WINCHESTER – Six years ago when the Sachems logo was taken down for refurbishing, there was some murmuring in the community over the possibility it might be gone for good. Since being removed over the April break, a new flurry of concern and conflicting opinion has come forth, along with several points of misinformation.
The logo is not disappearing. The old Sachem image has been moved to the gym. A new version, an opaque graphic on clear substrate film, is to be applied to the interior face of the glass at the front entrance.
The color is still undecided. The original suggestion was white, but samples in red and black as well as white are to be put up soon, to judge their appearance before the Educational Facilities Planning and Building Committee makes a decision.
There is clearly a lot of sentiment in the community in favor of keeping the Sachem name and logo, though challenged by others sensitive to its propriety.
At the end of the 20th century, the use of Native American names and images as nicknames and mascots became controversial across the nation. Local feelings were divided over whether using “sachem” as a nickname, mascot, or logo for sports teams was disrespectful or not.
Following some public meetings, the School Committee approved keeping the name “to be used consistent with its historical definition as leader…to connote the quality of leadership/service for others.”
A task force created to research a new logo for the school consulted with the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs and determined that the existing image was respectful and did not need to be replaced.
As the issue is re-appearing, it is an appropriate occasion to look at one question not previously explored – when and why the use of “Sachems” for the high school teams began. It turns out it was not the first name for high school athletes, and the high school was not the first in town to use it.
“Red and Black” appears in the newspapers as the first nickname for the football team. Skimpy early reports make it difficult to pin down its beginning, but in 1905 the boys had black sweaters with a six-inch crimson “W,” and in 1915 “Red and Black” was called “the ensign of our high school.”
These were not simply the school colors. At that time, each class chose its own colors. In 1915, they were crimson and gold; in 1916, orange and black.
“Red and Black” continued to be used for the various athletic teams through the end of the 1940s. In 1945, the school paper also adopted the name and has kept it.
The football team, however, dropped it. During the 1950 and 1951 seasons, the name “Indians” was used, though in 1951 the transition to “Sachems” had begun.
When the name came into use is easier to discover than why. The yearbooks and newspapers of the time simply use it, without any comment. However, some possible influences on the decision may be identified.
The sachems were not a tribe (a mistake still commonly heard) but rather the leaders or chiefs of the Massachusett people. Over the years, the story of the Squaw Sachem, “Queen of Mysticke” and widow of the great Sachem Nanepashemet, as a friend of the colonists has been told and retold around town. First written down in the Winchester Record in the 1880s, it was included in the 1936 History of Winchester. Articles about her have appeared in the newspapers at varying intervals.
During the state’s tercentenary in 1930, a sign about the Squaw Sachem’s land was placed at the corner of Cambridge and Arlington streets. A mural depicting the sale of Winchester territory by the Squaw Sachem to the colonists was installed in the 1931 library building. Nanepashemet’s name, usually translated as “New Moon,” was memorialized as a crescent moon on the Winchester Country Club’s seal. A street on Indian Hill was named Sachem Road.
Since the historical sachems’ territory spanned many modern towns, the name was used by various other communities. The Arlington Boy Scout Council adopted the name Sachem, apparently also in the 1930s. The name “Saugus Sachems” also appeared in that decade.
Not only was the word well associated with the area, there was precedent for using it as a team name, not only in Saugus but also in Winchester.
After World War II, a group of veterans interested in playing basketball formed a team in January 1947. Growing up during the 1930s, they would have been acquainted with the traditional story. For whatever reason, they called themselves the Sachems.
Most of the men had played for the high school and some for college teams and, as veterans, played well against other towns’ teams. In their first season, they won 12 out of 16 games. In their second season, the Sachems won the Greater Boston Basketball League championship after beating the Lexington Warhawks.
During the summers of those two years, the Sachems had a team in the town softball league. The softballers (at least three of whom also played basketball) played such other teams as the Rockets, Atomics, and Comets, as well as the VFW and other groups. In 1947, the Sachems won the league championship and were runners-up the next summer.
After just two seasons, the Sachems, both basketball and softball players, evidently disbanded, since reports disappear from the newspaper.
So, during the 1949-1950 season, while the high school football team called itself the Indians, the name “Sachems” had a good reputation but was not claimed by any other team in town.
High School Sachems
When the year 1950 came along, Winchester celebrated its centennial. Once again, the town’s early history was featured in the newspaper, classrooms, and local programs. One may imagine that, having settled on the name Indians (a favorite image for that era), the team saw a transition to the name Sachems as a nod to local history. “Sachem” also happened to be more distinctive at a time when several communities used the name “Indians.” For whatever reason, the Winchester Indians became Sachems.
The Winchester Star still called them Indians during the fall of 1950, but they were also called Sachems by the time the class of 1951’s yearbook was published. In April 1951, a group of eight varsity players used the name when competing in the Boys Club Basketball Tournament in Charlestown. During the fall of 1951, the Star used both names, mostly “Indians.” The Boston Globe continued to use “Indians” occasionally through 1956. Thereafter, “Sachems” took over completely.
During the 1940s, student drawings of Native Americans appeared in several yearbooks, along with a variety of other subjects. The Native American was apparently a popular motif before it became a mascot, but it was not until 1951 that such a drawing was placed on the cover.
The current logo was created by Simon Donovan (later a professional artist and art teacher in Tucson) and was hung on the building as a gift from the Class of 1977. The suggestion that it represents a Native American of the Plains rather than of New England became one of the points of contention back in 1999-2000.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the names teams chose were meant to create a good team image. “Sachem,” an Algonquian word translated as “chief,” “leader,” or “king,” could do that. Today, there is mixed opinion on whether it should be kept, although there is no sign of its going away.
If the sensitivity climate changes, there is precedent for the team changing its name and surviving with all its pride in its abilities and accomplishments intact.