By Greg Klein
---- — Cooperstown Central School is not the only district in the state using the nickname Redskins.
In January 2002, the Crier reported 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. However, there are at least three other schools in New York with the nickname Redskins. Oriskany Central School, Lancaster Central School and Canisteo-Greenwood Central School all use the nickname.
According to officials at each school, none of the three is planning to change its names.
In Oriskany, 50 miles northwest of Cooperstown, Superintendent of Schools Gregory Kelahan said he does not think a name change would be popular in his community.
“I can tell you that there is absolutely no movement afoot to change the nickname,” Kelahan said. “We view it as a traditional moniker, rather than a culturally offensive reference.”
“I will tell you that Oriskany is a very proud town and a very tradition oriented community,” he continued. “We have a long tradition here of valuing everybody in our community.”
Kelahan said the people in the town have been talking about the potential name change in Cooperstown. A high school class wrote essays about the issues.
“I have those essays on my desk now,” he said. “I have been reading them, and I am very pleased with the thoughtfulness of our students. It was a very enterprising assignment from our social studies teacher.”
Kelahan, who has been the superintendent at OCS for four years, said he understands that some people are offended by the nickname.
“We do not consider the name to be derogatory,” he said. “We feel like the word lost that meaning over the years, and to us, it represents our heritage. It is a historical representation of the Battle of Oriskany.”
The Battle of Oriskany took place on Aug. 6, 1777. Colonists loyal to the British and their allies in the Iroquois Confederacy fought Gen. Nicholas Herkimer’s army and members of the Oneidas. Herkimer was mortally wounded, and his army lost nearly half of its soldiers, in what was considered one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Although the loyalists won the battle, historians consider it a turning point for the Americans who gained an important ally in the Oneidas, and spurred a civil war among the Confederacy. Although the Oneidas and Tuscaroras sided with the Americans and the other four nations with the British, the split is considered analogous to the American Civil War in which family members differed in their views and often took different sides.
The same thing occurred with the settlers. Herkimer’s own brother, Han Yost, sided with the British and led an Indian brigade against his brother’s army in Oriskany.
In a similar way, Kelahan acknowledged that there are different opinions on the Redskin nickname.
“We understand that we do not have the same cultural background as other people, and we understand that other people may have a different perspective,” he said. “I can’t really tell you where it will go in the future, but it has never come up with us, and it has never been a point of contention here.”
In Lancaster, east of Buffalo, the history is different but the attitude isn’t.
According to Sandra Janik, secretary to Superintendent Edward Myszka, there are very few complaints or concerns about the nickname.
“We probably get a complaint about once a year, but nothing ever happens with it,” she said.
School officials in Canisteo-Greenwood, west of Horseheads, near the Pennsylvania state line, also indicated that they have not had any movement to change the school’s nickname.
According to a search of MaxPreps, a website that posts high school sports schedules and results, there are at least 70 schools nationwide that still use Redskins as a mascot.
The issue has come up in other states with mixed results.
In Tulsa, at Union High School, a local push from Oklahoma Indian groups to change the school from Union Redskins began in 1999 and came to a vote by the school board in 2003. According to the Tulsa World, in November 2003, the board voted unanimously to keep the nickname.
The school continues to use the Redskin nickname and touts it on its website: “Say the word Redskin and you picture a group pulling together to create an everlasting bond. This group comes from all directions in the academic, athletic, extracurricular activity, and scholastic disciplines. Say the word Redskin and you picture a never-say-die warrior who was the first in all our history; a brave and sturdy chief who looks after what he has and is eager to take on and conquer what is in the future.”
Frontier Regional School in Deerfield, Mass. and Mountain Empire School in Pine Valley, Calif. are two schools that have given up Redskins as a nickname. In Deerfield, the change was fought bitterly. In Pine Valley, it has been less controversial.
In 1997, by a 5-4 vote, the Frontier school board voted to change the name to Redhawks, according to an article by The Associated Press. The issue continued to be fought for nearly two years after the initial vote. Angry residents sued to stop the change, but the lawsuit was dropped. Eventually, chairman of the schools Committee Karl Koenigsbauer resigned from the board, citing fatigue from the nickname battle.
Mountain Empire, in southern California, changed its nickname to Redhawks in 1998.
Seven years later, in a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, then-Principal Jan Hagin said the change has been a good one.
“Given the context of the time, the time had come to consider it,” said Hagin, who was not principal during the change. “My understanding was this was an attempt by the school to be proactive rather than reacting to pressure.
“It is really now accepted,” Hagin said. “Traditions can be reborn, and you can definitely see that here.”