Saugus rallies around the Sachems

Saugus High School could be in need of a new mascot.


SAUGUS — The beloved Sachem that represents many of the town’s athletes may be going away.

“I just think it’s kind of weird to change the mascot now because it’s been with the high school for so long,” said Catie Sheehan, a senior who plays field hockey and softball. “I don’t think it’s derogatory. I think everyone in Saugus really takes pride in being a Sachem.”

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education held a forum at the State House Tuesday to hear opinions on whether a bill should be passed that would prohibit the use of Native American mascots by public schools in the state.

Saugus High School has used the Sachem, a Native American chief or leader, as a mascot since long before the current school opened more than half a century ago. Should the proposed legislation pass, the school may be in need of a new symbol.

“The town takes great pride in the name of its mascot and what its mascot represents,” said Elizabeth Marchese, a School Committee member who has coached baseball, football, and other sports for more than a decade. “The Sachem is a leader and our children are the leaders of our future. I don’t see anything derogatory about it. In fact, I see it as an honor and a privilege for our children to call themselves Sachems.”

Marchese said she has heard from several parents who are up in arms over the possibility of changing the mascot.

“It’s an expensive change to boot,” she said. “I can’t even imagine the expense. Just think about the expense of changing every uniform, every jersey, every hat and helmet. It would affect everybody.”

State Rep. Donald Wong (R-Saugus) said the committee is now left to make a decision. Wong attended the hearing and submitted a written statement of opposition for the committee to review.

“I think that each town and city, especially the schools, should have the say,” Wong said. “At the High School, we have it to honor the (Native Americans). I can see them not wanting something that was undermining the Indians but we’re there to honor the Indians who have lived in Saugus before us. How far do we want to go with this? Don’t forget, the State symbol is of an Indian. Are we going to take the Indian off the State symbol?”

The mascot is representative of the rich Native American heritage in Saugus, said Marilyn Carlson, the vice president of the Saugus Historical Commission. The Woodland tribes were the most prominent, she said.

Montowwampate, or Sagamore James, was born in 1609 and was the Sachem of Saugus. He was the leader of the region called Saugus, which is pictured on the town seal, until he died of smallpox, she said.

The Saugus High School yearbook is also called the Tontoquonian and is named for a Native American named Tonto Quon who lived in the late 17th century in eastern Massachusetts. The name was chosen by the Saugus High School Class of 1929.

While excavating near Vinegar Hill, Round Hill, and the Saugus Iron Works, several artifacts, including arrowheads, were found. A Native American quarry was discovered at Vinegar Hill when developers began digging up the land, and Red Jasper stone has been found surrounding the Saugus River.

“In Saugus, we’re trying to preserve and accent our Native American heritage,” said Carlson. “The group that’s trying to get it removed from the mascots — maybe they’re looking at it from a different angle.”

Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

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