After outcry, school district reverses course on ‘Stallions’ mascot for new high school

One of the football helmet designs for the Frederick Douglass Stallions was unveiled Monday.
One of the football helmet designs for the Frederick Douglass Stallions was unveiled Monday.

After a public outcry over the use of the mascot “Stallions” at Lexington’s new Frederick Douglass High School, Superintendent Manny Caulk changed course Tuesday and said students will choose a horse-themed mascot instead.

The change of course came after a Lexington woman created a petition on the website against naming athletic teams and the school mascot at Lexington’s new Frederick Douglass High School the “Stallions.”

Diane Cahill said she created the petition, to be delivered to Caulk, principal Lester Diaz and Fayette County school board members, after the mascot was announced Monday. The petition said in part, that “it is inappropriate and sexist” that the mascot and name for the female sports teams is the Stallions.

Later Tuesday, Caulk announced the new approach, which involves keeping the school colors and a horse theme that were unveiled Monday, but letting students decide the mascot.

“Moving forward, we will keep the Keeneland green and orange colors and horse image in the school logo to pay homage to Lexington’s rich history in the horse industry, but we will allow the incoming students of Frederick Douglass High School to choose their mascot,” Caulk said in a statement late Tuesday. “We’ve already received suggestions of Thoroughbreds or Racers as possible alternatives to Stallions and we will solicit additional ideas from our students before they choose a horse-themed mascot grounded in the land’s equestrian heritage.”

“Since the public announcement of the mascot Monday, we have received feedback from some community members who have concerns about the mascot and we want assure our constituents that there was absolutely no intent to offend or upset anyone. We also recognize that there is support from others in our community to honor the former stallions of Hamburg Place farm,” Caulk said.

“We want our new high school to be a source of unity and pride for our entire community and we thank all of those who have taken the time to reach out and engage in the conversation about this issue. Public engagement and advocacy are central to the success of our Fayette County Public Schools, and we are committed to listening to the people we serve as we seek to provide the very best education for each and every student.”

Cahill was pleased with the school district’s reversal. “That was quick,” she said Tuesday night. Cahill said she thought students should decide on the mascot.

“It should be a more democratic decision,” Cahill said. “There should be more consideration of female students.”

The petition said the definition of a stallion is a male horse that has not been castrated, used for breeding or is slang for a powerful and virile man who has a lot of lovers.

“What message does this send to our daughters and granddaughters? Our sons and grandsons?” the petition said, “We demand that the name be changed to something more gender neutral and more indicative of Douglass’s brilliant mind, successful career and vision for equality and to send a message to all students that they are respected and valued.”

Frederick Douglass was an abolitionist and orator in the 1800s. The high school on Winchester Road is set to open next fall.

People complained about the mascot Stallions on social media, including Twitter and Facebook, and on comments on the petition.

Douglass Athletic Director Garry McPeek declined to comment.

Cahill told the Herald-Leader that enough people in the community were raising questions that she thought a petition was appropriate.

“How did they come up with this? The connotation of stallions pertaining to a girls’ softball team or basketball team just seemed really, really strange to me — a male breeding horse,” Cahill said in an interview.

The nickname Stallions derives from the school’s property, once part of the Madden family’s famed Hamburg Place farm where racehorses, among them six Kentucky Derby winners, were sired. Hamburg Place is now a development on Lexington’s eastern edge.

In his statement, Caulk said, “When construction began on Frederick Douglass High School, we discovered that one of the Madden’s famed stallions had been buried on the property where the new school was being built. The Stallions mascot was originally chosen to honor the rich of tradition of our land here in Central Kentucky.”

But Caulk said “We certainly don’t want the selection of a mascot to become a divisive issue for our community” that would detract from “a tremendous amount of optimism and positive energy” around the new school’s opening.

“Using stallions as the mascot for the Frederick Douglass High School seems wrong on so many levels,” Anita Courtney of Lexington told the Herald-Leader. “It leaves out 50 percent of the student population — girls — and is and not in keeping with the spirit of Title IX that promotes gender equity in sports. Calling the female athletes Lady Stallions doesn’t make any sense. We should get our horse terms right in the Bluegrass. And even if it were an all-male high school, would we want to promote an image that has to do with breeding?”

Mick Jeffries of Lexington said on the petition that he was signing it because he thought using the male gender of an animal was inappropriate and the mascot had to be gender neutral.

“Frederick Douglass was a firm believer in equality for all. ... Something tells me that he probably would have found the name to be offensive to (women) and would not represent the whole of your school,” said Christy Morris of Lexington, who signed the petition.

Connie Hubbard of Richmond explained online why she signed the petition: “Surprised when there is an apparent lack of insight with community leaders and educators.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears