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February 14, 2013

‘Redskins’ still in the running?

Timetable, options not set on CCS nickname

By Greg Klein and Michelle Miller, The Cooperstown Crier
Cooperstown Crier

---- — The Cooperstown school board has decided to consider input from alumni and community members before deciding whether to change the school’s nickname.

This is a departure from a previous plan to select a name from three finalist in a student vote.

Board President David Borgstrom said his immediate concern is to make sure that the board members had a chance to reflect on the large amount of public response about the issue at a Feb. 6 meeting, and to make sure all parties felt like their opinions have been heard. Superintendent C.J. Hebert said the district has received a number of emails regarding the nickname since the meeting.

“The thing we heard, loud and clear, was that we need to listen to everyone,” Borgstrom said.

More than 100 people, including students and alumni, attended the meeting. Impassioned speeches were made on both sides of the issue, and the public comment section of the meeting lasted nearly two hours.

Five names that received the most student votes were Coyotes, Deerslayers, Hawkeyes, Pathfinders and Wolves.

According to Borgstrom, there is no timetable for making a decision, and the possibility of keeping the Redskins name is not completely off the table.  

“I am not sure I can say what we are going to do and when we are going to do it,” Borgstrom said. “We don’t have another board meeting scheduled until next month. The board will be making a decision at some point. We are not going to leave the issue hanging around.”

Hebert said Tuesday that members of the board’s public relations committee plan to meet with representatives of the alumni association on Friday. 

“There were some alumni association members who made some presentations at the board meeting,” he said. “The board has decided they would like to include them in the conversation.”

Borgstrom said the list of potential replacement names presented to the board from the CCS students was increased from three to five to make sure that enough options were considered.

“It was done to leave us some room, in case some of the options were not appropriate,” he said. “If we change the name, we certainly don’t want to have to ever change it again.”

CCS students took a survey on Feb. 4, selecting their top three choices from a list of 10 names. The name Redskins was not on the ballot despite a previous announcement that it would be there. There was a space for a write-in name, and Redskins did get a number of write-in votes, according to school officials.

Borgstrom also said that the list was not a final list of names the board may consider.

“I don’t know if that was the end of the process,” he said. “We are meeting with the alumni association. If they have a name they want us to consider, we are open to it,” he said.

Hebert said additional suggestions for consideration have been made by people in the community since the meeting. For example, he said more than one individual brought up using the nickname Husky, which was the former Hartwick school mascot.

Borgstrom did not say that the Redskins name is certainly going to change. However, he said he had noticed that the issue was also being discussed on a national level, in regard to the National Football League team, the Washington Redskins, and other sports teams.

“The thing I want to highlight is that the name Redskins came up the other day at the symposium for Native American museum studies,” he said. “They are pretty clear about their position. The (professional) football team is under attack more than ever.”

Ryan Miosek, a 1997 CCS graduate and president of the Cooperstown Alumni Association, said that his group’s primary concern is not the name change itself, but the process in which the board appeared to be making a decision without consulting the alumni or the greater community.

“I want to make it clear that the alumni association does not take sides on this issue, and is not voicing support or opposition on one side or the other,” he said. “Our problem was with the process. The fact that the alumni association had not been consulted or the board had not taken the time to get us involved and add our voices to the discussion bothered us.”

“It felt like they had mandated that the name was going to change,” he added.

Since the initial news broke, however, Miosek said he has received some outreach from the board.

Miosek said he and association vice president, Chad Welsh, have been moderating the comments on the group’s Facebook page, and wanted to make sure that the community is well represented in the national press.

“You are going to have people react and voice their opinion,” he said. “That is Cooperstown. I think you are going to have a lot of well-thought-out reaction and opinions on both sides of the issue.

“I don’t want people to get a bad idea about Cooperstown,” he continued. “People around the country, and even internationally, should know that we are having a reasonable discussion about this issue. I hope the people in Cooperstown are seen as being leaders on this issue.”

Miosek also had praise for the students on both sides.

“I think it is great that the students brought this up. It is a testament to our students. I commend them for standing up and saying ‘this is wrong,”’ he said.

At the same time, there are students who feel the other way, he continued.  

“For instance students have started the Facebook page ‘Once a Redskin, Always a Redskin.’ I think that is great too, that they are speaking out,” he said.

“We think a well-reasoned discussion is good,” Miosek said, “but we should not let this issue turn us against one another, whether it be students, alumni, faculty or members of the community.”

In addition to the Facebook page in favor of keeping the name, there is also one in favor of changing it called “Cooperstown Mascot for All.” Both pages have more than 100 “likes.”

Colin Wilcox, a CCS student, posted on Facebook: “I support our current mascot ‘the Redskins.’ When I think Redskins, I think respect, bravery and courage rather than anything derogatory. Also I think Redskins symbolizes the greatness and strength of a grand people.”

Another CCS student, Aidan Macaluso, posted an opposing view: “The way I figure it, if it offends anyone, might as well be changed. It’s not that people ‘just started’ getting offended by it, people have tried to change it in the past. It’s just that we’re finally starting to make progress. I think this movement is inspiring and I am completely for the change.”

Borgstrom said he has not seen the Facebook pages. 

“I am not on Facebook,” he said. “That probably makes my life a whole lot easier.”  

The district has posted text of a speech prepared by Native American author Doug George-Kanentiio on its website, cooperstowncs.org. George-Kanentiio was unable to attend the meeting but the message was read by Rebecca Burke-Sciallo. Other links to national coverage are also posted on the same link called “Mascot Nickname Public Comment” in the news section on the website’s homepage. 

During the meeting, board member Teresa Russo said she wanted to make a clarification. She said, “The students brought it to the board. That’s how it came up. Several students brought it up to the superintendent and to the board president, not the other way around.”

This is not the first time the school has considered a change.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills sent a letter to school boards in April 2001, asking them to change Indian-related mascots and logos as soon as possible.

An 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. 

During a student assembly address made on Jan. 24 by Borgstrom, he said that although the issue was discussed years ago without any action taken, he thinks culture has evolved and changed, and so must CCS.

“We cannot continue on a path of recognizing the importance of diversity education, and cultural sensitivity and continue to be called the Redskins,” he said.

A link to the full address can be found at the district’s website.