Uniform donation rejected
Saranac Lake school superintendent says red and white uniforms can't have yellow, too
SARANAC LAKE — Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Diane Fox has turned down an alumnus’ donation of new uniforms for the varsity baseball team, saying they do not meet color specifications.
The donated uniforms have some yellow in addition to the school colors of red and white. Specifications require uniforms to be red and white, with allowance for some blacks and grays, Fox said.
“We really appreciate the donation, but at this time the uniforms do not meet our specifications and it’s important for us to maintain those colors as it represents our identity as the Red Storm,” Fox said.
Fox said the specifications were set in place when the district changed its team names from the Redskins to the Red Storm in early 2001. The board of education passed a resolution, No. 14-2001, in February of that year retiring the mascot and name, requesting the district community to develop replacements and retaining the school colors of red and white.
She said since the name change, the district has not purchased any new uniforms that include yellow coloration.
“Wearing a throwback jersey acknowledging our Redskin past does not support the district’s effort to be an innovative, forward-thinking entity, demonstrating respect for the rights of others,” Fox said. “We made the right decision to honor those who played under this nickname, but to leave this relic of a nickname in the past. We don’t want to revisit this controversy. Declining the donation is an opportunity to reconfirm our commitment to move forward.”
Neil Fortier, is a 1996 Saranac Lake High School graduate and former three-sport athlete who currently works as senior director for corporate partnerships for the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team. He tried to make an anonymous donation to the SLHS baseball team of both home, away and alternative jerseys as well as hats and pants which he says is worth approximately $15,000 on the retail market. He said he paid a lower wholesale price, which he did not specify.
Fortier assisted in designing and manufacturing the jerseys, which include a red jersey with white text and yellow-outlined numbers, a white jersey with red text and numbers in a yellow outline, and an alternative black jersey with yellow text and red numbers. The hats are red with white and yellow “Red Storm” lettering and a silhouette of the Harrietstown Hall clock tower.
“Obviously I went to school in Saranac Lake and I have a strong affinity to that area,” Fortier said. “It made me who I am. I concentrated on my career for a long period of time, and I finally got to a point in my life where I felt like it’d be nice to be able to give back, whether it’s to areas or to people who have made me who I am.”
As part of his job, he has relationships with sports apparel companies including Majestic and New Era, which produced the uniforms and hats, respectively. He said he hoped to use those contacts to help the Saranac Lake school district, starting with baseball and moving on to other sports.
He said he called Mark Farmer, high school teacher and baseball coach, because he said he wouldn’t be where he was without the district’s athletic program. The Saranac Lake school board approved the donation in December on the condition that the uniforms meet school specifications.
Fortier and Farmer went through several revisions of jerseys before they were made but Fox said Fortier made no contact with district administration through the process.
Fortier didn’t find out until after the uniforms were made that the district rejected the donation.
“We came back with something that was really favorable and something that the kids loved,” he said. “We were really happy with it.”
Fortier said the hats are either on their way or already at the school, the pants have not been manufactured, and the jerseys are being held at Majestic. He said it’s a waste.
“This should have never gotten to this point,” Fortier said. “I’m disappointed, I guess, because I was hoping what I was doing was going to spur interest from other alumni that want to help out their alma mater or the community. By no means did I want my name attributed.”
“I don’t know why the uniforms that are presented are troublesome to the district,” Farmer said.
“I was told they don’t meet our school uniform specifications and therefore they were rejected,” he said. “First of all, I don’t know where to find the specifications, so I can’t say what meets and doesn’t meet them because I don’t know what those specifications are.”
Farmer was the head football coach during the name change and shortly afterward served as the school’s athletic director. He remembered that in the first years after the name change, the football team wore gold face masks and a gold interlocking “SL” on its helmets. Enterprise photo archives confirm that SLHS football uniforms had yellow as well as red and white up through 2002. Other teams’ uniforms were just red and white at the time, although baseball uniforms sometimes included light gray.
However, the resolution the board passed in 2001 stated that changes to team uniforms resulting from the resolution would be effectuated when and as replacement uniforms were scheduled.
“I’m really confused to what are acceptable color schemes and what are not,” Farmer said. “There is no clear direction on that and there is certainly instances of teams using all kinds of colors, so I’m probably as confused as anyone else to what the problem is with the uniforms.”
Fox, who joined the Saranac Lake School District in 2013, said teams will sometimes wear uniforms of various colors for fundraising and awareness events, such as pink for breast cancer.
She cited Board Policy 6255 Gifts and Grants which states that, “The Board reserves the right to refuse to accept any gift which does not contribute towards the achievement of the district’s goals …” The district’s goals can be found on the homepage of its website and include to “Demonstrate respect for the rights of others.”
The issue will be brought up at the district’s Board of Education meeting tonight, she said.
Farmer said the whole incident has left the baseball team disappointed.
“We’re hopeful that maybe the donation can be reconsidered,” Farmer said. “I know the donation was made out of an extreme kindness in an effort to make a difference. The uniforms now are very old, outdated; they’re worn. I think when you live in a small community and you rely on taxpayers’ money, any opportunity you get for a little relief is always a good opportunity.”
He added that Fortier was an excellent student and athlete, and applauded his generosity.
“When he played for me, he was a young man of outstanding character and a young man that did all the things in school and athletics that you wanted him to do. I am not surprised he is trying to give back to his community. It’s one of those things as coaches we talked about all the time with teams we coached, which is, someday when you have the opportunity, give back, and he has taken this heart.”
Current athletic director and football coach Eric Bennett referred questions to Fox.