Home of the PHS Indians (Pocatello High School) sign

A sign in front of Pocatello High School that reads, “Home of the PHS Indians.”

POCATELLO — Data obtained from over 1,100 responses to a recent Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 survey indicates a narrow majority supports the Phantoms to replace the Indians mascot and moniker for Pocatello High School.

But School District 25 Director of Secondary Education Sue Pettit made a strong case during a Board of Trustees work session at the district’s main offices on Pole Line Road Tuesday afternoon for the school board to select the Bison as the school’s new mascot.

In presenting the district’s findings for its most recent Pocatello High School mascot survey, which asked participants to indicate their favorite out of five suggestions, Petit said that while the Phantoms received the most support, it was never a viable option in the eyes of the committee who first worked to aggregate all of the mascot suggestions and narrow down the list of options, primarily because the Phantoms mascot “consistently did not meet any criteria” set forth by the committee.

Of the five options, the Phantoms was the favorite among 28.6 percent of the 1,163 survey responses, the Bison with a bison mascot was the favorite among 26 percent of respondents and the Thunder with a bison mascot was the favorite among 21.6 percent of respondents.

The Mountain Lions mascot was the favorite among 17.3 percent and the Thunder with a thunder mascot was the favorite among just 6.5 percent of participants.

Earlier this year, the Pocatello High School mascot advisory committee developed criteria for evaluating the new mascot, which included whether the mascot promoted school spirit in an uplifting way, whether it was distinct among Idaho high schools, whether it continues to honor school heritage in a distinguished manner and whether or not it emulates positive characteristics among the students and staff.

According to the recent survey results, which included responses from current or incoming Pocatello High students; parents of a current, former, or future student; school alumni; community members with no affiliation to the school and a small percentage of people from outside the community, the Phantoms mascot did not meet criteria for promoting school spirit in an uplifting way, for continuing to honor school heritage in a distinguished manner and whether or not it emulates positive characteristics among the students and staff, or for emulating positive characteristics among the students and staff.

“If you look at the criteria, even though Phantoms came out on the top, it consistently did not meet any of the criteria that was set forth by the committee,” Petit said. “But if you look at Bison as a whole, whether it was Bison-Bison or Thunder-Bison, 47.6 percent of the people who (participated in the survey) chose some type of Bison mascot.”

Petit told the board that the Pocatello High School advisory mascot committee never felt the Phantoms mascot should be available as an option to consider based on it having no connection to the school’s Native American heritage and was only included as an option based on the sheer number of people who originally suggested it as a replacement option.

There were some committee members who came up with a few creative ideas to incorporate Phantoms into the school’s history and heritage and find unique ways to foster positivity around the new mascot change.

“Although I think it would be good to somehow keep the history of the Indians, I think it will be quite hard to choose a good mascot that ties into the Indian history,” one committee member wrote when taking notes about the mascot change, which were included in a packet provided to the school board last month. “I think because we are changing our mascot we should start new and build a new history. The mascot of a phantom (ghost) does actually have a history in our school because for years many people believe our school is haunted by a ghost. So, I think the mascot of a phantom would be an excellent choice.”

It’s worth noting, however, that overall support for the Phantoms mascot among most of the committee paled in comparison to that of the various Bison mascot suggestions. Concerns surrounding the lack of Native American connections and the mascot’s impact on religious beliefs were the primary concerns of the committee.

”Hyper-religious folks are going to take (the Phantoms mascot) to an extreme and call it Satan worship,” one committee member wrote in November. “Some may say it’s disrespectful to the dead.”

Board member Jackie Cranor noted she had received an email about the possible negative connotations associated with a Phantoms mascot and was worried about the potential for booing to be prevalent at Pocatello High School events.

Board member Janie Gebhardt expressed a concern that the Phantoms mascot could welcome a “spooks” nickname, which could be construed to have a negative racial connotation.

“Or dress up in a sheet and look like the KKK,” Petit added. “It would be hard for me to show that (the Phantoms) could be uplifting and promoting positivity or that it continues to honor or emulates positive characteristics. For me that is very difficult to support.”

The Idaho State Journal live-streamed the Tuesday meeting on its Facebook page, which received some comments stating the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes would not support a Bison mascot for Pocatello High School because of its cultural importance to Native Americans in general.

However, Randy’L Teton, spokesperson for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, said the Tribes would support any of the mascot options the school board selects, including a bison, because it does not carry the same negative racial stereotypes or connotations associated with Native American mascots, the Tribes primary concern with the school’s usage of the Indians mascot and moniker.

No action was taken regarding the new Pocatello High School mascot process during Tuesday’s meeting. The school board is expected to make a final mascot selection during its next regular board meeting on Dec. 15 at 5 p.m.

The new mascot for Pocatello High School will become effective on June 1, 2021.