BOE approves new mascots for Hills and Valley

Despite two hours of heated debate, a motion raised by member Joseph Blundo to revisit the mascots’ approval did not pass.


Stephen Schmidt

Last June, the Board of Education voted to remove Pascack Hills’ Cowboys nickname along with Pascack Valley’s mascot, the Indian.

Eight months after the Cowboys and Indians mascots were removed, Pascack Hills and Pascack Valley have new nicknames.

At their meeting Monday night, the Pascack Valley Regional Board of Education voted 5-4 to approve Broncos for Hills’ new mascot and Panthers for Valley’s new mascot. The approval came after mascot search committee representatives from each school presented their school’s recommendation for its mascot.

Broncos received 70.3% of the vote at Hills and Panthers earned 68.5% of the vote at Valley after students and staff voted on Feb. 25. Both schools saw around 75% turnout.

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Five Board members voted to approve the new mascots, while four voted against approving the new mascots. The vote concluded two hours of heated discussion, during which some Board members criticized the process of selecting the new mascots. Board member Gini Varghese, noting the revival of discussions that had taken place in previous meetings, described a “mascot fatigue” that had developed in the community.

Concerns raised among Board members included “transparency,” the Broncos and Panthers themselves, the students and staff who did not vote, the focus on the mascots during the pandemic, the cost of the replacement, the creation of the mascot search committees, and the ability for all students’ voices to be heard.

Board member Michael Weaver, who represents the town of Montvale, argued the district should be referred to as “Pascack” with an emphasis on “Hills” and “Valley” for each school’s clubs and athletic teams.

Despite lengthy debate, a motion to table the approval of any mascot until a later date failed in a 5-4 vote. The motion was made by Board member Joseph Blundo, who accused Superintendent Erik Gundersen of “wordsmithing” and said that the money spent on the mascot replacement could be used elsewhere.

Board member Kristin Martin expressed support for revisiting the mascots and keeping each school unnamed for now. While she was a candidate in October 2020, Martin said “we need to make decisions quickly so people can identify with [these] new mascot[s] and move on.”

Gundersen said in response, “we could figure out different ways to spend it, but we’ve had [the mascot replacement money] earmarked for quite some time with the intent of rebranding.” At this time, a surplus in the district resulting from the pandemic indicates that there will be no immediate taxpayer cost in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Hills Principal Tim Wieland said at the meeting that the school-wide vote was “as much of a mandate as I thought we could get, that Pascack Hills could be the Broncos.”

Read next:  Board of Education votes to remove Cowboy and Indian mascots at Hills and Valley

“We’d like to thank both committees from Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills,” said Hills Athletic Director Phil Paspalas, who spearheaded the Hills mascot search committee. “These professionals and students have done such an outstanding job… they took this task very seriously, spent a lot of time pondering the objectives, and having some really valuable discussions that in themselves were a tremendous educational experience.”

Alexa Sipos, a mascot committee representative from Hills, said that “the students and staff are pleased with the [voter] turnout, and the bowling team even shouted ‘1, 2, 3, Broncos’” after a recent tournament.

What comes next for Hills

Now that the Broncos have been approved, the mascot search committees will work with professional firms to develop a brand and graphic for each new mascot, according to Athletic Director Phil Paspalas. Three logo options will eventually be presented for a school-wide vote, and after approval of the winning logo from the Board, the Broncos mascot will begin to be implemented across the school.

The implementation of a new mascot will come at a cost. At the Board’s Jan. 18 meeting, Gundersen said the current estimate for replacing all Cowboys branding at Hills is $31,000. It will cost an estimated $53,000 to replace athletic uniforms, and the replacement of the football end zone and wrestling mats are estimated at $75,000.

Read next:  BOE receives updates on mascot search process, district finances

Covid-19 could help cover these costs, according to Board member and Finance Committee Chair Michael Fronte. According to financial auditors who delivered a presentation at the Feb. 8 Board meeting, the district “remains very strong financially” with a surplus of $2.2 million. The pandemic caused an “overall decrease in revenue and expenditures” related to transportation, athletics, and co-curriculars.

The total estimate for the mascot replacements at Hills and Valley is less than the total surplus stated by these auditors. Under these estimates, the district would still have surplus money to spend on costs unrelated to the mascots after the Cowboys and Indians are replaced with Broncos and Panthers, respectively.

‘Quasi-administrators’: Praise for school nurses

In addition to the mascots, Wieland and Pascack Valley Principal Glenn deMarrais updated the Board on the status of hybrid learning at both schools. Wieland praised activities like debate club and robotics for continuing either virtually or in-person and noted that the school play would be held in Hills’ amphitheater while also being streamed.

Both principals, and Board members, heaped praise on the school nurses, with deMarrais referring to them as “quasi-administrators based on the evening and weekend hours that they have amassed over the course of these few months.”

Wieland noted that, after Governor Murphy expanded vaccine eligibility, teachers are beginning to be vaccinated. Both schools are inquiring about conducting Covid-19 vaccine clinics similar to those held for the flu in partnership with local CVS pharmacies and the Northwest Bergen Regional Health Commission.

“Getting the Covid-19 vaccine should not add to [teachers’] stress,” said member Varghese, a nurse practitioner.

‘No promises made’ on combining cohorts

In response to a question from member Fronte about the possibility of combining cohorts this school year, Gundersen said “we are awaiting any word from the NJ Department of Education and Department of Health that may allow us to bring more students back into the building at a given time or extend the amount of time our students are in the building.”

Gundersen stressed that the district would rely on the advice of health officials over the level of comfort that parents had with the idea of combining cohorts. Members Martin and Weaver noted that K-8 districts in the area were making efforts to reduce social distancing from six to four feet and were weighing parents’ opinions on the matter.