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South Dakota school changes 'Midget' mascot after objections

McLAUGHLIN, S.D. - A north-central South Dakota school has dropped its Midget mascot and nickname. The move came after the nonprofit Little People of America organization asked the district to consider the change. The "Midgets" had been the masco...

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McLAUGHLIN, S.D. – A north-central South Dakota school has dropped its Midget mascot and nickname.

The move came after the nonprofit Little People of America organization asked the district to consider the change.

The "Midgets" had been the mascot of McLaughlin School District on the sprawling Standing Rock Indian Reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border since 1929, but the board voted to drop it this week.

Little People of America president Gary Arnold reached out to the district asking for the change in exchanges with School Superintendent Scott Lepke who then brought the issue before the board.

The board responded by voting 3-1 this week in a special meeting to drop the nickname, with one board member absent.

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Students are in charge of creating a new mascot and nickname by next March, according to school board president Juliana White Bull-Taken Alive.

The school's basketball coach, Hank Taken Alive, said he's never liked the nickname and was all in favor of retiring it.

"I'm an alumnus of the school, graduating in 1978, and all of those years I didn't like it," said the coach.

More importantly, he said working with young people, the school should set an example by being cognizant of people's feelings.

"It's similar to the Fighting Sioux nickname where a group took offense to the name," the coach said in referring to the University of North Dakota and its struggles with changing its nickname after Native Americans took offense and then the NCCA threatened sanctions if the name wasn't changed.

The nickname of Dickinson (N.D.) High School also is the Midgets.

Arnold was the point man for discussions with the McLaughlin school about the name.

In a letter dated last week, he wrote, "As you recall, during our conversation, we discussed that the word 'midget' has a derogatory nature to persons of short-stature and to the 1.9 million people tied to our organization's network.

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"In addition, having a midget represented as a mascot teaches our youth that the use of the word 'midget' to describe a person of short stature is acceptable and humorous. We hope that you will hear the voices of Little People of America and of those in your community who want a more appropriate mascot. If you change your mascot, we believe McLaughlin will be nationally applauded for recognizing the rights and responding to the concerns of disabled and marginalized communities.".

He said he understood that changing a mascot is a significant decision that will take time.

In his conversations with Lepke, Arnold said "it was clear that the students and some of the school board have an enthusiastic connection to a 'midget' as your mascot. However, during our research with other 'midget' mascot schools as well as McLaughlin, it was also clear that many are humored by the mascot, not connected to it. There are also others who simply don't like the current mascot."

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