Friday, February 13, 2015

Clearwater Community Foundation addresses Maniac license plate controversy

Submitted by the CCF

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That is exactly what a small group of Orofino, Idaho citizens are doing.

Maria Ward, Terry Gugger, and Jill Woolsey saw that there were valuable and often unique grass-roots ideas that were not coming to fruition because of lack in their hometown of Orofino, Idaho. Be it money, resources, people, or time, the very things that could benefit people and community were being left undone because of deficits.

With approximately $3,000 that had been made available as part of a community grant, these three developed Clearwater Community Foundation, Inc., as a type of umbrella foundation to create, expand, and sustain opportunities for healthy lifestyles and communities. Lifeline Food Pantry was the first opportunity this group created.

When the mobile food bank that had been coming to Orofino was no longer an option, Clearwater Community Foundation worked with another group of people who had a vision of a permanent food bank, but did not have the resources, time or knowledge necessary to start one. Ms. Ward, Mr. Gugger, and Ms. Woolsey worked with that group for nearly a year to not only create the permanent food bank, but to help them generate policies and procedures that blended the group’s desire for service and the legal requirements to operate a food bank.

It was not until after the food bank was self-sustaining that Clearwater Community Foundation moved on to its next project, which assists in distance learning education for those involved in the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino. There are other minor projects and committees that Clearwater Community Foundation’s members are a part of, which help them identify new ideas and projects.

It was in these other committees that too often teachers were heard speaking about things they “used to do.” Field trips, motivational and academic speakers, and other academic and humanities related features that were previously offered through the schools were no longer available because of budget constraints. Orofino’s schools are on a four day school week and struggle financially.

Clearwater Community Foundation, or CCF, considered the Maniac and how it had come to represent not only a school sports mascot, but also an unbridled enthusiasm and passion for opportunities for children. It is impossible to go anywhere in Orofino without seeing the Maniac on license plate holders, walking around town on shirts, stickers on cars and bicycles, and painted on storefront windows. The strong school spirit has translated into strong community spirit.

CCF believed that a Maniac Special License Plate would provide an opportunity to translate that community spirit into proceeds that will go directly to Joint School District 171 (Orofino, Cavendish, Peck, and Timberline Schools).

Although there has been some controversy over the Maniac as the mascot since its adoption in 1972, both the community and State Hospital North have embraced what it represents. There is a story behind the name that few people outside of Orofino realize. In 1927, at a boys basketball game in Kamiah, the Orofino team was playing with such intensity and enthusiasm that enraged Kamiah spectators exclaimed that the “Orofino team looked and played like maniacs!” Once it got back to the students, the Principal, and the community, the nickname stuck!

The name “Maniac” was never meant to demean, harm, humiliate, or hurt anyone. The name has always meant to show irrepressible school spirit. This excitable and rowdy character, the Orofino Maniac, represents perfectly the energy and positive enthusiasm of the students.

In order to understand the controversy, it is important to understand the time frame of events. In 1905, Idaho Hospital in Orofino accepted its first patients as a strictly military routine including inspections and daily marching. 1927 was the year the opposing team, longtime rivals of Orofino, unwittingly dubbed the term Maniac to the students. In 1931, Idaho Hospital officially changed its name to Idaho State Hospital North and began replacing other activities with treatment. Today, State Hospital North is an inpatient psychiatric hospital that handles mostly court appointed, committed patients. In 1972, the current Maniac mascot was created and approved by the school board. However, the “maniac” character was unofficially present in the 45 years preceding this decision. 

In 1989, the Orofino Maniac won third place in ESPN’s national ranking of most unique high school mascots. Shortly thereafter, the national recognition brought questions of appropriateness. The community rallied around their mascot and it was again agreed to support the intended meaning of the character. 

In 1993, the Idaho Alliance for the Mentally Ill sent a letter to the Orofino school board requesting the Maniac no longer be utilized. It is important to note that this is the time in media history where mascots from professional teams, colleges, and marketing icons were coming under fire by those attempting to eliminate perceived stigma and stereotypes.

The school board sought input from students, the community, patients and administration of State Hospital North. At the Oct. 18, 1993 school board meeting, with many people in attendance and giving voice, the school board continued to support the Maniac as the Orofino High School mascot. Since then, the Maniac has also made an appearance as the “Mini-Maniac” for elementary students.

More recently, in 2013, the Maniac won the USA Today contest of most unique mascot. This was an online voting process during which people from across the nation were able to cast their vote among a small pool of mascots.

CCF believes that the Maniac is a unique and cherished symbol of this one small town. Citizens throughout the state of Idaho have voiced their support and promises to purchase a specialized Maniac license plate. It has been asked, “Why Orofino?” Why does this town and this school get to have a special license plate?

It is because of what Margaret Mead said. A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens sought to make a difference in their city. With philanthropic hearts but wallets that did not match, the generosity of their time is resulting in an opportunity to provide students with financial support otherwise not available.

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