Hart district responds to questions on mascot nominations 

Hart High students cheer on the football team during a game against Oxnard last season. Habeba Mostafa/The Signal.
Hart High students cheer on the football team during a game against Oxnard last season. Habeba Mostafa/The Signal.
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In response to a community member’s allegation that the nomination process for the new Hart High School mascot was “deceiving and distorted,” Hart Principal Jason d’Autremont said the process was “not fraudulent” despite the appearance of being deceiving. 

Steve Petzold, a Santa Clarita resident, wrote in an email to William S. Hart Union High School District officials that, after receiving and reviewing the nominations, “it quickly became apparent that administrative personnel at the school ignored nominations for ‘Indian’ and ‘Warrior,’ although these were numerous.”

The Hart district governing board voted to change the mascot of Hart High School from “Indians” in 2021, citing a need to move away from a race-based symbol that the school has been associated with since Jan. 10, 1946. The board decided to make this change no later than 2025. 

Last week, d’Autremont said that voting for the new mascot would be taking place this week via a secure voting system in which current students and staff members at Hart High would each get one vote. The two options that were presented for voting were “Hawks” and “Bison.” 

According to Debbie Dunn, communications coordinator for the Hart district, voting for the new mascot is currently still taking place. 

The Signal obtained the nominations and other documents related to the process from the Hart district via a Public Records Act request, with total nominations for each mascot being as follows: 

  • Hawks (or any derivative): 129. 
  • Indians/no change: 33. 
  • Bison (or Buffalo): 21. 
  • Warriors: 22. 
  • Eagles: 5. 

Other mascot nominations that were submitted were: Cowboys; Honey Badgers; Rancheros; Natives; Owls; Pioneers; Lions; Gladiators; Trailblazers; Snowflakes; Breakers; Legends; and many others. These other mascots received two or fewer nominations. 

According to a memo from d’Autremont to Hart district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman, a total of 275 nominations were made after an electronic nomination form was sent out to the community in March 2023. Nominations were accepted from March 14, 2023, to May 9, 2023. 

The total list of nominations was presented to a committee of staff, students and parents to narrow down the list to a single-digit number of options to be presented for the official voting process for the new mascot, d’Autremont said in the memo. 

However, the nominations for “Indians” or “no change,” as well as “Warriors,” were not part of that narrowing-down decision, according to an email from d’Autremont in response to a concern from a community member. The reason given was that the “Indians” mascot was not allowed following the board ruling, and leaders of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, who were part of the discussion prior to that ruling, felt that the “Warriors” mascot would also not be appropriate. 

Citing the Tataviam band’s work with Alemany High School’s change from “Indians” to “Warriors,” d’Autremont said in the email that, “in hindsight, it was not a choice they would have recommended now. Therefore, we also did not use ‘Warrior’ as a consideration.” 

“While the results of the nominations may seem deceiving, it is not fraudulent,” d’Autremont wrote in the email. 

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Petzold said “they could have kept it simple,” in reference to the Hart district’s process, but chose to have a mural commissioned to be placed on the Hart High campus as well as a cultural center celebrating the native people who lived on the land that Hart High School currently occupies. 

The mural was unveiled last year, and it depicts a nature scene with a river, a grass field, a bear, a bird and flowers. Petzold said this is a “fake” mural that is simply the Tataviam band’s logo with color added to it. 

“They’re supposed to have something educational in nature about the Indians; they don’t have that,” Petzold said. 

At a recent governing board meeting, Mark Villaseñor, the vice president of the Tataviam band, said he visited the mural along with Hart district governing board President Linda Storli and d’Autremont earlier this month. Both Storli and Villaseñor said the mural looks like it should. 

Petzold said he isn’t buying that. 

“They said, ‘We’re going to change the mascot,’ and then they put in these concessions of, ‘We’re going to do this, we’re gonna do that, and it’s all going to be good and we made peace with everybody,’” Petzold said. “They didn’t make peace with me.” 

One student, who was not named — the district redacted the names of students while keeping the names of staff and community members visible on the nomination forms — said “Hawks” would be the best choice as “we wouldn’t have to change the logo, and it’s a beautiful animal that would greatly represent the beauty and historic value of our school.” Another student said “Hawks” uses “catchy alliteration,” a notion that other people cited. 

A parent, Rene Rodriguez, said “Bison” should be the new mascot because Walt Disney donated bison to William S. Hart Park, providing a direct connection to the namesake of the school. 

As for keeping “Indians” as the mascot, Carey Marr, a parent, said, “Because that’s what it should be.”  

A student said, “This nickname is the original nickname since the opening for Hart High, and all my family has graduated underneath the ‘Indians’ mascot so I too wish to graduate underneath this mascot.” 

The new mascot is set to be announced at the Hart High open house on March 19, according to d’Autremont. Logos and other associated artwork will be worked on after that announcement. 

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