Students at Brattleboro Union High School have voted to change their nickname to the “Bears” — a local animal recently painted on the town’s new High Street mural. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

BRATTLEBORO — For fans and foes of Brattleboro Union High School’s “Colonel,” the ongoing Civil War over whether to retire the nearly 75-year-old nickname has been a bear.

And perhaps a sign of things to come.

The school’s Windham Southeast district governing board is set to receive the results of a student vote to replace the “Colonel” with a new “Bear” moniker and mascot.

“Bears are fiercely protective animals who have been known to walk upon our very campus, have powerful instincts, high intelligence, highly developed communication skills, and are well known for their self-confidence and strength,” junior Eva Gould, a member of a mascot screening committee, said in a statement reporting the student vote.

Brattleboro Union High adopted “Colonels” as its team nickname in 1950 to honor Union soldiers who mustered at the town’s old Civil War campgrounds on the school’s campus. But the symbol morphed into a “Pride of the South” plantation owner mascot by the 1970s, leading some fans to wave Confederate flags at games and, in 1998, burn an effigy of a Black doll at a homecoming bonfire.

School leaders retired the mascot in 2004 but retained the “Colonel” moniker, only to see the issue resurface with the state government’s recent law requiring “nondiscriminatory school branding” that avoids stereotyping race, religion, nationality or sexual identity or referencing those “associated with the repression of others.”

The board voted this spring to let the school’s nearly 800 ninth through 12th graders propose new nicknames — “non-gendered and should be able to be depicted physically and artistically,” the rules required — and pick a winner through a vote.

“This is an opportunity to unify our school and make history in the process,” administrators wrote in an email to students and staff.

Administrators received 136 suggestions, only to find many were duplicates, names already taken by nearby schools, calls for the “Colonel” or pesky proposals such as the “Bedbugs.” A committee then winnowed down the rest to three finalists: “Badgers,” “Bears” and “Bobcats.”

The board is set to receive the winning “Bears” recommendation as soon as its next meeting on June 13.

“At the heart of this committee’s work has been the very delicate task of respecting traditions from the past, while building upon a vision for the future,” Gould said in her statement. “The challenge for our community as we go forth is to now model the same ability to respect our past, while we stand shoulder to shoulder with our current student body in embracing their future.”

VTDigger's Brattleboro reporter.