Fredonia mascot name draws criticism

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford The Hillbilly mascot appears on a sign outside of the Fredonia High School library.

A second-grader asked the Fredonia Board of Education Tuesday night to get rid of the Hillbilly mascot.

Casey Doolittle became the latest in a long line of people, since at least the 1980s, to raise objections about the mascot when she read a short letter during a public comment portion of the meeting.

Her mother, Christine Doolittle, told the board her daughter was spurred to write the letter when Casey was comparing mascots with a friend from another school district. Casey was unsure what a hillbilly was, so they Googled it together, she said.

The definition of “hillbilly” is “an unsophisticated country person, associated originally with the remote regions of the Appalachians.” This definition is labeled as “informal/derogatory.”

The Fredonia mascot depicts a long-bearded, floppy-hatted man in overalls and sporting exaggerated muscles. An earlier version featured a much skinnier, but also big-bearded and floppy-hatted, man in a full-body pose — dancing barefoot in shabby clothes and brandishing a rifle. (It’s worth noting that Fredonia High School was on the West Main Street hill when the Hillbilly was first chosen as the mascot.)

Christine Doolittle said her daughter “was really shocked and confused” as to why there was a Hillbilly mascot in Fredonia after finding out that a hillbilly can be considered a derogatory term. “She said everybody in Fredonia is really smart and knows how to use kind words,” she said of Casey.

Board President Michael Bobseine told the Doolittles he, the rest of the board, and Sortisio would all consider Casey’s request and district officials would keep in touch with them about their decisions on it.

Perhaps alluding to the intense community backlash every time people have suggested changing the mascot in the past, Bobseine acknowledged, “It’s a heavy lift what you’re asking about.”

Nevertheless, “I’ve had the same thing said to me by a number of people,” board member Heath Forster said. “I thought it was interesting that she brought it up.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board held a moment of silence for former interim superintendent Charles Pegan, who died recently. Pegan’s tenure came in the early 2000s, after James Coon was superintendent and before Paul DiFonzo took over.

“He was just a wonderful, kind individual, “ Bobseine said.