By Michelle Miller
---- — The Cooperstown Board of Education, with one “no” vote, has decided to retire the district’s nickname, “Redskins,” effective June 30. However, it has yet to come up with a replacement.
Board President David Borgstrom said a timetable for making a decision has not been set.
“We will continue to review all nicknames,” he said.
The vote came after a recommendation to the board by its Public Relations Committee to retire the nickname as it pertains to interscholastic athletic, extracurricular and academic programs.
Jean Schifano, chairwoman of the committee, said there has been discussion about steering away from the name Hawkeyes because of trademark issues. Students may be called upon to take another survey, she said. It would not be a vote, Schifano clarified.
According to Schifano, the committee also talked about making sure the new nickname would be geographically and historically relevant as well as represent the school in a positive way.
Borgstrom said the goal is to narrow suggested nicknames down to three to five options that would represent the school “appropriately” and have a public forum with students and any interested community members and move forward from that.
“I think we need to take whatever time necessary to prepare for deliberation to make sure any options that would come forward would be appropriate to the best we can consider in both the short term and the long term with any potential ramifications of any human being,” he said.
Superintendent C.J. Hebert said a target date for that forum, to be held at the middle/high school is April 10.
According to school officials, the name “Redskins” dates to the mid-1920s. The district plans to keep its colors of orange and black along its emblem based on “The Indian Hunter,” the statue in Lakefront Park.
The Public Relations Committee collected data to see what the costs of a change would be, according to Schifano. She said: “We wanted to make sure there would be no costs to taxpayers.”
Before eliminating the nickname, the school board passed a resolution honoring the nickname. The resolution asked that the nickname “Redskins” “be seen for its historical context and intend which was to give form and substance to the competitive nature, institutional pride and indomitable spirit that characterizes the student body, past and present.” The resolution passed unanimously— leading some audience members, for a moment, to conclude the school board intended to keep the name. Once the second resolution was read, the intent became clear.
Board member Anthony Scalici, who sat on the board when the issue was brought forth in 2001, voted against the retirement of the name. He said: “In all the debate I have heard, both times around, both for and against, they are all set in opinion, projections, emotions and shades of moral judgment. That is very thorny stuff.
“The only certainty that I have concluded from any of the evidence and all of the evidence is that the Cooperstown people, past, present and the future never gave or would project any meaning other than endearment and pride for the use of Redskins.”
Scalici said his vote is rooted in that certainty. He said his vote was cast to represent the many people who want to hold on to the mascot name, which they believe to be an honorable nickname for the school.
Barbara Tongue, a Cooperstown native whose family name Averill dates back to the 1700s, said she went around various places in the community to get people to sign a petition against a name change. Referring to herself as the “voice of the people,” she argued that people can ascribe any meaning to any word.
Through her experience, the alumna said, she felt more people wanted to keep the nickname than oust it. Tongue said she also ran into quite a few people who did not want to sign the petition in fear of retribution.
Tongue, who argued for “pride,” “community” and “tradition,” said she was disappointed by the board’s decision, but felt her petition of more than 700 signatures was a success, given she had little time and that there is not much community activity in the village in the winter months.
Before the vote, Peg Odell, mother of CCS students, applauded the board.
“Athletes are playing for their school, playing for their team, playing for their family. They are not playing for their mascot,” she said.
Chad Welch, CCS Alumni Association vice president, attended the meeting and spoke. Welch said he has been participating in several meetings held by Schifano’s committee during the past month because the association’s president, Ryan Miosek, has been away on business a lot. He said the association has not been supporting one side or the other, but served as a gateway of information, mostly through its Facebook page.
“It has been a delicate balance trying to manage the sharing of opinions without taking sides,” he said. “It is very clear that there are people on both sides of the issue. There are people who honor and respect the name for what it is and not what it could imply and there are people who think there are reasons it should change.”
According to school officials, the process began when students discussed their concerns with the nickname with administration and board members.
Officials then began the process of reviewing the potentially negative message associated with the term. The topic was publicly broached at the Jan. 16 board of education meeting.
Following that meeting Cooperstown Student Council members were asked to assist with gathering suggestions and feedback for potential alternatives to the nickname. Students in grades seven through 12 were given the opportunity to weigh in.
The five names that received the most student votes were Coyotes, Deerslayers, Hawkeyes, Pathfinders and Wolves.
Hebert has said more than one individual has brought up using the nickname Husky, which was the former Hartwick school mascot.