Metro-East News

Little people to Freeburg High: ‘We’re not going away’

Little people urge Freeburg High school board to change nickname

Little people who supported a petition to change Freeburg High School's mascot, the Midgets, returned to town for the school board meeting Thursday night to again urge the board to drop the name. Tobias Wall/News-Democrat
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Little people who supported a petition to change Freeburg High School's mascot, the Midgets, returned to town for the school board meeting Thursday night to again urge the board to drop the name. Tobias Wall/News-Democrat

FREEBURG Some of the little people who were on hand last month when the Freeburg Community High School board of education announced there were no plans to drop the school’s “Midgets” mascot were in town Thursday evening to again urge the board to make a change.

No action was taken on the matter because there was no agenda item to vote on. But the little people, along with supporters that included two Freeburg High graduates, sent the message during the meeting’s public comment portion that they’re not going away despite the board’s decision.

Jenna Sommer, a 2011 FCHS graduate, urged the board to “put (the debate) back on the table.”

“I understand a lot of people in this town feel like it’s a pride thing, or a tradition, something that’s part of them,” Sommer said. “But this school is a part of me, and it reflects who I am as a person to an extent. I can’t bear the fact that people I respect, that I actually might be losing respect (for them).”

John Coari, president of the Little People of America’s Central Illinois chapter, said his 14-year-old son Joshua, who has dwarfism, is his life, and asked the board to consider what it would be like to face ridicule for a condition they didn’t ask for and can’t help.

“Since Josh has been in our life, it’s been nothing but a pleasure,” Coari said. “But when it affects your family, that’s when you get involved. That’s when things start changing. Nobody has dwarfism in their family here probably. But if someone has Down syndrome, spina bifida or another situation, nobody would like other people to be called names. That reflects badly.”

Megan Sabourin, a little person from St. Louis who also attended the July meeting, said “If you brought (the debate) back on the table, think of the positive difference that you guys could make to show that this word is offensive. Some people think it’s just a word. But (midgets) is a word I hear. I am pointed at.”

Jamie Jacobsmeyer, a little person also from St. Louis, reminded the board that Pekin went through a similar debate ahead of a 1980 decision by the district to dump a mascot that was derogatory toward Chinese people.

“It was tough. I know people from the Peoria and Pekin area and they will still proudly identify as Pekin Chinks,” Jacobsmeyer said. “Times change. Reality changes. If Pekin can do it, I think Freeburg can do it.”

One supporter of the “Midgets” moniker, district resident Mike Reynolds, said emotion needs to be removed from the debate, urging board members to look at facts. Those facts, he said, included the expense a physical removal of all things “Midgets” from the school would incur.

“I own two houses in this district, it affects me deeply,” Reynolds said. “They’re telling us how to spend our money. They don’t have to pay for it, but I do.”

Another nickname supporter, Bill Wilson, said board members should only concern themselves with what the people they were elected to represent want rather than cave to pressure from people who aren’t even from Freeburg.

District Superintendent Andrew Lehman was unavailable for comment in Freeburg because the board entered executive session and couldn’t be reached by phone for comment later Thursday night.

Contact reporter Tobias Wall at twall@bnd.com or 618-239-2501. Follow him on Twitter: @Wall_BND.

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