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Board discusses Midget mascot

Morton Krieg, a member of the Dickinson Public Schools board, speaks Monday during a board meeting in Dickinson. During the meeting, the "appropriateness" of the Dickinson High School Midget mascot was discussed.1 / 2
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The "appropriateness" of the Dickinson High School Midget mascot was a topic of discussion Monday during a Dickinson Public Schools board meeting, but no action was taken.

Dean Rummel, school board president, had the item placed on Monday's agenda so that, according to the agenda, "the board may initiate any discussion about the perception of the DHS mascot."

Rummel said 14 years ago, the issue was heated and felt the board should again have a discussion on the appropriateness of the mascot.

Rummel presented materials to board members, which included a letter from a former DHS student supporting the change.

"The question I place in front of you is, I think it was not done very well last time, 14 years ago," Rummel said. "I think if we're going to do anything at all -- and I'm not saying we're to do anything at all, I'd like to hear from all of you -- but my suggestion would be to have a public forum and to get input from students, staff, alumni, constituents of the schools district, to find out if, after 14 years, if there's any reason to change the mascot or the name."

The issue of changing the mascot was brought to a vote in June, 1997, and was voted down by residents and students, according to a June 4, 1997, article in The Dickinson Press.

The school board voted to drop the school nickname and mascot in the summer of 1996. Before a replacement mascot could be found, a public outcry led to the recall of three board members in November of that year.

Board member Morton Krieg, an original proponent of the mascot, said the image was created in the '40s and '50s by a radio announcer calling a basketball game, who dubbed the DHS basketball team "our midgets," as they were small compared to their opponent.

In the '70s, in a DHS contest put on by the student council, a mascot was chosen, known as the "Mighty Midget," he added, and noted it is the official name of the mascot. Hagen Junior High also utilizes the mascot.

"The problem I'm having with this conversation right now is the burden of putting this back out for discussion should not come from the board," Krieg said. "This should be something that should be coming from either the student body of Dickinson High School, or a public group that's coming forward. You don't want to tackle this. This is not a decision five board members should even have to make. You don't want to push this."

Krieg said since the 1996 recall vote, he has had a "pulse on how the name and mascot is perceived in our state and by those people out of our state."

"I feel at this time there is no great public outcry, no great student outcry, and certainly no administrative recommendations, to act on the Midget name or mascot," Krieg said. "To me, it's a non-issue right now. I just feel this board does not have to be the moral compass of the community. You're not elected to do that."

Rummel asked for an opinion from Gary Thune, legal counsel for the North Dakota School Boards Association, on the legal status of the schools' use of the mascot.

In a letter provided by Rummel, Thune states, generally, school officials have the authority to determine and change a school mascot or other symbols, and the general rule governing the selection of a mascot is that it should be free of discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.

Thune went on to state in his letter that "legal challenges to mascots have usually been unsuccessful," and "while some may argue that use of the Midget mascot is offensive and is not good policy, its use does not appear to rise to the level of a constitutional violation."

Board member Kris Fehr said the "elephant" in the room needs to be discussed.

"It's OK to talk about it, I don't know that anyone wants to make any decisions," Fehr said. "But to just pretend that this is not existing is probably not right to do either.

"There are people who don't like it, there are people who like it and there's people that this is not anything that enters their mind."

No action was taken on the item, but board members discussed somehow surveying the community, students and staff to get a feel for current views on the subject at a later date.

Rummel said anyone who would like to give feedback on the topic may contact him at 701-456-6302.

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