The newly named East Helena High School now has a mascot: the Vigilantes.
Amy Strainer, of the school name and mascot committee, said the group polled the community on various mascot and school name options for the new school. The board of trustees unanimously approved the school name and mascot during a meeting this week.
As for the name of the school itself, East Helena High School was the obvious choice, as it is common for a community's first high school to be named after the town where it is located.
“East Helena High School won by a long shot,” Strainer said.
The mascot committee polled the community on five mascot options: Wolverines, Vigilantes, Giants, Mavericks and Mountain Lions.
Wolverines and Vigilantes received more votes than all of the other options, with Wolverines edging out Vigilantes by a small margin. Among community members, Wolverines received about 370 votes, compared to Vigilantes with about 350.
Some suggested the results were heavily influenced by Radley Elementary School, which already uses the Wolverine as its adopted species. Board member Karen Goldsberry suggested the opinions of students are important nonetheless.
The committee said Wolverines won among Radley Elementary, East Valley Middle School and the broader community. Vigilantes won among staff members throughout the district.
Board chair Scott Walker questioned whether the prevalence of male characters associated with the term "Vigilante" would be a problem for anyone on the board. None of the board members said it would be an issue.
“My goal is to have every member of the district get behind this mascot,” Walker said.
Board member Kevin Bokovoy said “It will blow up in popularity. It’s absolutely incredible to see a community embrace something like this.” Bokovoy has worked with other small districts in the past, implementing mascots and colors.
Though the board unanimously approved Vigilantes as the mascot, Goldsberry was leaning toward Wolverines until the end.
Board member Breck Scheet said the mascot was “edgy” and “shows grit.” By breaking away from Helena Public Schools, Bokovoy said, those in the East Helena district have become vigilantes.
While everything from Batman to Robin Hood to Charles Bronson’s character in “Death Wish” can be considered a vigilante, the vigilantes play a major role in Montana history. The patch worn by Montana Highway Patrol troopers even bears the symbol "3-7-77," which is believed to represent the dimensions of a grave and was widely used by early vigilantes in the state.
Strainer said that developing an image of the vigilante character was outside the scope of the mascot board. Some suggested that the vigilante might be a cowboy-type figure. Bokovoy suggested a Robin Hood-type character rather than a bad guy or outlaw.
The board has not yet decided whether the mascot will also apply to other East Helena schools. Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer suggested letting the individual schools govern their own transition if they go with a district-wide mascot.
Bokovoy spoke about his time growing up in Fort Benton. That district’s high school mascot was the longhorns. The middle and elementary schools were shorthorns. He said, “Every single middle school kid wanted to be a longhorn.”
“It’s not just about football,” Bokovoy said, suggesting that a mascot is tied to the very identity of a small community like East Helena.
Also at this week's meeting, Whitmoyer announced that the district now possesses the 35.158 acres of land set to be the home of the future school.
"The district is excited to now move on to the construction phase of the project," Whitmoyer said.
He said that because winter is almost here engineers and builders have targeted March 1, 2019, as the start date for construction of the new school.
The board also decided to postpone the ground breaking ceremony until that time period.
Last July, East Helena voters were asked to approve the purchase of the Dartman Field lot. Whitmoyer said the district received widespread support, with over 1,730 voting for and only 395 voting against the purchase.
Funding for the $207,444 lot came from the $29.5 million bond that voters approved in May this year for the new school.
State law required the district to seek public approval for the purchase of the lot because it is not contiguous to current school property.
Strainer said the committee will now return to the public to seek input on possible school color combinations.
The East Helena High School building is on track to be completed by fall 2020. However, East Helena High School classes will be available to freshmen in a vacant wing of East Valley Middle School beginning in fall 2019.