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Olympic-Sized Problem: USOC Orders Oxbow to Drop Nickname

  • Oxbow's Nick Nunn (27) snags a pass for a 29-yard gain in the Olympians' 17-0 win over Springfield on Sept. 11, 2010. That was the last year Oxbow used the five-rings logo on football helmets, switching over to a capital O instead. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bekah Hanzas, right, reassures her sister, Pitcher Leah Hazas, by giving her hand a squeeze in the last inning of the Richford at Oxbow softball semifinal in Bradford, Vt., on June 10, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oxbow head coach Steve Carson watches his team on offense during the third quarter of their game against Stowe in Bradford, Vt., on Feb. 5, 2018. Oxbow won, 78-36. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The circa-2010 logo for Oxbow High in Bradford, Vt. That year, the United States Olympic Committee contacted then-athletic director Rich Thornton about the use of the Olympians nickname and, specifically, the use of a variation of the 1996 Olympic Games’ five-rings logo on football helmets. Thornton agreed to remove the rings logo — Oxbow has since sported a capital O on football helmets in a similar style to the University of Oregon — but requested to keep the Olympians nickname on the basis that the Ted Stevens Act became law seven years after Oxbow opened and began using it. (Courtesy image)



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Bradford, Vt. — The United States Olympic Committee has renewed its feud with Oxbow High over the use of the Olympians nickname.

Oxbow principal Jean Wheeler was first contacted by USOC paralegal Carol Gross by phone in April regarding what the organization perceives as a trademark infringement by using the Olympians moniker. She cited the federal Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which reads, in part, that the USOC has exclusive rights to the words “Olympic,” “Olympiad,” or any combination of those words.

Last month, Gross sent Wheeler a copy of the law as well as a written order to phase out the Olympians nickname.

A copy of the USOC’s letter was obtained by the Valley News. Among its demands:

“By no later than June 30, 2019, Oxbow High School shall elect a new school mascot and cease all use of the mark Olympian(s), and any simulation or derivation thereof in the name of its school mascot and athletic teams, on uniforms, in its newsletter or yearbook, on signage and on any administrative or business materials.”

“By no later than June 30, 2019, Oxbow High School will provide the USOC with examples of uniforms, signage, newsletters, web pages and other business or administrative materials bearing its new mascot name adopted under this letter, and will confirm in writing that it has stopped use of the term Olympian in this manner.”

In 2014, Oxbow had wall mats installed at Mona Garone Gym that read Oxbow Olympians, and Wheeler expressed this to Gross.

The second part of the USOC letter allows for extra time for changes to the gym, reading:

“By no later than June 30, 2023, Oxbow High School shall revise or replace the wall mats in the gym and the decal on the floor, or modify them in some way to remove the mark Olympians.”

“By no later than June 30, 2023, Oxbow High School will provide the USOC with written confirmation that it has completely refinished the gym floor to eliminate any reference to Olympian, has replaced any wall mats with Olympian on them, and has stopped using the term Olympian completely.”

Wheeler noted that Mona Garone Gym’s floor is in the process of being refinished and that the new surface will not contain the phrase Olympians.

USOC’s letter of demands, sent on June 28, requests Wheeler’s signature of acknowledgement and intent to comply. It remains unsigned, the principal having forwarded it to the Orange East Supervisory Union office with a recommendation for legal counsel. It was among the first items received by first-year OESU superintendent Emilie Knisley, who began July 2.

“We are reviewing (the law and USOC letter) and are forwarding them to the school district’s attorney for review,” Knisley wrote in an email. “It comes down to whether or not the mascot is a violation of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s right to use the name exclusively as their trademark. We certainly take the question seriously and are working on our next steps.”

It’s not the first time USOC has come down on Oxbow.

In 2010, the organization contacted then-athletic director Rich Thornton about the use of the Olympians nickname and, specifically, the use of a variation of the 1996 Olympic Games’ five-rings logo on football helmets. Thornton agreed to remove the rings logo — Oxbow has since sported a capital O on football helmets in a similar style to the University of Oregon — but requested to keep the Olympians nickname on the basis that the Ted Stevens Act became law seven years after Oxbow opened and began using it.

Thornton, who left Oxbow in 2013 to become a basketball coach at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, Mass., never heard a yes or no from the USOC in response to that request.

“They reached out once or twice, and then we never heard back,” Thornton said in a Wednesday phone interview. “We addressed it at a school board meeting, and the consensus was until they came back with something legal, we should ignore it. It wasn’t a priority.”

Wheeler, Knisley and current school board chairman Adam Lornitzo all lamented a potential nickname change, citing the tradition the school’s athletics have built under the moniker since opening in 1971. Administrators at the time presumably chose the name for its alliteration and may have been influenced by the spirit of the popular 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, where the U.S. led all nations with 107 total medals and 45 golds.

Oxbow has garnered 34 state championships across all varsity sports since its inception, according to Vermont Principals Association records.

“We know that the school takes great pride in the mascot and has a proud tradition associated with its use,” Knisley wrote. “We want to do everything that we can to protect that pride.”

Gross, the USOC paralegal, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reached by phone, USOC director of communications Mark Jones indicated the matter was brought to the organization’s attention by several anonymous tips.

He declined further comment, saying the USOC’s stance is reflected in Gross’ letter.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.