Recently, a proposition was made by a Franklin parent that our mascot, the “Quaker,” should be changed because it could be seen as being religiously offensive. The Franklin fight song has the line, “Fight Quakers, fight, fight, fight!” which isn’t in line with the Quakers’ nonviolent practices. While people opposed to changing the mascot have argued that it isn’t offensive, there’s another issue at play: Benjamin Franklin was never a Quaker. There seems to be no expectation for mascots in any league to be historically accurate, so it isn’t surprising that out of the nine Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) teams, only three of them have mascots with a legitimate connection to their school. However, a mascot exists to represent the school— as well as the teams that play for it— so shouldn’t there be some ounce of historical accuracy in this representation?
Portia Hall, a history teacher at Franklin explained, “A mascot is designed to have a rallying cry so that people can get excited about their school. It doesn’t actually have to reflect the school, but as a history teacher, I’d like it if it was historically accurate.”
As Hall explained, most PIL mascots aren’t valid representations of schools’ names. For example, Benjamin Franklin wasn’t even born in Pennsylvania, where the Quakers lived. He did spend most of his life there and is widely associated with it, but he was from Massachusetts and was not a Quaker. The Wilson “Trojan” mascot doesn’t make sense either, since Woodrow Wilson was a US president, and the Trojans are people from the ancient Greek city of Troy. Grover Cleveland was not a “Warrior,” and the Lincoln “Cardinals” have no relation to our 16th president Abraham Lincoln at all.
As the Benson “Techmen” show, not all of the PIL mascots are inaccurate. Simon Benson founded Benson Polytechnic as a school of trades, and since it offers technical education, the “Techmen” makes sense. The Roosevelt “Rough Riders” demonstrate how educational mascots have the potential to be. The “Roosevelt Rough Riders” was a nickname for the first U.S. Volunteer Cavalry organized by Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American war.
Alumni in particular are against changing any of the mascots because of their personal memories; people who feel a connection to schools’ communities view the change as an attack on the community as a whole. However, if the PIL schools took the time to have a civil conversation, thoughtful changes could be beneficial to the schools and could shape what they want to represent.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about history,” Hall said. Having a historically accurate mascot offers a teachable moment; it doesn’t have to be for technicality or out of obligation; it offers an opportunity for students and families to learn more about their schools and the history behind them.