To be, or not to be, a ‘Millionaire’?
Lenox students take advisory vote on whether to change 'Millionaires' team name
LENOX — To have a Millionaires mascot, or not. Or do you even care?
That was the question at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School on Wednesday, as the entire student body of 444 was asked to cast ballots in an advisory vote on the future of the controversial, unofficial school team name.
Preliminary results of the paper-ballot vote at "polling places" outside the cafeteria during lunch periods are unlikely to be fully tallied and released until next Wednesday, Principal Michael Knybel told The Eagle.
He also noted that staff and faculty voted, using separate, color-coded ballots. Students not in school for "voting day" will be given an opportunity to take part.
"We're aiming for the most fair dipstick test," Knybel said.
He explained that the student council had recommended including staff participation. Those votes will be tallied separately.
"We will be doing our best to get everyone to vote," Assistant Principal Brian Cogswell pointed out before the polling tables opened. Names on a full roster of LMMHS students were crossed off as they cast their ballots. "We will be calling students down to vote if they are absent today or during the remainder of the week," he added.
If a majority of students vote to eliminate the name, the issue may be put to registered Lenox voters through a ballot question at the May 7 annual town election.
"We wanted to get the views of the entire LMMHS family," Cogswell said. He noted that some teachers and staffers live in other towns.
Many students have voiced opposition to the Millionaires moniker, stating that they have been teased, heckled and taunted, especially at athletic contests, by some out-of-area students and parents.
But many local families favor the nickname, depicting it as a tribute to the wealthy Gilded Age "cottagers" who employed residents at their great estates and helped fund new schools and other town projects.
The origin of the slogan remains murky, though it's believed an Eagle sports editor coined the term during the early 1950s. In recent years, the issue of whether to keep it has come up several times, notably in 2011 and again starting in 2016.
Cogswell noted that an all-student assembly was held on Tuesday to offer an objective view of the pros and cons. He said that the student council had asked not to handle the presentation, so he presided, "as deadpan as possible."
At this week's School Committee meeting, member Neal Maxymillian asserted that "some segment of the population wishes this didn't have to come to a vote, because one side is going to be happy and one side is going to be unhappy."
He stated that he had advised student council leaders that "driving this to a vote is a divisive issue in town and it seems like there are opportunities to satisfy everybody without having to make a referendum on the specific mascot. Some people can't even agree on if it's a mascot or not, or a nickname."
"I'm a little disheartened that it's coming down to a vote with just two choices," he added, urging a third option to abstain from taking sides.
School board member Robert Munch agreed that "it would be best if there were a third option, no strong opinion. That would give kids the opportunity to express the fact that they don't really care, they're happy with the status quo, they don't have to take sides."
Schools Superintendent Timothy Lee cautioned that "I don't think you can assume that there's a consensus on the student council that we should have a new mascot."
He supported adding an option to the ballot for students who feel that "it's just not that much of an issue for them."
Lee suggested that if the vote shows a lack of consensus, with a majority of the students either choosing not to change the mascot or who have no opinion, "then I would say the issue dies and we just move on."
The ballot was modified accordingly before Wednesday's vote, adding the wording suggested by Maxymillian: "I do not have a strong opinion or prefer not to say."
The outcome of the advisory vote should be based on a simple majority, School Committee Chairman Robert Vaughan suggested.
Last September, after the mascot controversy attracted regional and national media coverage, student council leaders Julie Monteleone and Josie Usow said they were "impressed and surprised" by the attention. The sophomores acknowledged they had not expected the debate to become "such a point of division within our community."
"Our goal in changing the mascot is to take one small step toward making Lenox a more welcoming and inclusive environment, providing students and the community with a symbol that unites and excites rather than divides," Monteleone told the School Committee at its first meeting of the school year.
An informal, 27-question student survey taken by 78 percent of LMMHS students last spring showed two-thirds of participants favored dropping the nickname.
Last summer, two recent alumni, Tyler Coon and Patrick Colvin, produced a 40-minute video documentary on the issue that was posted on YouTube and presented to the public at the school's Duffin Theatre.
At the time, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, a third-generation resident, told The Eagle that while he is not personally offended by the nickname, "I find it somewhat embarrassing; it's a running joke here in the Statehouse."
He applauded the students for "being engaged, and I'd like to think we could come up with a better name. To use that phrase when people young and old are struggling is a poor reflection of what Lenox is all about."
But Francie Sorrentino, a School Committee member and also a third-generation resident, urged a townwide vote.
She commented that, "the 'Millionaires' name is not a status. Rather, it is an achievement; many of the 'Cottage' owners kept our little town afloat while our townspeople went off to war. The name does not represent money in any way. I am a Lenox Millionaire, I am proud to be a Lenox Millionaire and I will do my best to get the people out to vote to remain a Lenox Millionaire."
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com or 413-637-2551.
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