The organization Little People of America is asking an Illinois high school to change the name of the school’s mascot. The Freeburg High School sports teams have been known as the “Freeburg Midgets” since the 1930s.
“[It’s] kind of a derogatory, objectifying, dehumanizing term,” Gary Arnold, president of LPA, told USA Today High School Sports. “If you have a family that happens to have a person with dwarfism down the road, you know, that’s going to create a very difficult environment for them to go to high school.”
School apparel is known as “midgetwear,” according to an online petition created by LPA. The organization says there are other schools across the country that use the mascot and it’s asking all of them to change. It singled out Freeburg because the town is near St. Louis, where LPA is currently holding a national conference.
Freeburg’s superintendent, Andrew Lehman, contends that the name is a “point of pride” in the town of 4,300. A local sportswriter gave the school’s basketball team the nickname in the 1930s, and it stuck. The school board doesn’t see it as offensive.
“That term can be very subjective. What’s offensive to one person or group of people is going to have a very different meaning to other people,” Lehman said.
The LPA does find it offensive, as it states in its petition:
“The word was first coined in reference to people of short stature who were on public display for curiosity and sport, and the word evolved into a negative connotation. The preferred terminology is ‘dwarf,’ ‘little person,’ or ‘person of short stature.’ ”
The petition has 4,355 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. A counter petition has about 3,000 supports.
Created by a Freeburg man named Jared Fricke, the second petition states that “...if we allow a few short minded people to dictate what is right and wrong then we will live in a world full of fear. Freeburg is not a place of hate, and as Americans we have the right to use the Midgets as a mascot because it is the foundation of what it meant to come from freeburg. We are a small town, but that does not stop us from achieving great things.”
Yahoo Sports reached out to the school board for comment, but has not received a response.
Another school that uses the mascot is Dickinson High School in North Dakota. The school has considered changing its mascot at least twice, most recently in 2010.
But the school board caved amidst a public outcry to keep the name. Three board members were even kicked off the board in a recall election. Residents and students then voted down a name change in June 1997. The name change was debated again, but dropped, in 2010.
Dickinson had been known as the Coyotes until the 1920s, when a sportswriter referred to the basketball team as “our midgets.”