Field Grad Events, however, intends to continue to advocate for retaining the mascot, as well as more transparency on the costs associated with the matter.
“We are not looking for a fight, we just want a better understanding of the situation,” Bartee said.