Freeburg, IL. (AP) – Athletes at a southern Illinois high school will keep the nickname Freeburg Midgets, despite the objections of a group representing people with dwarfism who find the name offensive.
About 500 people gathered at the Freeburg Community High School late Thursday to urge the school board not to dump the name that was coined nearly 100 years ago by a reporter after he watched the school’s short basketball team beat much larger opponents.
On July 8, the Little People of America delivered a petition to Superintendent Andrew Lehman, asking Freeburg and half a dozen other schools nationwide to drop the Midgets moniker.
Rodger Jennings Jr., whose son has dwarfism, attended the meeting. He said it’s his job as a parent to protect his child.
“I hear a lot of people talk about (the cost of changing the nickname),” Jennings said. “Schools have been made as a public organization. They’re supposed to protect our children, they’re not supposed to offend anybody, they’re supposed to be bully-free.”
Megan Sabourin, a St. Louis woman with dwarfism who grew up near Freeburg, told people at the meeting how offensive the name is to her.
“I’m hurt at the fact that they don’t see it as something negative. I’m hurt by the fact that we were in this community and we heard derogatory, disrespectful terms at the microphone,” Sabourin said.
Supporters of the nickname said they mean no harm and that the name is a source pride and tradition for the small town.
“We’re not here to make fun of small people,” said Mary McGraw, a resident who wore a t-shirt that read ‘Don’t Mess with the Midget’. “I would have never realized how important it was to so many people until just now when you see all these people. When someone messes with something like tradition, you decide something’s worth fighting for instead of letting it go.”