BELTON — Election Day is nearing, and the stakes could not be any higher.
Voters’ decisions will affect them for years to come.
Well, until they go to middle school.
Elementary students in the Belton Independent School District are set to pick a mascot for their campuses on Election Day, Nov. 5. This is a necessary move with the introduction of the district’s second high school and mascot — the Lake Belton High School Broncos — next fall.
“So with the changes in mascot at the secondary level, there are several questions that we’ve been pondering regarding our elementary schools,” district spokeswoman Elizabeth Cox said. “Should our southern elementary schools be a Tiger and our northern schools be a Bronco? If so, how long would that actually last with the continued growth of our district?”
Rather than split the elementary schools between the old and new mascots, students in kindergarten through fifth grade will pick one for their campus.
Of the district’s 10 elementary schools, nine currently have the Belton Tiger as their mascot. The recently opened Charter Oak Elementary does not have a mascot.
“After meeting with elementary principals ... we would like to propose that each elementary campus involves teachers and students in coming up with new mascots to be implemented in the fall of 2020,” Cox said. “We would like to do this in conjunction with this fall’s general election, creating a special learning opportunity for our students that engages their voice and their selection in the process.”
‘Tigers aren’t red’
The mascot election will start like any other: Finding and selecting the candidates.
Students and their homeroom teachers will discuss the Belton Tiger and look forward to the Lake Belton Bronco’s imminent introduction. These conversations, Cox said, will build students’ excitement for the mascot election while also reflecting on the district’s history.
“Homeroom teachers would lead students through a discussion of school mascots, getting students to brainstorm a new mascot for their school for the fall of 2020,” Cox said. “Each classroom would reach a consensus on a recommendation for a mascot, and submit that candidate to the principal.”
Students, though, cannot suggest anything to be their mascot. Like a real election, there are rules that the candidates must clear.
One, the mascot’s primary color must be red.
“And no odd or copyrighted entries, such as an emoji or … an Avenger,” Cox said. “No elementary campuses can be a Tiger or a Bronco.”
School board Secretary Janet Leigh said teachers will need to stress that any proposed mascot does not have to be inherently red. This was a lesson she learned last year when the school board and the Belton ISD community considered the mascot for Lake Belton High School.
“It’s kind of a silly thing to even have to say, but I will say that when we went through the mascot process from time to time people — even adults — would get bogged down in the red color and the mascot being the same thing,” Leigh said.
“They don’t have to match. Tigers aren’t red,” she said to laughs.
Creating the ballot
Once elementary homerooms have submitted their proposed mascots, principals at each campus will gather a group of students from all grade levels to pick three mascots on their Election Day ballot.
“All elementary principals would come together and meet before Election Day as a committee to make sure no schools have the same mascot on their ballot,” Cox said.
Students will cast their ballot on Nov. 5.
“The results will be announced, and we can then begin developing artwork for each school within my department,” said Cox, who leads the district’s communications and community engagement department.
Trustee Ty Taggart questioned the costs for the elementary mascots.
“What are we thinking? Or is that still a work in progress?” he asked.
It’s the latter, Cox responded.
“I can tell you that we will pursue something equitable,” she said. “The conversation that we’ve had is making sure that we develop all elementary campuses with the same high-level graphics, the same high-level imagery and assets to be able to do this. That’s what we are committed to internally, and then how it gets rolled out to every campus, obviously, will be equitable across the district.”
Changes coming to middle schools
Middle school students will not pick their mascot. Instead, their location from the Leon River will.
Lake Belton Middle School and North Belton Middle School are north of the river. Students will attend Lake Belton High School.
Students at Belton Middle School and South Belton Middle School will attend Belton High School.
“As we are planning for the opening of Lake Belton High School next year and Lake Belton High School Broncos taking the court and fields in many different ways, we need to consider the rebranding of Lake Belton Middle School and North Belton Middle School to the Broncos as they feed directly into Lake Belton High School,” Cox said.
Like the elementary schools, Lake Belton Middle School and North Belton Middle School will need adjustments to shift away from the Tiger branding.
Tiger graphics on walls and on gym floors will need to change to Broncos. Rebranding the gym floors at both campuses will cost $26,500. On top of that, Lake Belton Middle School will need a new scorer’s table; it will cost $3,800.
“In addition to rebranding at the middle school facilities, continued changes to adjust middle school uniforms from Tigers to Broncos will be needed for the fall of 2020,” Cox said.
Already, Mike Morgan, the assistant superintendent for student services, and Athletic Director Sam Skidmore have shifted students’ uniforms to have the campus name, not the mascot.
“However, there will still be updates and apparel needed,” Cox said. “By the start of the 2020 school year, we’ll see new girls and boys athletic clothing — including basketball uniforms, football jerseys, pants, sweats and track uniforms.”
Lake Belton Middle School’s new apparel will cost $26,095, and new North Belton Middle School apparel will cost $36,834.
The rebranding costs are included in the 2019-20 budget.
A new mindset
Belton ISD’s identity has been so intertwined with the tiger for decades. A play on the big cat — Bengal tiger — was among the community’s top choice for Lake Belton High School’s mascot.
It will take time to get used to Belton ISD having two mascots, school board President Sue Jordan said.
“One of the unique things about Belton — as we all know — is we’ve all been Tigers. We have a former Tigo here,” Jordan said, using her hand to point to Leigh, who donned the mascot costume while attending Belton High School. “This is a unique opportunity to progress into the future because we have a new high school coming — that’s something that’s never been done before.”
The adjustment will not be easy for alumni.
“It’s hard, I know. For those who have been here forever, like myself and others, to have always been a Tiger, to try to process that in your mind that now you’re going to have other mascots,” Jordan said. “But I think we’ll be OK. It’s fine. Change is hard, but it’s not difficult. We’ll be OK.”