Brainerd Public Schools: District to retire elementary school mascots in favor of Warriors

Warriors unite. As plans move forward for construction projects in the Brainerd School District after last year's referendum, another change is on the horizon, too--a new elementary school mascot. Right now the six kindergarten through fourth-gra...

Students gather near one of Brainerd's insignias in the floor at Brainerd High School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
Students gather near one of Brainerd's insignias in the floor at Brainerd High School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Warriors unite.

As plans move forward for construction projects in the Brainerd School District after last year's referendum, another change is on the horizon, too-a new elementary school mascot.

Right now the six kindergarten through fourth-grade schools in the district have their own mascots-the Baxter Buccaneers, Garfield Gophers, Harrison Hawks, Lowell Tigers, Nisswa Lakers and Riverside Patriots. But when the building updates are complete, all students will take on the high school's mascot and identify as the Warriors.

The goal behind the project is consistency within the district, according to Superintendent Laine Larson.

"We wanted to ensure that we were one unified school district that reflected that when somebody went to one of our schools or they drove by one of our schools that there was something that connected them, that they knew that they were part of the Brainerd Public Schools," Larson said during a phone interview Friday, Feb. 22.


As each school building is updated-or completely rebuilt in the case of Baxter Elementary School-the mascots will transition into the Warriors.

But as the Hawks, Tigers and other mascots are discontinued, their history will remain. Larson said the district's standards committee-consisting of teachers, administrators and some consultants-is brainstorming ways to honor the district's history. One idea is a display case in each school, with items paying tribute to previous mascots.

"When we talked about it through the committee and it came to the board," Larson said, "the discussion was that we don't want it just to go away, that we want to give a tribute and an honoring of the logos that we have."

At its last meeting Feb. 11, the Brainerd School Board approved a set of site standards for district construction projects to promote consistency throughout the district. Those standards included the mascot changes. Board members briefly discussed the possibility of display cases for old mascot paraphernalia, indicating they liked the idea.

Parents, staff weigh in

The announcement of the change, however, has been met with mixed reaction from district parents.

"I'm bummed about it," said Sarah Katzenberger, whose daughter goes to Harrison Elementary School and very much identifies as a Harrison Hawk. "To me I feel like taking that identity away from them could end up being hurtful."

Noting Harrison is the poorest school in the district, Katzenberger said identity is a huge deal for the surrounding community.


"What (Principal) Cathy Nault has done there in helping create an identity for that school has been really important, I think, for the health of the kids and the families," Katzenberger said. "I'm excited for the progress, but at the same time, I'm thinking, 'Don't take away that identity that these schools have built in their neighborhoods, because I think that is really important to their little individual communities.'"

Lowell Elementary School parent Melissa Schmidt has similar thoughts.

"I understand the uniformity and the unity, school pride and getting everybody on the same page," Schmidt said. "So while I really do understand why the district probably would want to move in that direction ... it's unique to have the elementary schools have their own little sense of pride in where they go and their own little community that they identify with."

But Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske had a different take on the idea of identity.

"The issue of Nisswa is we often get the question, 'Are we Pequot or are we Brainerd?'" Raske said. "And I have to repeatedly tell parents, 'We are part of Brainerd Public Schools.'"

With the mascot change, Raske hopes that point will come across more clearly, even though Nisswa Elementary is farther north than the other district elementary schools and closer to Pequot Lakes than to Brainerd.

"We're far out here, but we're part of the family. We're part of the community, and we need to show that by having this in common," Raske said. "Our new buildings are going to show a common theme, and if our mascots are different, it shows that we're all different, and we're not. We're unified."

If students move or transfer to another elementary school within the district, Raske said she feels they struggle to fit in at the new school, not only with having to make new friends, but because they formerly identified with a different mascot.


"I had a student just leave last week, and she was like, 'Well I'm not going to be able to use my Nisswa gear anymore, so give it to someone else.' No. We should all be Warriors," Raske said. "And that's the reason that this is important to me that our kids need to feel part of this big family and not needing to separate just because of their school boundaries."

Both Raske and Larson also mentioned the lack of Brainerd Warriors apparel among most elementary students. With each school having its own mascot and its own set of colors, Raske said when students gather at the high school for sporting events or other activities, the stands are full of several different colors, instead of just the Brainerd blue.

Lowell parent Jessica Gangl agreed with the lack of matching Warriors gear but overall had mixed feelings on the issue.

"I'm a Lowell Tiger, my dad was a Lowell Tiger, my kids are Lowell Tigers, so it's kind of bizarre to think about the fact that the Tigers won't exist," Gangl said Thursday during a Tiger Bingo event at Lowell. "However, when I went to Pillager coronation for my niece when she was Homecoming queen last year, I thought it was actually pretty cool how the little kids all the way up were all Huskies."

With time, Gangl said she thinks families will adjust to the change, though Katzenberger and Schmidt worry about the impact on the kids and the neighborhoods.

Students at Harrison follow the Pledge of Allegiance up with a Hawks Pride chant each day.

"(My daughter) thinks Hawks Pride is part of the Pledge of Allegiance," Katzenberger said. "We are totally Harrison Hawks. And I love the committee's support of wanting to build the Warrior spirit, but I do think there's something about allowing those schools to maintain some autonomy."

What will it cost?


Schmidt noted concern about money being spent on changing over the logos when other areas of the district could likely use the funds more.

"There are so many things that they could use that re-branding mascots doesn't need to be such a priority," Schmidt said.

Larson, however, is confident the project won't cause money constraints for the district. In fact, with all the schools now using the same colors and logos, Larson thinks they could actually save money by purchasing all the same kinds of paint and other construction materials in bulk.

"One of the objectives that we had in our referendum was to provide the highest quality opportunity for our taxpayers' generous investments," Larson said. "If we're buying tables or chairs or seating for one elementary school then we can buy it in large commodities because we're using the same colors and we're using that same level of connection throughout the district to be one unified district."

If display cases are placed in each school to hold historical mascot items, Larson said the funds for those will be built into the fixtures and equipment budgets for each of the buildings.

"The only real cost that I can see," she said, "is if the board decides that they want to move forward with designing a more elementary-level ... logo that could go along with the Warrior."

With nothing about the look of the elementary Warrior logo decided yet, Larson said it's possible students in kindergarten through fourth grade could have their own version.

"But I think there's going to be such a savings financially with being able to purchase product in large commodity that that will well supersede that," she said, noting unity and pride in the Brainerd lakes area is the goal behind the mascot change and has been the goal since passing the referendum.


"We are one incredible public school district that we're really proud of, and we want to share that continued pride, maintaining that historic honor," Larson said.

Every district facility will have a dedication after construction is complete. That's the time, Larson said, when the mascot change will take place at each school.

Construction timeline

The first schools on the construction schedule are Forestview Middle School, Nisswa Elementary, Harrison Elementary and the new elementary school in Baxter. Forestview's reconfigured parent pick-up area and new secure entrance are scheduled to be complete this summer, with the three elementary schools slated for a fall 2020 completion.

Updates to Brainerd High School, including the new 1,200-seat performing arts center, are estimated to be complete by the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Construction on the rest of the buildings will come later.

For more information on the district's post-referendum plan, visit .


Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads