IMHO: Oxbow Should Tell USOC to Scram

  • Oxbow coach Mona Garone comforts Jade Huntington after the team's loss to Randolph, Vt., in the state championship on Feb. 27, 1988, in Barre, Vt. (Valley News - Stephanie Wolff) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 7/20/2018 11:35:09 PM

Mona Garone wouldn’t have stood for the United States Olympic Committee’s bullying.

If the USOC had been dumb enough to pick a fight with Oxbow High School over its Olympian nickname while she was still alive, there’s no doubt in my mind what Garone — the Texas native and legendary Oxbow girls basketball coach — would have done in response. It’s an approach I encourage Oxbow Principal Jean Wheeler and new Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Emilie Knisley to take.

I believe Garone would have looked the punk in the eye and smacked him right in his kisser. (Maybe while the kids weren’t around to witness, but still.) This is a fight Oxbow most definitely should fight.

Given that the Oxbow High and River Bend Career and Technical Center School Board decided on Thursday night to retain the nickname, authorities seem ready to joust.

As occasionally seems to happen with behemoth organizations, the USOC has lost its sense of context in this matter. Pedophile sports doctors, emotionally abusive coaches, gender equity, athletes who need internet fundraisers to afford to compete — the USOC would rather you not remember the things upon which it should be focusing its considerable resources.

Yet it apparently has enough time on its hands to assign to a paralegal the duty of harassing a Vermont high school of fewer than 300 students over a moniker it claims to own.

Bullies typically go after the targets they consider the easiest to harass.

As Valley News staff writer Jared Pendak reported this week, the USOC contacted Wheeler in April and sent her a follow-up letter last month demanding the Bradford, Vt., school drop the Olympian nickname by this time next year. This isn’t a new issue; the organization contacted Oxbow eight years ago about an adapted five-rings logo it employed on its football helmets. The school complied, but it also expressed a desire to retain the Olympian nickname for tradition’s sake.

As a sign of its forbearance, the USOC this time said it could wait until 2023 for the school to remove protective pads in Mona Garone Gymnasium bearing the words “Oxbow Olympians” that the school bought and installed four years ago. USOC director of communications Mark Jones told the Valley News that “anonymous tips” led the organization to pursue its course of action with Oxbow.

Anonymous tips. Sneaky. Just like a bully.

All too often, worthy debates about school or team nicknames get lost in a warped concept of tradition. In Oxbow’s case, tradition is being served in the best and truest sense.

We’ve seen numerous cases of school districts and colleges that have taken the step — or, in some cases, not taken the step — of scrubbing a history of Native American caricature from their mascots. We’ve seen a few other similar decisions (South Burlington High School’s choice to drop Rebels as a nickname, for instance) that seemed off the mark. Either way, at least there’s been debate.

If the USOC was populated by something other than petty functionaries in its trademark protection department, it could employ Oxbow as a positive reflection of what it considers Olympic values to be. In Garone’s years, that meant hard work, loyalty, pride, affection and success — 10 girls hoop state championships, 18 finals appearances, 31 semifinal visits and more than 500 wins over 36 years. The school itself has produced 34 state championship teams over multiple sports since it opened.

Instead, the USOC continues its laughable assertion of responsibility over “international amateur athletic activities in the United States” as spelled out in the 1978 Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act (enacted seven years after Oxbow High opened). It isn’t the responsibility I question; it’s the thought that “amateur” has anything to do with what the USOC oversees or that it has a right to intimidate a small high school into dropping a nickname around which Oxbow Olympians have derived so much pride.

My favorite sports columnist anywhere, the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, put the USOC in proper context earlier this year. Legally a nonprofit, the USOC — per Jenkins’ reporting — drew in $336 million in revenue in 2016 according to its tax return, of which about $28 million trickled down to athletes. (Rounded off, that’s 92 percent for the pooh-bahs, 8 percent for the people who should be getting the majority of the funding.) Meanwhile, the USOC employed 129 people making six-figure salaries.

The USOC doesn’t receive government funding, unlike a lot of other national sports bodies. The bulk of its dough comes from commercial sponsorships for its teams, television contracts and donations. A tax policy expert Jenkins quoted in her column called the USOC’s operations “a business. This isn’t a charity.”

A true nonprofit group should focus its energy on charitable initiatives, working to better a community or helping those requiring help. A group that throws so much of its money to administration and so little to its constituency, as the USOC does, falls far short of that standard.

Maybe the USOC thinks a little Vermont high school is financially profiting from its Olympian nickname. If so, it’s in a miniscule fashion. The USOC would be better off targeting online high school scheduling websites that augment their income by selling logo T-shirts or sweats bearing school names and monikers instead of going after Oxbow.

Unless there is a plethora of 2,000-year-old Greeks upset about the co-opting of their culture who have petitioned Colorado Springs for relief, the USOC is barking up the wrong tree. It’s doing nothing more than bullying someone it thinks it can bully.

It’s been 20 years since Mona Garone died. If Thursday night’s school board action is any indication, there’s still a bit of her feisty spirit loitering around the Oxbow High halls.

Do Mona proud, Oxbow. Tell the USOC to take a hike.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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