When a vacancy arose on the school board for Gooding Public Schools, Scott Rogers decided to throw his hat into the ring for consideration. A former college professor who had retired to the small Midwest town, Scott was hoping to help the historically “good old boy” board focus more on educational pursuits than its traditional emphasis on high school athletics.
Shortly after Scott was appointed to the board, a local family with Native American ancestry came before the board to ask that the name of the Gooding High School’s athletic teams be changed from the Redskins. The family found the use of Redskins as a team name to be offensive. “The use of the word Redskin is essentially a racial slur,” said Scott, “and as a racial slur, it needed to be changed.”
The request set off a firestorm in the small town of 7,000. The school’s athletic teams had competed as Redskins for 50 years, and many felt the name was an integral part of the community. People personally identified with the Redskins, and the team and the team’s name were ingrained in the small town’s culture.
“We went through months of folks coming to the school board meetings to speak on the issue, and it got totally out of control,” Scott says. “Locals would say, ‘I was born a Redskin, and I’ll die a Redskin.’ They argued that the name was never intended to be offensive and that it honored the area’s relatively strong Native American presence. The local family that raised the issue was getting all sorts of national support, and speakers came in from as far away as Oklahoma to discuss the negative ramifications of Native American mascots. Local groups argued back that these speakers weren’t from Gooding and shouldn’t even be allowed to be at the board meetings.”
Scott felt strongly that the name needed to be changed. In meeting after meeting, he tried to explain to both his fellow board members and those in the audience that if the name is offensive to someone and recognized as a racial slur, then the intent of its original choosing was irrelevant. If someone was offended by the name, then it was wrong to maintain it.
Finally, Scott put forward a motion to change the name. That motion included a process for the students at Gooding High School to choose a new name for their athletic teams. The board approved the motion 5–2. The students immediately embraced the opportunity to choose a new name, developing designs and logos for their proposed choices. In the end, the student body voted to become the Redhawks.
There was still an angry community contingent, however, that was festering over the change. They began circulating petitions to recall the school board members who voted for the change, and received enough signatures for the recall to be put up for an election.
“While the kids are going about the business of changing the name and the emblem, the community holds an election and proceeds to recall five of the seven members of the board,” Scott says. The five recalled members include Scott and the other board members who voted in favor of the name change.
The remaining two board members, both of whom were ardent members of the athletic booster organization, held a special meeting of the board (all two of them) and voted to change the name back to the Redskins.
That’s when the state’s Department of Civil Rights and the Commission for High School Athletics stepped in. They told the Gooding School Board there could not be a reversal of the name change and that Gooding High School’s teams would have to go for four years without one, competing only as Gooding.
Over the course of those four years, new school board members were elected, and the issue quieted down. At the end of that period, the students again voted to become the Gooding Redhawks.
“You know, the kids were fine with it,” says Scott. “It’s been ten years, and there’s an entire generation of kids that don’t have a clue that it was ever different. They are Redhawks and have always been Redhawks.
“It was the adults who had the problem. There’s still a small contingent today that can’t get over it. A local hardware store still sells Gooding Redskins T-shirts and other gear. There is just this group of folks that believe there was nothing disrespectful in the Redskins name. Once that group is gone, it will be a nonissue.”
· What change were the people in Gooding trying to avoid? Why do you think they wanted to avoid this change? What tactics did they use to resist change?
· Would you describe the efforts of Scott Rogers or the school board as adaptive leadership? Why or why not?
· How would you describe the holding environment created by the school board? Do you think it was successful? Why or why not?
· Citing examples, describe how the school board engaged or didn’t engage in each of these adaptive leader behaviors: (1) get on the balcony, (2) maintain disciplined attention, and (3) give the work back to people.
· What group would you describe as the “low-status group”? How did the school board seek to give voice to this group?