Cross erased, boys rewarded, atheists ecstatic

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Michael F. Haverluck (

The Freedom From Religion Foundation celebrated its victory in removing all things religious from the football uniforms of a combined Catholic / public school team.

football helmet controversyMaking as little sense to many as removing the "G" from the Green Bay Packers' helmets, a Wisconsin co-op football team composed of the private Catholic Messmer High School and the public Shorewood High School was forced to remove its new team logo last fall. The logo affixed to the team's helmets (right) mixed the images of both schools -- the Shorewood greyhound and Messmer's bishop's hat with a cross.

As a sophomore student, Sam Pagenkopf designed the new logo, which was approved along with about 20 other logo proofs by both schools' administrations. More than a decade after the Messmer/Shorewood high school football team formed in 2000, a graphic arts class project formed to create a shared logo for the team.

And the reason for scrapping the student's logo that was already affixed to the helmets?

Essak brothers

It "offended" a mother and her two boys who attend Shorewood.

The result?

A $1,000 reward given to both Mayan and Balen Essak (top left) for their role in getting rid of the cross -- and a generic logo replacement having nothing to do with either school, simply reading "2012 PLAYOFFFS" (bottom left).

Ecstatic over the off-the-field victory, the Freedom From Religion Foundation applauded the eradication of the cross from the logo, claiming that its placement on the uniforms constituted the team's endorsement of a religion and thus violated the so-called "separation of church and state."

Leaving a cross offensive ... removing it isn't?

The local newspaper, the Journal Sentinel, implied that by affixing the new logo -- which doesn't symbolize anything about either school's name or mascot -- and by eradicating the cross from the uniform, the team is no longer violating the U.S. Constitution or offending students, faculty or community members.

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"Sure to offend nobody, the new logo clearly separates church and state and served as an opportunity for officials from Messmer and Shorewood to talk … about the respect both school communities have for each other," the paper reported.

The local media outlet also expressed that the head of the Catholic school was not happy with the decision to remove any vestige of his school's Christian heritage, but that there was virtually nothing he could do about it (to symbolize the school's faith).

"Brother Bob Smith, president of Messmer Catholic Schools, said that while he'd like some image representative of his school's faith on the helmet, he understood there may not be a way to do that," the Sentinel announced.

But according to Superintendent Marty Lexmond, the thought of the logo being seen as an endorsement of religion or as an expression of faith never even crossed the mind of either school.

"[The notion that the logo contained religious symbolism] did not occur to any of the involved parties as possibly problematic, given the longstanding relationship with Messmer," Lexmond told the Shorewood School Board.

After the board discussed the fate of the logo, they voted unanimously during an October 2012 meeting that it had to be removed within a week.

Board member Michael Mishlove reasoned that the mere fact that a cross has anything to do with Christianity warranted its immediate removal from school property, as he sees such images on school-issued materials as unconstitutional.

"It's clearly a Christian cross," Mishlove told "I think it's inappropriate to have on a uniform or any sort of school-authorized clothing, as I think it could be viewed as an endorsement."

The taxpayer cost of replacing the already attached logos to 72 helmets? Matt Joynt, the principal of Shorewood High School had no idea.

And how offensive was the scrapped mixed emblem to the football players? A number of them who were asked were reported to be indifferent about the entire controversy, noting that they had no problem with the bishop hat and greyhound design and that they were also fine with the rash and meaningless replacement logo, as well.

"Sure, we lost a little bit of our personality [because of the new design]," Messmer/Shorewood student football player Alec Grimmer commented. "But it's about this season now."

According to Drake Zortman, the team's football coach, school officials are planning to get students from both high schools to assist in designing a new permanent football helmet logo for this upcoming football season.

He made a statement implying that everyone's beliefs and points of view are welcome on the football field -- as long as they have nothing to do with religion.

"We are certainly sensitive to all diverse points of view," Zortman expressed. "We are one unit, always striving toward one goal."

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