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Ashlannd High students Joseph Yaconelli, Sarah Bestor and Tejas Leier-Hayden were presented their royalty court sashes during an assembly. Larry Stauth photo

Ashland High drops homecoming king and queen

Brielle Preskenis was too busy to take a step back and consider the full ramifications of the move that, as Ashland High School co-student body president, she helped spearhead.

It wasn't until a week later, as she sat in her bedroom writing dialogue for an informational video that would appear on the school’s website, that it hit her.

“And I was sincerely like, ‘Whoa, this is actually happening,’” she said. “This is a big deal.”

It is, and it is.

Bucking a tradition that goes back to the 1950s, Ashland High will not crown a homecoming king and queen this year. Instead, the three seniors out of the 12-member senior court who receive the most votes by their peers will be honored as “Grizzly Royalty." Those three may be all boys, all girls or any combination of the two.

The ceremony will still be held at halftime of the football game — Ashland and Ridgeview kick-off at 7 p.m. today at Walter A. Phillips Field — but the sashes will be labeled “Grizzly Court” and “Grizzly Royalty” instead of king, queen, prince or princess.

The move away from the traditional king and queen designation was made in an effort to avoid exclusion and to focus more on students' actions than on their popularity.

"It used to be that anyone who was gender neutral or transgender was kind of left in this limbo … and they couldn't identify,” Preskenis said. “So now it’s open to everyone. Our ultimate goal is more inclusion, but it’s also to change the discussion from being about gender to also being about making a positive impact on Ashland High School.”

Preskenis and fellow student body co-president Jackson Richmond — both 17-year-old seniors — came up with the idea together then floated it to the school’s leadership council, a 32-student group which includes representatives from each class and is overseen by art teacher Sam Scharf.  Richmond said the response was a unanimous yes.

“People were like, ‘This seems like a good idea and we’ll probably get some dissent from surrounding people, but I think that it’s for the better,’” he said.

Preskenis and Richmond then told Ashland High principal Michelle Zundel, who approved. Then came the business of informing the student body, which they did in part through a video, which is available at the school newspaper’s website, theroguenews.com.

In the video, titled “This is the Start of Something New”, Preskenis and Richmond, taking turns speaking, begin by saying: “Guess what? It’s 2014 and the world is constantly changing and improving. Therefore, it seems only right that as a high school, student body and progressive community that we move forward. For this reason, it is time to improve our previous traditions so that they fit who we want to be as a school.”

Near the end of the 3 minute, 16-second video, Richmond attempts to head off the anticipated backlash.

“Our ultimate goal is not to cause controversy or strife,” he says, “but instead to promote equality and acceptance in our school and community and give more depth to a long-standing tradition.”

The video also includes a few students speaking in support of the changes. Richmond said that most of the students he approached while making the video had only positive things to say about the new homecoming. Critics, too, are coming out of the woodwork, at least through Twitter and Facebook. Both Preskenis and Richmond say nobody has complained to them in person.

“People have been very supportive of the change, saying that it’s definitely something that needs to happen,” Richmond said. “And there has been negative feedback, as there will be, because not everyone’s going to be happy with the decision that we've made, and most of it has been on social media.”

Zundel didn’t sound too concerned about potential controversy surrounding the move prior to homecoming week. Ultimately, she said, the change is a positive one.

“One of the things that has been in the deliberations was trying to figure out if this decision was going to hurt anyone,” she said. “Who would be the injured party if we made a change? And we really couldn’t come up with anyone.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.

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