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Crowd favors keeping Axemen name

EUGENE — About 100 people gathered in the South Eugene High School auditorium Wednesday evening to voice their opinions about whether the school should change its longtime team name to one that’s less gender-specific.

The school has been the home of the Axemen for more than 90 years.

Wednesday’s heated public forum reflected divided viewpoints on the idea, but most who spoke were against changing the Axemen team name — including several female basketball players on the South Eugene High School team.

Kelsey Brown, a junior at South who plays basketball and tennis, said she was proud to be an Axemen, and asked that the district focus on more tangible inequities.

“If there’s discrimination, it’s against women in the school who don’t get equal court time and things like that,” she said. “I don’t think the name is what we should be spending our time on; it’s what’s behind the name that we should look at.”

About a dozen basketball players stood with another teammate, Madison McGowan, 17, who echoed Brown’s words.

Many South Eugene alumni expressed similar views in favor of retaining the Axemen team name, with the word tradition often mentioned, along with heritage and sentimental value.

Some brought up the cost of a new team name for South Eugene High, and expressed a desire to see the district focus on “bigger, more important” issues. A few described the potential replacement of the Axemen name as heartbreaking.

Some presented long-winded responses that were cut off by the facilitator; others kept their remarks brief, such as Tim Wilson, a 1974 graduate from the school.

“I believe in tradition and history,” Wilson said. “We learn from history, and there’s no adequate reason to change the Axemen.”

But others supported the name change idea.

Sue Miller Wielesck, who served on the Eugene School Board from 1986 to 1992, was the first to address the crowd. She said it’s “about time” to change the Axemen name.

“Not all traditions are a good idea,” she said “We have just been through a time where 160 young women were too afraid and too fearful to call out someone who was abusing them. What do we teach our children in the current way we’re bringing them up? Young women now here at South are a part of a subtle and very powerful system that tells you that you don’t exist if you’re not male."

Others who argued for the change brought up the importance of language, and how they say it influences the way humans treat and interact with one another, and how women are represented within society.

Some who spoke were relatively neutral.