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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Of karma, Kevin and maybe a new mascot in Killingly?

    East Lyme — It turns out that “karma,” “Kevin” and “Killingly” do more than just ride the same alliterative boat. And if Irish activist Bobby Sands’ quote is true — “the best revenge will be the laughter of our children” — then Kevin Marcoux’s recent political victory is a beacon for all the kids of Killingly.

    Marcoux, the new athletic director at East Lyme High, spent many years in the same position at Killingly. Marcoux left Killingly last spring after years of sparring with stubborn, dare we say Trumpian, Board of Education members who ignored the wishes of students and residents over issues of mascots and mental health.

    Ah, but Marcoux never left town, choosing to run for one of the vacant Board of Education seats — in direct opposition to the people who helped chase him out — during the recent election. Marcoux didn’t merely win, but so did three other Democrats, giving the Democrats control (5-4) over the new Board.

    “The biggest reason I ran was to make a positive change in Killingly Public Schools,” Marcoux said earlier this week. “I had been there for 21 years and wasn’t completely on the same page with the direction the Board was going. Given the new opportunity working in East Lyme and living in Killingly, I wanted to give back to the community that gave me so much.”

    Killingly had become a state laughingstock, actually sending the football team to the 2021 state championship game without an official school mascot. In previous months, 80 percent of the students at Killingly High, many of whom researched the project thoroughly, voted to get rid of the old mascot, which was deemed offensive and unkind to Native Americans. Many other school systems throughout the state have acted similarly in recent years.

    Marcoux even purchased uniforms for all school teams with the new mascot, which the students decided would be the “Red Hawks.” That’s until the Board rescinded its initial approval during a town meeting that featured adults calling each other "racists" and "liberal communists" in front of the kids.

    The result, aside from statewide embarrassment, has denied the town more than $94,000 in state funding, per the state’s Office of Policy Management, based on a new law withholding funds from towns who continue to use mascots offensive to Native Americans. Killingly schools are out more than $188,000 in the last two years.

    “The mascot issue contributed a piece to why I wanted to leave,” Marcoux said. “But the part that really caught my attention was the mental health issue, or lack thereof, with their actions.”

    The board also voted to turn down a grant-funded mental health center at the high school, again despite the protests of students who outlined their struggles publicly. The residual effect produced legal issues, protests, censure, resignations, a student-led trip to the State Board of Education and even an official inquiry by the state asserting that the Killingly Board “failed to provide appropriate care for the students.”

    The current Board did approve a memorandum of understanding for a mental health provider to work in the schools, but it’s likely the new Board will dive deeper into the details.

    “I worked in school counseling for 16 years at the high school on the forefront working with kids and their mental health,” Marcoux said. “I saw the lack of movement from the Board and that really tipped the scale for me. To me, the role for me as a Board member is to be an advocate for kids.

    “What I observed in my last five years there was disheartening. Killingly was a destination for a long time. Then we’re getting negative press and a number of talented individuals chose to leave. That was sad for me. Running was not something I took lightly. Many conversations with my family and people in town. You can complain as much as you want, but if you’re not willing to do anything about it, then it’s just complaining.”

    Marcoux said he spoke to East Lyme leadership about his desire to serve in Killingly. He called it a “challenge,” but “like anything else, you find a way to make it happen.”

    Meantime, Marcoux and his new colleagues on the Board will start listening to the kids. There’s a chance that by next school year, Killingly will have a mascot the whole town can embrace once again.

    “We are going to take a good long look at it and get some feedback from students and staff,” Marcoux said. “We’ll see which direction they want to go. We’ve lost 94K for the second straight year. Nobody’s excited to see that.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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