Morris Community High School sticks to timeline on mascot removal

Richmond-Burton's Nick Falasca avoids the tackle attempt of Morris’ Ashton Yard after catching a pass during a Kishwaukee River Conference / Interstate 8 Conference crossover football game Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, between Richmond-Burton and Morris at Richmond-Burton Community High School in Richmond.

The Morris Community High School Board passed on signing a resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights on Monday night regarding removing the school’s mascot.

However, it still intends to stick with its already-established timeline to remove it by 2025.

Superintendent Craig Ortiz said this is in line with the attorney’s recommendation that the district try to meet with the Office of Civil Rights’ recommendation to remove all references to the mascot on uniforms by December 2023, which is impractical for the district.

“Not that we couldn’t order them and say we ordered already, but to turn it around by December is not feasible,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz said uniforms have a lead time when ordered, and the football team will receive new uniforms next fall. These uniforms will not have any references to the mascot and feature a potentially new mascot, although the board was split on whether the school should go with a new mascot or go with something such as “We are Morris,” similar to Lemont, which has gone through a similar mascot change.

“Our attorneys said this is unique because the other schools that dealt with this dealt with it 20 years ago,” Ortiz said. “They dealt with a different political environment. It really comes down to how much of an example the Office of Civil Rights wants to make of Morris High School.”

Ortiz said he believes the changes will come within an acceptable window to the Office of Civil Rights.

The uniforms in question are football uniforms, baseball uniforms and basketball uniforms.

The Office of Civil Rights also wants the gym floor corrected, and the school already has plans to get the floor done soon. The board started the meeting by passing the budget for fiscal 2024 featuring an item regarding the mascot removal from the wood.

“We spent a lot of time on this and figured out our plan and gave it to them 18 months ago,” board member Mike Wright said. “I don’t feel the need to do anything else.”

There still are issues related to using the mascot, such as the Morris High School Booster Club still using it on merchandise. Ortiz asked the board for guidance.

Board member Todd Mettille offered his advice, noting that it’s still the mascot for now, and he would like to see a way to replace the funding the booster clubs give the student-athletes.

“It’s going to stay that way, in my opinion,” Mettille said. “I didn’t see any emails that say how we’re going to replace the money that, for football at least, helps get fans to away games, feeds the kids and charters buses.”

The board then discussed a potential new mascot, first talking about sticking with the “M” logo and using “We Are Morris” as a mascot.

Board member Lynn Vermillion said she thinks people who aren’t happy with the mascot removal would be more satisfied than replacing it.

Wright said the board can revisit the item down the road, but there’s a chance nobody likes the chosen mascot, and it becomes an issue for someone to run for the school board.

“Then it changes again and again, back and forth for the rest of my life,” Wright said. “I think based on the plan by January, we owe that decision. That’s the decision to do nothing.”

Board member Matt Eber said he believes the school should find a new mascot, as an ambiguous mascot becomes challenging to rally around.

“The kids don’t have ownership of it,” Eber said. “I see it firsthand at Lemont.”

Ortiz said he will bring the survey feedback to the October meeting, and the school board can decide whether it wants to extend the decision on the mascot to the community again.