By Michelle Miller
---- — Cooperstown Central School may no longer be nicknamed the Redskins because school officials are looking into the process of changing its moniker.
According to Superintendent C.J. Hebert, several students have come forward to relate specific conversations with people unfamiliar with the school, when the issue of the school mascot nickname came up. He said the students said they felt uncomfortable and embarrassed about the issue.
Hebert added that the district has made significant efforts to recognize cultural changes and diversity.
“The name really does not coincide with our initiatives and all the work we have been doing with anti-bullying and Dignity for All Students, faculty development and programs such as ‘Habitudes,’” Hebert said. “It is kind of hard to have them side-by-side.”
According to notes discussed by Board of Education President David Borgstrom at the district’s last board of education meeting, he feels a change has been long needed.
“It has troubled me for some time that we recognize the importance of this education, make a commitment to it, and espouse a need for cultural sensitivity, while supporting a school nickname that is the antithesis of this philosophy. What would be the board of education’s response if ever asked to justify our commitment to cultural sensitivity education and the nickname ‘Redskins?’” he said.
This is not the first time the school has considered a change.
In April 2001 State Education Commissioner Richard Mills sent a letter to school boards asking them to change Indian-related mascots and logos as soon as possible.
“I have concluded that the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic standards for all students,” he wrote in a four-page decision.
The commissioner called upon school officials to notify their communities of the issue and to lead in “a discussion of the right path to take.”
A Redskins ad hoc committee was formed by the Cooperstown Board of Education in response to the letter. A public meeting was held to gather public opinion about the continued use of the Redskins image, nickname and mascot. Roughly 30 people turned out for the hearing, and only about 10 spoke, according to Crier reports.
Identifying himself as a “proud native son,” Paul Clark advocated for keeping the mascot. He said he had talked to “many Native Americans who say it’s an honor.”
In January 2002, the Crier reported that CCS was the only district left in the state still employing Redskins as its mascot, according to a list compiled by the state education department.
Borgstrom said although the issue has been addressed some years ago without any action taken, he feels culture evolves and changes and so must CCS.
“I am convinced the time has come to make a change” he said. “We cannot continue on a path of recognizing the importance of diversity education, and cultural sensitivity and continue to be called the Redskins.”
“This issue is a Board of education responsibility. We cannot turn our backs on this topic,” he continued.
Hebert said he does not feel that there are any problems concerning the district’s colors or logo, which features a silhouette of the famous “Indian Hunter” statue by John Quincy Adams Ward in Lake Front Park in Cooperstown.
He said school officials met with student council representatives after the school board meeting to seek assistance going forward with the possible name change.
“We feel it is important to include student leaders if we are going to consider a change of this magnitude,” he said.
More details will be discussed at the district’s next board meeting scheduled for Feb. 6.