After much debate and outrage from residents and concerned speakers Tuesday, Midway Independent School District trustees voted 4-2 to change the girls’ sports mascot back to the Pantherette.
Tuesday’s vote comes on the heels of a 6-1 vote in June to change the mascot for all teams to the Panther.
Tuesday’s meeting marked the third time trustees have discussed the girls’ mascot and their second vote on the topic. After outspoken opposition to their decision to change the girls’ mascot from the Pantherette to the Panther, the board decided to reconsider.
Though it was standing room only in the board’s chambers Tuesday, just nine people spoke publicly opposing the June vote. The speakers Tuesday said the June name change erased 60 years of history and tradition; hurt girls’ ability to show their strength, identity and pride through a team name; and even raised the possibility that the district violated anti-discrimination laws.
“After graduating from Baylor, I came back to teach at Midway Middle School. I can still remember the happiness on players’ faces when they make the basketball, volleyball or track team for the first time,” Sherry Rogers, one of the speakers, said.
“There’s nothing like it — I don’t care if you’re a player, parent or coach — just the feeling of putting on that jersey for the first time. I began coaching softball in 1993, and we didn’t have our own field at the time. Those girls still felt inferior, and we could have went on and felt really bad about it, but instead we embraced that Pantherette pride and went on to win quite a few games and a few state titles. There’s also the fact of the Little League girls who would come out there and watch us. They wanted to be just like those girls.”
Rogers was the last to speak and said she had coached softball for 18 years, won two state championships and taught at Midway for 30 years. Like her, others rallied to define the meaning of the name Pantherette and make its meaning known to the board members.
“If you’re not a Midway person, you may not get it. If you’re not a Midway graduate, you may not get it,” Rogers said. “The word ‘Pantherette’ isn’t in the dictionary at all. It’s not, but if Webster was alive, I promise you this is what he would say: He would define it as a symbol of hard-working, dedicated, loyal, full of integrity and fiercer than any guy but who still acts like a lady.”
Senior Miriam McCormick brought the idea of a mascot name change before the board as a discussion item in May after a year’s worth of working and researching with administrators to solve inconsistencies she saw throughout campus and the district about the team name, she said. McCormick asked the board to consider retiring the Pantherettes name and begin using either Lady Panthers or simply Panthers to maintain consistency with college, state and district norms, according to May board minutes.
The “-ette” suffix of the name also was brought into question, with concerns that it referred to girls being small or the team being less important, she said.
Since her request, the 17-year-old Midway athlete has faced cyberbullying and backlash, she said, adding that nothing can really prepare a person to stand in front of a board with a microphone and make such a request.
“It is scary, and it was my first time at public speaking,” McCormick said before the meeting Tuesday. “The news hit Facebook, and there was some local response to that against the change. I had my intellect insulted and my upbringing questioned. It was not a fun week, but I’m here tonight to represent myself and be visible and show I’m still proud of the change that’s been done to increase equality across sports teams.”
By the time of the June vote, trustees asked Midway ISD’s athletics director for more research about financial implications, student survey results and head coach survey results associated with the name change.
The athletics director said he found inconsistencies and the use of different names associated with the girls’ athletics programs but said he would address this with all coaches and maintain consistency moving forward.
Superintendent George Kazanas said at the time he had not received any contact from anyone wishing to change the name but had received several requests not to rename the mascot, according to the June meeting minutes. Kazanas also said the district would not have brought the issue before the board for consideration if it had not been for McCormick’s request to address the board, according to the minutes.
But for seventh-grader Emma Wilkinson, changing from Pantherette to Panthers meant changing the perspective of her future, she said to the board during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I looked it up. In Latin, -ette does mean smaller, but it can also mean female, or girl,” Wilkinson said. “So, you’re saying to be female is a bad thing when you’re taking away Pantherettes and changing it to Panthers. We should keep the traditions we have created. Pantherette should stay the same so future students, or girls, who are going to be or might be Pantherettes in the future get to keep the name and get to keep the traditions other Pantherettes kept with them.”
Susan Vick, one of two women on the board who voted for the initial change, said she was an athlete in high school and felt her sex-specific mascot implied girls’ sports are less important than boys’ sports.
Vick voted against changing the mascot back to Pantherettes.
‘It was lesser’
“I never wanted to be called a Lady Wildcat or something else,” Vick said. “I had two daughters who played sports for Midway who wore their jerseys proud. All of our jerseys say Midway. Yes, they were Pantherettes, but I don’t think that was their full identity. They felt like a Panther as well. That’s just a personal perspective. I did not like the thought of being lesser, and to me it was lesser to be a Pantherette.”
Before the final vote was cast, Kazanas and other board members said the initial focus was to solve the issue of inconsistency, not political correctness. Whatever the team name, the district is dedicated to having quality athletic programs with high student expectations, Kazanas said.
Though McCormick’s victory was short-lived, she said she was glad she got to see democracy in action and wanted other students to know they can have a voice in working to change something for the better as well.
“I stand with the board on their 6-1 vote to change the mascot to Panthers, and I will support them if they choose to change it back to Pantherette,” McCormick said before the meeting. “They are elected officials and they represent the community.”