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EASTON

Digging for new name sends Stonehill to Web

Fans of Stonehill College sports might soon be rooting for the Shovelmakers.

The Easton school has decided to retire Chieftains, the nickname for its sports teams, by the end of this school year, and Shovelmakers is among the options for a possible replacement.

Students, faculty, and fans are trying to decide on a new image for Stonehill College's athletic program. Until March 10, the public is invited to weigh in on the issue by voting online at a college website, www.stonehillchieftains.com/athleticidentity.

''Anybody can vote," said Jim Seavey, associate director of athletics at Stonehill College. ''They can vote for the suggestions listed, or they can make suggestions."

The website lists six choices: Mission, Saints, Skyhawks, Storm, Wolfpack, and the Shovelmakers, which is a nod to Oliver Ames, a historic 19th-century figure whose local shovel factory made Easton famous and the family very rich.

During the first 36 hours of online voting, about 600 people responded, Seavey said.

Whatever is chosen, it will be a big change for Stonehill athletes. The Chieftains name has been in place for more than 50 years.

The US Commission on Civil Rights has called for schools across the country to stop using Native American images and team names. The commission stated that since the 1970s, American Indian groups have said such mascots and nicknames ''mock and trivialize Native American religion and culture."

But political correctness was not the only motivation behind the name change, Seavey said.

''There was no pressure on us from the NCAA in terms of changing our nickname," he said. ''I think [the] school spirit issue was one of the key parts.

''Twelve years ago, the college discarded the logo that depicted the Indian with the headdress and feathers and stuff. We really did not have anything to represent our identity that we were comfortable with. We felt . . . that it wasn't appropriate to have a physical representation of a Native American as our mascot," he said.

School officials want to have a team name and mascot that is ''more tangible, more visible," Seavey said.

Last summer, Stonehill officials assembled a committee of 18 staff members, alumni, and students to find a new identity for the school's athletic program.

During the first meetings, the group came up with a list of 65 suggestions. The list was whittled down to six possibilities.

''People were certainly passionate about the issue," Seavey said.

He should know. A decade ago, his alma mater, Marquette University, changed its nickname from the Warriors to Golden Eagles. Years later, controversy still lingers about the Milwaukee school's decision. As recently as December, Marquette officials were considering whether to accept a $2 million donation from two trustees who promised to provide the cash only if the school reinstated the Warrior nickname.

''I was a Warrior," Seavey said. ''I can understand it's certainly difficult because there's an emotional attachment.

''There's always a faction that will want to keep the Chieftain," he said. ''We understand that. The retirement of the Chieftain was an extremely difficult decision. But really, the Chieftain identity was really limiting to us. Once people understand that . . . they understand that this will be a benefit in the long run."

Mark Murphy, a Stonehill student, does not want his school to be known as the Shovelmakers. The 20-year-old junior voted for the Wolfpack name.

''I feel if we took some of those names, we'd be laughed at in some athletic venues," said Murphy, vice president of the Class of 2006.

Despite his concerns about the Shovelmakers, Murphy said the decision to retire the nickname Chieftains was a ''wise idea."

''It's such a touchy issue," he said. ''Some of those new names could use a bit of work."

When voting wraps up on March 10, the Stonehill athletic identity committee will meet and review the results. The top pick from the online poll will not necessarily be the final selection, Seavey said.

''The input [from the online poll] will be weighed by the committee, and a recommendation will be made to the administration," he said. ''If everything goes according to plan, the announcement will be made in the late spring. Stonehill will still be known as the Chieftains for the remainder of the academic year."

The new moniker would take effect July 1. An official unveiling is planned for Sept. 10, when Stonehill's football team is scheduled to play in the school's new 2,400-seat stadium.

No matter what name is chosen, Stonehill's colors will remain purple and white, Seavey said. The college hired a design company to produce the new logo.

''In the end it's going to be a lot of fun," he said. ''It's a new era. Whatever is selected will create opportunities that we didn't have before."

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com.

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