At Lenox Memorial Middle and High School in the Berkshire region of western Massachusetts, the longtime mascot is the Millionaires — but if most of the students have their way, it won’t be for long. The decision, however, is not in their hands — and some folks in the affluent town of Lenox don’t want it to change.
During a recent student council survey of the more than 400 students in grades 6-12, about two-thirds of those who responded said they no longer want to be known as the Millionaires, according to Lenox Public Schools Superintendent Timothy Lee. Nearly 80 percent of the students from grades 6-12 answered the survey, which had a number of questions about what they wanted the student council to accomplish during the next school year.
“The rationale explained by the student council leaders was that Millionaires no longer accurately represented their identity and who they are as a group of students,” said Lee. Students report being harassed by rival teams because of the name, and the Berkshire Eagle quoted Julie Monteleone, a student council member, as telling the district’s governing board recently:
“The term Millionaires has become associated with the top 1 percent of our country, which excludes and burdens a very large majority of the population and currently plays a large role in the division of the United States.”
While the Millionaires has been the school’s mascot since the 1950s — referring to wealthy visitors who owned second homes in the area — that nickname does not appear on school team uniforms, Lee said, and there is no physical mascot that appears at games, as happens at schools with animal and other more conventional mascots.
Lee said that now that the students have spoken, the rest of the community has to be heard. The school district, he said, has sent out a survey to students, staff, parents and other community members asking about priorities for the annual strategic plan. He said that this year, the survey included a question asking people whether they would support consideration of a change from the Millionaires to something else.
The survey results should be back by August, at which time, he said, the district’s elected governing body, called the Committee, will discuss how to proceed. He also said he anticipates a public forum being held so that different voices in the community can come together to discuss it.
There already appears to be opposition to a name change from at least one member of the Committee, according to the Eagle. It quoted member Francie Sorrentino as saying that the students were wrong about what the Millionaires means: ““Some people say it’s snobbish, but that’s not true. This is a wonderful community and nobody is treated differently whether they’re rich, middle class or poor.”
And the Eagle’s editorial board weighed in on the side of keeping the nickname in a piece that said in part:
Abandoning the Millionaires nickname and mascot would be a concession to political divisiveness as surely as it would be to bullies. While it is true that the meanings of words evolve over time and that nicknames that were once seen as acceptable may grow unacceptable (such as the NFL’s Washington Redskins), the Millionaires should not only be preserved the nickname should be embraced because it keeps a part of Berkshire history alive.
But the newspaper quoted state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli as saying, “I find it somewhat embarrassing, a running joke here in the Statehouse.”
As for Lee, he said he has no preference.
“I think my interest really is just making sure that anyone who might have a voice or opinion about this gets a chance to express it,” he said, “and also that if our students are feeling like the time is right for a change or that they don’t think our current team name represents their identity, I want to make sure they are able to communicate that in a way that is respectful and also that their message is heard, and heard in a way that is respectful.”