Ambiguity favors the choice of Webutuck’s new mascot
The logo for the Webutuck Wildcats. Photo submitted

Ambiguity favors the choice of Webutuck’s new mascot

AMENIA —  “It could have been ugly,” admitted Webutuck Central School District Superintendent Ray Castellani. Unfunded mandates are never popular, and one that touches on nostalgia, personal history and habits can be even more unwelcome. But “we’re excited about the new changes to our name and mascot, and they’ve afforded us lots of communication and shown us the inventiveness of our students,” he explained.

Consonant with Castellani’s view, “rebranding a school district is tricky,” according to Webutuck coach and special education teacher Joe Lasaponara. “Until you delve into it, you don’t realize how complex it is.” As it turns out, the process has been an intriguing one for students, staff and the community, and promises to offer more opportunities for engagement as the longtime Webutuck Warriors find new expression as the Webutuck Wildcats.

The adoption of a new name and mascot, mandated by the New York State Board of Regents in 2022 and earlier, was in response to the 2010 Dignity for All Students Act, itself a response to findings that stereotypes perpetuated by some mascots, particularly those of Indigenous figures, negatively impacted minority students. It was reiterated more forcefully on April 18, 2023.

Fifty-five school districts statewide and 12 high schools in Long Island still need to make changes under the ruling; in Dutchess County, only Ketcham High School in Wappingers Falls has a mascot that remains to be changed, according to Webutuck’s public information officer Daniel Pietrafesa. All districts are now given until the end of the 2024-25 academic year to make all needed changes.

At Webutuck, the new mascot choice, unlike the original naming by a committee, has been very much in the hands of students, staff and community via interactive surveys and questionnaires on the district website in March of this year. In the most recent of them, several hundred members of those groups voted among five finalist names and chose Wildcats as the favorite.

The new design, depicting a wildcat hugging the word “Webutuck,” is simultaneously “cute, fierce, intimidating, as well as playful,” said Lasaponara. The usefulness of the name lies in its very ambiguity: “Wildcat” is a generic term that can refer to five or six species of fairly large cats, leaving the design teams with ample latitude as to colors and imagery.

This aspect has also led to some real collaboration, with various students’ input on paws, face and fur colors put together to achieve the most satisfying result. Most of them were students in Jessica Caeners’ digital design class. Their work then went to BSN, the equipment provider the district uses, for refinement in the digital design department.

As to the all-important attributes—the list of qualities the mascot represents—and converting current imagery and wording to the newly adopted design, the complete changeover will take some time. ”By October or November, we hope much of that will be done; the goal is Halloween,” added Lasaponara. The New York state deadline for the name change was July 1, but the state allows reasonable time for the remaining changes.

In terms of the cost to the district, “we’re in a good place,” averred Castellani, noting that without a football team, the need to replace lots of brand new equipment like helmets is absent; the color scheme of green, white and beige, consistent with the previous mascot, will also help keep expenditures down.

As to the uses of the new mascot, it appears likely that there will be a costume wearable by students to be present at games and such. With the previous mascot, often said to be Sassucus (or at least his profile), nobody could remember seeing a student or anyone dressed in that costume.

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