Rockman v. Rockweiler — who will win?

East Rockaway residents upset over proposed new mascot


Update:  The East Rockaway School District has informed the Herald that it has decided to drop the idea to name the Rockweiler because of negative community feedback.

In April 2014, East Rockaway School District officials received a cease-and-desist letter from Marvel Entertainment because the district’s mascot, the Rockman, was deemed too similar to the Thing from “Fantastic Four.”


The effort to replace the mascot has proven to be a four-year endeavor. Committees were formed. People took sides, and as a result, many disagreed on the direction of that effort.

One resident, Dineen Cilluffo, who went to East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School to watch her son, Stefano, play on the basketball team earlier this month, made a discovery that she found unsettling. At the school, she saw an ad encouraging people to vote to name the school’s proposed new mascot the Rockweiler, an orange and black dog, the school’s colors. Cilluffo was upset, she said, because she had served on a committee comprising parents and students to find a new mascot, and advocated saving the Rockman. “All of us, we’ve been working so hard,” Cilluffo said.  In a statement, district officials told the Herald that there had been no final decision on a mascot, and reporters of The Gull school newspaper only distributed a flier among students of the Rockweiler to gather feedback.

Though it is not on the agenda, parents said they planned to address the issue during public comment at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, after the Herald went to press.


The Rockman stirs debate

The Rockman was an orange, human-like figure made of rocks. According to Cilluffo, about four years ago, a disgruntled father reported the mascot to Marvel, which led to the cease-and-desist letter.

“The district was legally required to cease and desist the dissemination of any designs, likeness and artwork of this image for any school-related matters,” Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said in a statement, “and with respect and understanding of the rules of intellectual property, the district complied.”

Since then, the district has used the words “the Rocks” on all uniforms. In February 2017, former Principal Joseph Spero formed the mascot committee and held meetings to explore its options. When Neil Lederer took over as interim principal in August, he also met with the committee.

Committee members worked with artists and an attorney for Marvel, Seth Lehman, to come up with another idea. The artists sketched a person who was made of rocks, but worked to ensure that it would not look like the Thing. Lehman examined the sketches and determined which ones would be too similar to Marvel’s creation and which ones would be acceptable for the district to use. District officials said they never hired or consulted with Lehman and had no knowledge of him approving the sketches. The Board of Education trustees, however, said they want a gender-neutral mascot that would equally and appropriately represent the school’s girls’ and boys’ teams.

“Maintaining the essence of the Rocks, the Rockweiler was designed by a student as a proposed district mascot and has been presented to Club Rock, Student Council, PTA and other community organizations,” Ruiz said. “While the design is still under development, based on input from the school community, the student body has spearheaded a communitywide vote to name the Rockweiler and will be presenting it to their peers and residents for further feedback.”

In a letter to parents on March 15, Ruiz went on to say that the teams would continue to be known as the Rocks, and no changes would be made to their names or uniforms. She also requested parents monitor what they write on social media because the mascots are being designed by students.


The community reacts

Many parents expressed their disappointment with the new mascot on social media and asked for the Rockman to be reinstated. Others voiced their support.

“As an alumna and having been a Lady Rock, I feel no connection with the proposed Rottweiler mascot,” Shannon Quinn Zawistowski, a 2000 graduate, wrote in a Facebook message to the Herald. “I am behind keeping East Rockaway as the Rocks with no mascot or a new proposed mascot with no connection or similarity to the Marvel character.”

Others wrote on a community group Facebook page that “Rockweiler” is slang for dogs in dog-fighting rings and for dogs that protect crack cocaine dealers. 

Artie Raslich, a 1983 East Rockaway High graduate, posted a poll on the Facebook page, asking group members what they thought about the new mascot. As of press time, 498  people had voted that they did not want the Rockweiler as a mascot, and 23 had voted that they did. “If what they are proposing is not what the community likes or wants, they need to move on to the next mascot idea that the community can get behind and support,” Raslich wrote.

Jennifer Corbett, a 2003 graduate, supported the Rockweiler. “The characteristics of the Rottweiler are fearless, steady and very loyal,” she said. “I believe those are good characteristics to represent the East Rockaway School District. But honestly, I think it’s up to the students to decide what mascot they want to represent them.” Check for updates on this story.

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