Board approves retention of Indian mascot; will change middle school colors


The Hays USD 489 Board of Education met Monday night and discussed the branding for the high school and middle school.

Superintendent Ron Wilson recommended to the board that the high school keep the Indian mascot and transition to Indians as the official mascot for Hays Middle school – including the motto “brave and true.” According to Wilson, the colors and image would remain consistent with the high school and the transition would occur no later than August 2026. 

A new logo will be created and will not include any human depictions of Native Americans. A Legacy Committee will be formed at Hays High to examine any current branding, imaging or logos that no longer meet the district’s core values. 

The district would also create a branding style guide to keep the colors, font and logo consistent throughout the schools. Once designed, the board will have an opportunity to share feedback on the logo before it goes into effect.

Board President Craig Pallister clarified that the board did not need to vote to keep the mascot for the high school, but changing the mascot at the middle school would require board approval. 

While the board agreed with keeping the Indian mascot at the high school, changing the mascot at the middle school was a point of debate.

Middle School Athletic Director Bruce Rupp said changing the mascot would save money for the district since the middle school will be relocated to the current high school building that already has the Indian mascot. 

“There’s a lot of positives to being one mascot, one color, one emblem and stand for one thing,” Rupp said. 

On the district survey, 85 percent of respondents said they favored changing the middle school mascot to the Indians. 

“I think we need to reflect the public interest and those who have spoken,” Board Member Curt Vajnar said.

Vajnar motioned to adopt the Indians as the middle school mascot, but Pallister disagreed. 

“Hays Middle School has not had the pride of having the Indians as a mascot,” Pallister said. 

When researching mascots, Pallister said he could not find any examples of school districts adding an Indian mascot, only articles of schools removing the mascots. 

Wilson countered, saying this was more about creating a district identity. 

“When you’re in Hays, you’re an Indian and we can get behind that,” Wilson said. 

Pallister said he still could not vote for the motion.

“You can put yourself in that position, but until you’re culturally in that position, you can’t relate what hurts and what doesn’t hurt,” Pallister said.  

Vajnar’s motion split 3-3 on vote. 

Board member Tammy Wellbrock then proposed a motion for the middle school to change its colors to the Hays High maroon and gold, and adopt the motto “Brave and True,” but not change the mascot.

Board member Meagan Zampieri-Lillpopp seconded the motion and it passed 5-1, with Vajnar voting against the motion. 

This decision has been in the works for months. Branding discussion began in August with a survey sent to students and individuals in the district. A public meeting took place in November with district branding consultant John Jenson. The first Branding Committee meeting was in December. Two subcommittees then  hosted meetings before the final Branding Committee meeting Feb. 15. 

Members of the community have also voiced opinions.

During public comment, Ruth Legleiter spoke in favor of keeping the Hays High mascot as the Indians.

“Why now?” Legleiter said. “Is it because of the cancel and woke culture metastasizing across our nation?”

Legleiter said the community has always rallied around the Indian name and that change is not always positive. 

“We must maintain our history and culture,” Legleiter said. “It is generational. History cannot be changed. It is what it is.”

Citing the removal of the Indian from the Land O Lakes boxes, Uncle Ben from the rice box and Aunt Jemima, Legleiter said this shows a pattern of unnecessary removal. 

“What will they set their sights on next?” Legleiter said. 

Several individuals have also spoken out in opposition of the mascot. At the last board meeting alone, three individuals addressed the board advocating for change. 

Community member Anna Towns said that having the Indian as our mascot reflects poorly on our community.

“People do not want to come to a racist community, and I think having a mascot that is a caricature of an entire nation says that to people whether we intend that or not,” Towns said at the Feb. 6 meeting. 

Cost has often been cited as a reason to keep the mascot, but after the passing of the school bond last spring, a new high school will be built. The new building could include a new mascot without incurring additional costs since everything will be brand new construction. 

Wellbrock applauded the board for discussing branding to begin with. 

“I think sometimes we forget in society that dialogue in itself is not dangerous. Asking questions doesn’t have to be harmful, but certainly this has been a polarizing topic,” Wellbrock said. 

Wellbrock said that with such a controversial topic, there is no one solution that would please everyone, but was glad the logos will no longer contain a human depiction of Native Americans.

Pallister echoed that sentiment. 

“We have some images that are racist. We have some images that are hurtful … ,” Pallister said. “We did need to make some big changes if we were going to look at keeping the Indian.”

For Zampieri-Lillpopp, she wants to go beyond a logo change and contribute to a culture change at the schools. 

“I hope that going forward every graduate of Hays High can be able to name the four tribes that landed here in this space,” Zampieri-Lillpopp said. “I hope it become ritualistic to be able to look mistakes in the face and correct them.”

The next board meeting will be March 6.