As with many small towns, the biggest source of bragging rights in this agrarian outpost in southern Illinois are its high school athletes—the Freeburg Midgets. Though town lore traces the mascot's origin to a local reporter who was impressed by the school's short basketball team beating larger opponents nearly a century ago, the school faces public pressure to drop the nickname—just like some college, pro, and high school teams that still cling to terms once considered acceptable but now viewed as derogatory. "We recognize that it's not intended to have a negative impact," says Little People of America President Gary Arnold. "But with all the history and baggage that comes with the word, it still does."
Arnold and other group leaders delivered a 4,400-signature petition to the school this week asking to phase out the nickname within two years and to stop selling "Midget" merchandise to people from outside the community 25 miles east of St. Louis. The 7,000-member nonprofit, which represents people with dwarfism, held its annual convention in St. Louis this month. The word "midget" is derived from midge, a sand fly, and emerged in the 1800s to describe circus performers, according to a Little People of America flier. Arnold said the group is targeting Freeburg in hopes that a half-dozen other schools in Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin with similar nicknames will also agree to the change.