Axemen Name Change and District Survey: The Facts and Student Perspective

By: Sagarika Sharma

Like any controversial issue that is brought up today, the Axemen name change is surrounded with misinformation. Outraged and indifferent students quickly formed opinions based on rumors and misguided conclusions. Being informed about every viewpoint and the events surrounding the decision that will affect your time at South can benefit you and give you the opportunity to be heard.

South Eugene High School does not have a mascot. The name “Axemen” is not our mascot. We have never had a mascot, but people at South and in the community continue to refer to Axemen as our mascot. We have a team name and a symbol. The name that our school uses to refer to our athletic teams is “Axemen,” and the symbol that we use to represent our school is two crossed axes. Throughout the controversy, many individuals have continued to refer to “Axemen” in the wrong manner; to form an educated opinion about the issue, it is important to have all the facts straight.

The controversy surrounding the team name goes further than this year’s ordeal. Students at South Eugene High School have been concerned about the implications of “Axemen” for decades. The issue has been brought to administration twice: once in 1987 and again in 1997. Yearbooks mentioned the issue even earlier than 1987. Some female student athletes have certainly been bothered by being represented in, what they believe is, a gender specific name before. Both times, however, the decision was put to a student vote and the majority of students did not vote for change.

Students must now address this again after a concerned parent spoke on behalf of a student athlete who felt excluded by the name “Axemen.” The parent started a petition that many alumni, students, parents, and community members have signed. Whether it is the most important issue at hand or not, it is still a concern that will eventually be dealt with. This year, students will not be allowed to vote and frustration surrounds that decision. At the end of this month, and after considerable input, Principal Andy Dey will make a recommendation to the superintendent who will proceed from there. Much of what will follow is in the air. South Eugene freshman Julia Scher makes a compelling argument in favor of the change.

“The name Axemen was created in 1953 when only men were allowed to do sports. It was made for the men,” Scher said. “Women weren’t even supposed to exercise for more than an hour a day at school.”

It is still unclear whether there will be a change or not. Many misinformed students have been quick to affirm that the team name “Axemen” is a Title IX violation so a changed name is only inevitable. However, this not the case. Very few people understand that no decision regarding the name has been made so far. The name has not been determined legally or, in other words, decided in court to be a Title IX violation. Most of the decision still lies in the hands of the administration and district. Whose input will weigh in most significantly when making this decision? Will it be the students currently attending South, parents of these students, alumni, staff, or community members?

As it turns out, mostly everyone’s opinion will be taken into account. It is easy to believe that student preferences should be much more important than community members with no direct association to the school, but Dey makes the argument that “[t]here’s nobody that pays taxes that’s not involved.” Nevertheless, many students are frustrated that much of this conversation has happened between administration, parents, alumni and community members. So far, it has certainly played out that way for the most part.

“At least half, and likely more, of the information that goes into making the decision will come from students at the school,” Dey said. “So if anyone feels as though they don’t have a voice because they don’t have a vote, I think that that is missing out on a lot of opportunity to influence the outcome of this decision.”

There will not be a student vote, but there is a survey coordinated with The Axe that will help to gauge the opinions of the student body. Although administration has attempted to bridge the gap on this issue for students, many students continue to feel outraged by what they believe is insufficient student voice. Sophomore Luzia Rode has expressed her concerns in many instances and speaks in agreement with many individuals at South.

“Administration came to us with the goal of gathering our opinions, and all they really did was tell us we weren’t going to have an opinion,” Rode said. “It’s frustrating for me because now I don’t want administration to go to school board meetings and say that they got student input, when they really didn’t let us voice our thoughts at all.”

Rode’s concern is justified if one believes that a student vote is the most direct way for students to be heard.

Whether for or against changing South’s team name, South students, staff, and alumni have clearly expressed strong feelings on this issue, as well as frustration because they feel that their voices are not being heard. Although there will not be a student vote for the name change, South students and community members are recommended to fill out a Google Forms survey to provide their opinion on the name change. From this survey, Principal Andy Dey will advise 4J’s superintendent on student and community opinion. Additionally, there will be a community meeting on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium during which South community members can express their opinions regarding the name change. To directly share your views with the administration, fill out this linked survey.

Many students are concerned that changing the team name has overshadowed real problems that women’s sports teams face at South Eugene. Female student athletes and female student government representatives have spoken to their true worries about matters they believe are more important than the name change. Students think that the time and money directed to resolving this problem would be much more effective when directed to these other concerns. Although many issues do exist, the administration is approaching the Axemen name change with a different mentality. There are other complications, but the team name is a problem that they are dealing with now and are obligated to solve.

“We are doing a lot of things that people don’t see being done because they haven’t been materialized yet. For example, there’s a new dance team, there are students who identify as female on the wrestling team which historically has been male-dominated, we are definitely working towards improvements in the softball field, and we just authorized construction on remodeling for the women’s team room,” Dey said, suggesting that solutions are currently unfolding. On the other hand, Rode expresses a different perspective.

“The name change issue is really covering up a lot of things in South Eugene that should be addressed first,” she said.  “If we don’t have student input on it, then this is just a way for the administration to get brownie points for activism in the community without actually doing any meaningful change.”

The cost of the name change has been widely speculated. However, we do simply do not have the numbers yet. Our school would have to replace and alter team uniforms, banners, some merchandise, and other mentions of the name in the school. Team uniforms are already replaced almost every year as well as merchandise. Other banners and references to “Axemen” would also be replaced. Although there will be a cost, the printed team name is not as widespread as many believe it to be.

The Axemen name change will continue to be discussed this year and any change would take effect next year. Dey hopes that students will remain patient.

“There are many things to consider. We will ask for student voice in the process even though there won’t be a vote,” Dey said.

2 Comments
  • Seth stickrod

    Reply

    Was there a controversy and a student vote in ’87? I don’t remember that at all..anybody from our class want to remind me of that. Personally..I don’t define myself from those years..its those kids school now, if they wanna be the purple people eaters or whatever good for them. For me..ill always be and axemen because..thats what we were then.

    • Lhotse Hawk

      Me either, Seth…but we might have been playing frisbee out back?

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