Ten Teton High School freshmen walked out of class at about 1:30 p.m. Monday to show their support of keeping the high school’s “Redskins” mascot in place.
Freshman Chase Tonks led the small group, who were holding signs just outside of the front doors of the school at Driggs, which is east of Idaho Falls near the Wyoming border. They walked out for about seven minutes.
The students said they have been planning the walk-out since the discussion about the mascot started a few months ago.
Shelby Redden said, ”All of our parents were really, really ticked,” after the mascot issue resurfaced in March.
Tonks added that because their parents couldn’t organize the walk-out, they took it upon themselves to do so.
“It’s our heritage to be the Redskins,” said Tonks, who noted that his family has attended Teton High School for multiple generations. “We shouldn’t have to change it because some people don’t believe in it. It’s the school’s mascot and it should stay that way.”
Tonks reasoned that because the school is using “Redskins” in the context of a mascot that it doesn’t make the name racist.
“The way I see it, I think it would only be racist if we were calling people Redskins,” said Tonks, who was wearing his Redskin football jacket. “But we’re saying we are proud to be Redskins so it shouldn’t be considered racist.”
Other students agreed that because they did not see the mascot being used as a negative racial idea, they did not see how others could view this mascot negatively.
“It’s been the Redskins since the 20s,” said Aubrey Fullmer at the walk-out. “We have been proud to be the Redskins. My father told me a while ago that we used to have a massive tee-pee in the back (of the school) and a Native American chief on his horse would lead the entire football team onto the field. That was really cool.”
“We have been the Redskins for a hundred years,” added freshman Layksyn Gormley who is a cheerleader at the high school. “Just to change it right now would be pointless.”
Tonks pointed to the recent student council survey that found that 68 percent of the student body, when asked if the school board should take up the mascot issue, responded “no” and said that the school should make that decision. Regardless, he said he will attend the July 8 meeting hosted by the school board to consider public input into the mascot.
“I hope that they hear that this is the school’s mascot and not the county’s mascot,” said Tonks of the walk-out message. “Someone who doesn’t go to school here shouldn’t get offended, because they are not calling themselves Redskins.”
Principal Samuel Zogg and Vice Principal Brody Birch said they were unaware that students were going to walk out that day and they ended an administrative meeting at the district office when they received word that students were planning a walk-out. Zogg said he wished the students would have approached him first to better help facilitate and talk through the walk-out as students had done last fall in memory of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Tonks’ mother Tracey Tonks has established a GoFundMe page that reads, “Our Teton Redskin mascot is once again under attack and many have been asking how to contribute to the Save the Redskin cause. We will be having events to show how much pride and support we have as a community! This money will go directly to t-shirts, stickers, flags, banners, bracelets, and supplies for the 4th of July float and booth.” She ends the post with #savetheredskins, #redskinpride, #beoffendedsomewhereelse, #freedomofspeech.