Pittsfield School Committee Accepts Thunder as New Taconic Mascot
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee on Wednesday accepted Thunder as the new mascot for Taconic High School and a logo is in the works.
The nickname was announced earlier this month after a series of community surveys that began in October 2021. Taconic was rebranded from its former pseudonym, The Braves, which was dropped in 2020.
Earlier this year, Titans and Rockets were the other potential identities for the school. Principal Matthew Bishop explained to the committee how the winner was named.
The school was contacted by Taconic Hills High School in New York, whose sports teams are identified as the Titans, with concerns of confusion between the similarly named schools if that mascot was chosen.
"The last time we talked we were down to our top three, which were, as you know, Thunder, Titans and Rockets, and in our initial research we were aware that Taconic Hills was the Titans and then after the last round, we realized that Titans and the Thunder were the two most popular choices," Bishop explained.
"In the meantime, thanks to the press releases and the local coverage, Taconic Hills reached out to us and they said 'Hey, do what you want but we get confused a lot and we think this would be ... ,' you know, because they are the Taconic Hills Titans and Taconic High School Titans may have been too much, it would have just added to the confusion.
"So we had a lot of debate internally about it and we went back and forth on it but ultimately the committee decided that we wanted our own identity, one that was separate, we didn't want to infringe on anyone's brand, they've had it for quite some time since the early '60s so we sort of went with the Thunder."
Bishop said thunder represents strength, energy, direction, and confidence and that will serve as an inspiration for the new logo. The only other weather-related Berkshire mascot are the Hoosac Valley Hurricanes.
There have been more than 40 initial design submissions from students after the school called for input.
They will be passed off to Heard Strategy and Storytelling — a marketing and communications agency that has offered pro bono rebranding services for schools changing Native American mascots — to help guide the rebranding process.
Superintendent Joseph Curtis revealed that his son submitted a design.
Committee member Alison McGee said thunder is both neutral and empowering as a mascot.
"I know it was a long process, and I didn't know what to expect from it and I don't think this was what I would expect but I think that shows that there was a truly thoughtful process involved," she said.
"And I just think it's hard to come up with something that is both neutral and empowering and I think that this really does embody that and is actually pretty unique. A lot of animals get chosen and I think this was, mostly that the neutrality and empowerment and I think that’s really important."
In August 2020, the School Committee voted to change the high school mascot that was 50 years old at the time. In the prior months, residents had spoken during public comments about racist implications tied to the Native American mascot.
Pittsfield High School's General mascot also came under fire for appearing as a symbol of violence.
At the time, Taconic was one of 29 high schools — down from 40 — in the state still using Native American logos.
On the other hand, some residents felt that changing the mascot would "erase the past" and felt that it "honored" Native Americans.
The National Congress of American Indians has been advocating against using indigenous mascots in professional teams since 1968 and extended that to K-12 in 2020, saying they "are symbols of disrespect that degrade, mock, and harm Native people, particularly Native youth."
The committee has worked with Heard throughout the process. It reviewed more than 230 options that were submitted through the first survey.
Committee member Vicki Smith asked what will be done with all of the Taconic Braves paraphernalia and Bishop said the new school — completed in 2018 — was designed with rebranding in mind.
"When we moved into the new school, we were very conscious of this and so we actually have new banners going up in the gym, you will see an absence of that word in the new school, so when the school was being designed that was something that we were conscious of branding with Taconic as opposed to Braves so that we don't really have any paraphernalia anymore," he explained.
"All that stuff was sort of donated or given away with the old school. We really don't have any I mean, sports teams here and there have jerseys left over that make their way into kids' hands and the supermarkets are still selling their stuff but as time goes on, we'll sort of transition that out."
Bishop acknowledged that the rebranding has been a long process and said he is looking forward to getting Taconic Thunder uniforms and more.
"It's been a long process and we've come out of it with this," he said.
"And I'm looking forward to sort of just putting the exclamation point on it with our uniform designs and things like that."