Mascot search committee reveals final three choices for Hills’ mascot

The choices were announced at the Board of Education’s Feb. 22 meeting. Their rationale was explained in an email to students and staff before they vote on Feb. 25.

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Stephen Schmidt

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

Pascack Hills’ mascot search committee has spoken.

At the Pascack Valley Regional Board of Education’s Feb. 22 meeting, student representatives from the mascot search committee announced that the group of 51 students, teachers, advisors, and coaches had arrived at three final choices for Hills’ mascot. The committee’s student representatives, Alexa Sipos and Jacob Levin, announced that the three choices are the Trail Blazers, the Broncos, and the Phoenix.

The committee decided on these three choices at its meeting on Feb. 10, but each choice had to be vetted by those at the Board of Education.

[Pascack Hills students, click here to share your thoughts on the three choices for Hills’ mascot. Community members can comment their thoughts at the bottom of this article.]

“Our committee has finished our elimination process,” said Levin.

Athletic Director Phil Paspalas, who is spearheading the mascot search, emailed the entire school on Feb. 23 with a slideshow explaining the rationale for each choice. Students and staff will have three days to consider their top preference before having the opportunity to cast their vote in a Google Form, which will also be sent out via email. The vote will open at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25, and close at 3:30 p.m. that day.

Students who vote will have their voice heard.”

— Erik Gundersen, Superintendent of Schools

Under the Board-approved procedure, a choice must reach 51% or more of the vote in order to be presented to the Board of Education as Hills’ selection for its mascot. If no choice reaches this threshold, the top two choices will go to a runoff vote.

“We are more ready than ever to present the school-wide vote,” Sipos added, saying that the committee decided that it would not delay the school-wide vote until the pandemic subsides. Hills Principal Tim Wieland has emphasized that he wants the senior class that is graduating this June to have a mascot name before graduation.

Superintendent Erik Gundersen, in response to a comment from a member of the public, emphasized “we are going to take the vote that students cast. If a student decides not to vote, they decide not to vote.” In other words, the vote will stand no matter the turnout of students and staff.

Of the three choices, two –– the Trail Blazers and the Broncos –– represent a continuation of the Western theme that the Cowboys mascot defined. Phoenix represents a different direction. Trail Blazers would coincide with the name of Hills’ school newspaper; Broncos are a type of horse; the Phoenix is a mythical bird that is cyclically reborn.

[Editor’s note: The poll below is not the official school-wide poll for Pascack Hills’ mascot, and the results may not be reflective of the results of the upcoming school-wide vote, which will be sent over email and open to all students and staff at Pascack Hills.]

Which mascot choice would you like to see as Hills' mascot?

  • Broncos (70%, 121 Votes)
  • Trailblazers (20%, 35 Votes)
  • Phoenixes (10%, 17 Votes)

Total Voters: 173

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Pascack Valley’s mascot search committee arrived at the Green Wave, the Hawks, and the Panthers for its choices according to student representatives Vasili Karalewich and Delia Collis.

Board Members Michael Weaver and Kristin Martin, who both joined the Board in January and have criticized the transparency of the Board’s approach to the mascot removal vote, argued that students and staff should be able to vote on being referred to as “Hills” and “Valley” instead of having a mascot. Both members argued this would cost less money rather than deciding on a new name altogether.

In response to Weaver and Martin, Board President Tammy Molinelli said “it’s not a cost-saving” to not have a mascot because changes will be required either way to remove references to the Cowboys. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to a surplus in the district’s funding, which Superintendent Erik Gundersen noted would help cover the mascot replacement costs.

I wish that this Board would take more time to ask the question… ‘What is a mascot, and do we really need one?’”

— Michael Weaver, Board member

How Hills got here

The search committee first met on Jan. 6. Over the course of three additional meetings and several surveys, it narrowed down an initial list of 38 suggestions, eliminating choices based on factors like unpopularity, negative rationale, and overlap with options being considered by Valley. In order to select the top three, Paspalas sent out a poll on Feb. 5 to committee members to select their top preference out of the five remaining options. 46 out of 51 committee members responded to the poll that determined the top three.

The committee’s work was guided by a process and criteria for the mascot that the Board approved last October. According to Paspalas, these criteria included names that ” are positive and inclusive in nature,” “promote pride and excitement,” “cannot be identified with a gender,” and portray values such as strength, pride, togetherness, and compassion.

Jared Mitovich
An overview of the mascot search committee’s work.

I know [the mascot search committee’s] contributions are going to have an everlasting impact on future generations who walk through the halls of Pascack Hills High School.”

— Erik Gundersen, Superintendent of Schools

The conclusion of the committee’s work brings Pascack Hills closer to replacing the Cowboys mascot, which the Board voted to remove in June along with Valley’s Indians mascot. Eight months later, the Board’s decision remains controversial. While it has been vocally praised by many in the school community, it has also been criticized by others –– including some Board members themselves.

After the Cowboys and Indians debate resurfaced at a Board meeting in January, with four new members able to provide input, Superintendent Erik Gundersen affirmed that neither could be considered due to the criteria set forth.

In a statement read to the Trailblazer, Gundersen said the contributions of the mascot committee and the school-wide vote “are going to have an everlasting impact on future generations who walk through the halls of Pascack Hills High School.”

[Pascack Hills students, click here to share your thoughts on the three choices for Hills’ mascot. Community members can comment their thoughts at the bottom of this article.]