When Justin-Siena students sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games, they’re waiting for the last part of that last line.
As the crowd sings out, “And the home of the ...,” everyone in the stands takes a deep breath to yell out the next word: “Braves!”
This exuberance makes sense, given that Justin-Siena students are called the Braves. But it also compensates for the fact that they’re Braves in name only. They don’t have a mascot.
In the mid-1990s, administrators did away with the private Catholic high school’s Native American mascot, worried that some would take offense to the image.
But this year, the school and the Mishewal-Wappo Tribal Council are bringing back a version they hope will prove more historically accurate and respectful.
The Mishewal-Wappo, it turns out, may have lived on the very fields that Justin-Siena students now trample with their soccer cleats. And the name “Wappo” derives from a Spanish word: “guapo,” which means handsome or, colloquially, “brave.”
“It was providential,” said Bob Bailey, the school’s vice principal.
A few months earlier, school President Robert Jordan contacted the leader of the Mishewal-Wappo Tribal Council to see if it would endorse an emblem that recognized the Wappo Indians. The school would not go forward with its plans without the council’s approval of the design, he said.
Scott Gabaldon, the tribal chairman, said he was “honored” by the call — and that it was “really nice” of the school to ask.
Though there has been controversy about Native American mascots in the past, Gabaldon said he “doesn’t see the big deal.”
“You always see a mascot as something honorable,” he said, “and if they use a mascot in an honorable way, I have no problem with that.”
The five students on the redesign committee have taken their task seriously, partly because this is not the school’s first attempt to resurrect its mascot. Senior Bridget Abshear took part in a mascot redesign committee as a freshman, when a reinterpretation of the word “Brave” faltered.
Students weren’t impressed with the suggested red, white and blue American eagle, Abshear said.
“How is that brave?” some wanted to know. “We might as well be the Eagles.” But no one wanted to be the Eagles, she said; they wanted to be the Braves.
“We needed to come up with a respectful image, not a stereotype,” said Lupe Padilla-Aguayo, a junior on the cheerleading squad, sitting with the other four students in the school’s welcome center.
So instead of the eagle feathers of spaghetti Western fame, a more appropriate headdress would be fashioned from quail feathers. “They aren’t Plains Indians,” she said.
“It was a change of pace,” senior Megan Castellucci said, to learn about Native Americans who lived in and around Napa Valley.
Abshear, who might be called the group’s lead historian, visited the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville and the Sonoma County History and Genealogical Library, among other locations, to research what little is known about the tribe.
A picture of who the Mishewal-Wappo had been before Spanish diseases reduced their numbers to 35 at the turn of the century emerged from the students’ research: The Wappo were the traders of Northern California, who used obsidian for their weapons and shells as their currency. They were some of the area’s oldest inhabitants, Abshear said.
The students found other ways in which the Wappos fit with Justin-Siena’s school culture. Just like the school’s students, “They prayed before everything they did.”
Of course, there have been a few design hang-ups. Because of the valley’s moderate climate, for instance, “We’re running into the problem that they didn’t wear much clothing,” Abshear said.
So, there may be a few points in which artistic interpretation wins over historical accuracy.
The group submitted its research to a Napa design team, who will roll out a few options in the coming weeks and submit them to the Wappo council for approval.
If all goes according to plan, Abshear will look for the results of their research as early as next year’s homecoming game, when she and the rest of the group hope to see a mascot on the football field, helping the cheerleaders to fire up the fans. Or at least an emblem painted on the side of their gym.
The results may not please everyone, said junior Garrett Adair, but they are being very careful to get their details right — “down to the quail feathers on the headdress.”
Adair probably doesn’t have much to worry about from Gabaldon’s end. Gabaldon likes the idea of some good press for the Mishewal-Wappo.
His group has been in the news recently, having sued the federal government to receive tribal status. Napa and Sonoma counties are opposing tribal status, fearing it might someday result in a tribal casino in the area.
Gabaldon said he’s flattered at the idea of a mascot based on his tribe. “To me, it’s representing something that you like,” he said. “You’ll never see a Napa snail.”
Besides, he said, the Braves would be following in some fiercely competitive footsteps. Though the Wappo were historically peaceful, Gabaldon said, “They never lost a war.”