ST. LOUIS – A national group is gathering thousands of signatures, hoping to convince a local school district to change its mascot.
The mascot has been around for decades. While some say it’s history, others say its hurtful.
In many ways, Freeburg, Ill., is just like many other small American towns, but something does make it stand out, its high school mascot.
“The Freeburg Midgets,” said Andrew Lehman, superintendent of the Freeburg community high school district. “That term can be very subjective. What’s offensive to one person or group of people is going to have a very different meaning to other people.”
However you feel about the mascot, there’s no doubt it has gone the distance. As the story goes, according to the superintendent, it came about in the 1930’s. The high school had a basketball team that wasn’t very tall but was very competitive. And a newspaper article apparently dubbed them the Freeburg Midgets, a name that stuck.
“It is absolutely a point of pride, yes,” said Lehman.
But to the organization, Little People of America (LPA), the mascot is a point of contention.
The group is having a convention in St. Louis and using the opportunity to address Freeburg’s mascot.
“Kind of a derogatory, objectifying, dehumanizing term,” said Gary Arnold, president of LPA. “If you have a family that happens to have a person with dwarfism down the road, you know, that’s going to create a very difficult environment for them to go to high school.”
The group is circulating an online petition, which has more than 3,600 signatures, urging the district to change its mascot.
“Some people are saying this is an act of bullying,” said Leah Smith with LPA. “This creates an environment that’s not safe for everyone.”
But Freeburg’s mascot has support. There’s a competing petition to keep the name.
LPA will close out its petition when the convention ends later this week. The organization will then present it to Freeburg School District leaders.
Ultimately, it’s up to the school board to decide if it will come up for discussion and a vote.