The Messmer-Shorewood (Messwood) High School football team will not begin its playoff run with the helmet logo with which it began the season, following a decision Tuesday, Oct. 9, by the Shorewood School District to remove the logos from the helmets.
The reason? The logo, created by a Shorewood High School graphic arts student in a graphic arts competition last year, contained symbols of both schools: a greyhound representing Shorewood and a bishop’s miter with a cross representing Messmer, a school named after Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer, archbishop of Milwaukee from 1903 to 1930.
A Shorewood parent emailed Shorewood officials on Monday, Oct. 3, with concerns about having a religious symbol on the helmets of public school football players. In response, the Shorewood School District opted to replace the logo.
Messmer Catholic School president Capuchin Br. Bob Smith, upset with the decision, said he believes the majority of the students at Shorewood are of “some faith,” and before and after each game the team prays together.
“It’s usually a kid that jumps up and does a spontaneous prayer,” Br. Bob said, adding it’s a different player each time.
“When we played Dominican (High School), about six years ago, I happened to be in the locker room and they were getting ready to get on the field and a kid said, ‘Wait a minute; Br. Bob would you lead us in a prayer?’” Br. Bob said, adding that he led the prayer.
For Br. Bob, the response to changing the design is simple.
“The fact is it’s anti-religion; it’s nothing else,” Br. Bob told your Catholic Herald.
Shorewood Superintendent Martin Lexmond viewed the decision differently. He said that after he and the Shorewood school board received the email from the parent pointing out that students, some from a public school, were playing with a religious symbol on their uniform, he added discussion of the issue to his report to the board.
Their decision to replace the logo with a football with the words “PLAYOFFS 2012” was a result of that discussion, he said. The team had clinched a playoff spot by the time of the change.
The discussion was part of Lexmond’s report to the board and wasn’t placed under “action items,” according to the agenda for the Tuesday, Oct. 9, meeting. The executive summary of the discussion states the email was “objecting to the logo based on the principle of separation of church and state.”
“They didn’t vote,” Lexmond said of the board. “You have to have something noted for action before you take a vote. The fact of the matter is it’s really an administrative decision, with their guidance and advice, to determine that the appropriate thing to do was to move forward with changing the logo.”
Br. Bob said he was told on Friday, Oct. 5, about a “complaint from a parent” but was unaware that action would be taken. He added he was not invited to the meeting to address the situation.
Lexmond, a practicing Catholic and alumnus of St. Lawrence Seminary, the high school seminary in Mount Calvary operated by Br. Bob’s religious order, said he didn’t ask the board to take action on the issue.
“I said I need to hear the board talk about this. I need to know how you think about these things in Shorewood,” Lexmond said, explaining he’s new to the area and started his position in July.
The administrative decision was made without a vote or without allowing Messmer to plead its case to the board in order to prevent its students from being stripped of the Catholic identity portion of the uniform.
Lexmond noted he was in constant contact with Br. Bob and “it didn’t make sense that I would invite Br. Bob because those were conversations he and I were having.”
Br. Bob said since the two schools merged the football team in 2000, there haven’t been any complaints about which he’s aware.
“If we’re going to co-op, we’re not going to change you as a public school … the fact that I go to church on Sunday, I don’t condemn people who don’t,” Br. Bob said. “ But, you know, don’t try to change who I am and what I believe.”
When the schools’ football teams merged 12 years ago, it was the first Catholic-public co-op of its kind. At that time Shorewood was struggling to sign up players and get wins, and at one point had a 63-game losing streak, according to “First and Long,” a book by Greg Borowski regarding the partnership. At the time of the merger, Messmer had been without a football team since 1984, according to Borowski, and was in desperate need of a high school football tradition.
This year’s team has 30 students from Shorewood and 32 from Messmer, according to Shorewood athletic director Bill Haury. The football team’s record is 7-1. Messwood, sporting a 7-1 record, has scored 43 touchdowns this season after not scoring a touchdown last season.
Br. Bob said the relationship between the two schools has been “phenomenal” and he expects it to remain that way despite the logo change. He added he thought the new logo was a “smart idea,” but there will be a discussion about the next year’s logo after this season.
“If it’s a co-op, it means both sides get a say, and we didn’t get a say,” Br. Bob said, noting that the new logo should be “reflective of the long traditions of both institutions.”
When we joined in to the co-op, we knew we were joining a public school, according to Br. Bob.
“We understand the issue of religion in public education,” he said.
Lexmond said the pressure to change the logo came from more than one parent.
“There were also some students that shared some concerns with their administrator and there was a student that spoke at the school board meeting,” Lexmond said. “It’s been reported that this was in response to one person and that’s not true.”
Shorewood school board president Rob Reinhoffer also offered concerns about coverage the issue was getting via the media and social networking. He told your Catholic Herald because of “the blogs” and other news coverage, “feathers are starting to get ruffled,” and he didn’t think this would become a issue.
“To me (the email from the parent) was very similar as someone telling me, ‘Hey, the window is open in the second floor library; go close it.’ You know, like, ‘Oh, gotta close it,” said Reinhoffer, who described himself as a Christian who wants to honor the separation of church and state. “It was an oversight. Somebody didn’t catch this.”
“I don’t want to be disrespectful; I want to be respectful to both sides,” Reinhoffer said. He added that the parent made it a point to say to the board that they be particularly sensitive to the Messmer and Catholic side of the issue.
“The parent that spoke up also said, ‘Make sure you’re sensitive to everybody’; she was at the meeting,” said Rinhoffer.
“A lot of aspects of our society are based in Christianity but they don’t send the same message when people see them and that’s what I want to be sensitive to,” Reinhoffer said.
Lexmond said the media has been focusing on the “wrong story.”
“What the kids are doing is so powerful that we think that deserves time and attention, not whether or not the cross is appropriate or inappropriate,” Lexmond said. “They’re doing precisely what we want young people to do is to accomplish great things while appreciating they’re different … we’ll find a way to reflect Messmer and Shorewood in a new logo.”
Both Br. Bob and Joynt have said for next year’s logo, students from both schools will come together to create a design.
“In a weird way these types of issues, as challenging as they can be, also help bring the two entities closer together,” said Shorewood High School principal Matthew Joynt.