The Bellefonte Area School District has decided to retire the Red Raiders mascot imagery after months of debate and extensive research by the school district. Next up is a meeting to discuss and vote on the continued use of the Red Raiders nickname to represent the district.
The Native American imagery and Red Raiders moniker that is used by the district’s sports teams have been hotly debated since last June, when some community members asked for removal, calling it culturally insensitive.
This came as many social justice protests took place around the country during the spring and summer of 2020.
Before addressing the matter, school board members worked to educate themselves on the history of the Red Raiders in the district, listening to speakers on Native American history and cultural appropriation, among other relevant topics.
On Tuesday, the board heard from 28 community members, ranging from current students, to alumni and longtime residents, to people new to the town.
Twenty-four of those speakers were in favor of the change, while four wanted the Red Raiders to be left alone.
Taking in everything it heard that night and over the past nine months, the board voted 8-1 in favor of the change, with board member Jeff Steiner voting against the motion.
At issue was the exact language of the motion, which moved “that all current Native American images seen throughout the district be officially retired. The existing images would be removed within one year unless items containing an image need to be replaced or require maintenance prior to that, in which case, removal would be included at that time.”
Board President Jon Guizar said he did not want to be locked in against potentially being able to use a Native American symbol in the future with the support of a tribe. The board agreed the language of the motion referred only to existing images.
The board also discussed the one-year time stipulation to remove and replace certain images, given the potentially costly nature of some replacements. The board agreed it would be able to give approval to extend past the year deadline on a case-by-case basis.
Before discussing the matter, solicitor Scott Etter explained that the matter could not be voted on by a referendum on the upcoming ballot, as some community members had asked, and that it was a matter for the school board to decide.
“Statutorily, that is not something that can be on the ballot,” Etter said.
“There are certain things that can be on the ballot and this is not one of them.”
The first community member who spoke to the board was Andrew Van Buskirk, who was one of the alumni who brought the issue to the board’s attention.
“It was never my intention to take a proverbial grenade and detonate it in our community. I know this year has been uncomfortable in our town, with the pandemic and this great racial awakening in our country … but I do not regret the conversations about this issue that I have had, and I would have them again in a heartbeat,” said Van Buskirk.
Over the past nine months, a large number of residents in the community showed support of the Red Raiders name with yard signs. During the meeting, alumna Brenda Reichert told the board the Red Raiders imagery was a sign of respect toward Native Americans and a matter of pride for the community, asking them to keep the imagery as is.
James Pringle told the board that he felt there were more important matters for the board to focus on than a sports logo.
“My gosh, there are much bigger fish to fry,” said Pringle, citing upcoming graduation plans and the time lost in school due to the pandemic as areas he thinks the board should focus on.
He said there is a lot of emotion involved on both sides of the issue and suggested the board wait until after the primary election to “see where the votes go, and we will figure out where to go then.”
In explaining his support of the measure after being initially opposed to it, Guizar said that Native American speakers the board had heard from on both sides of the issue agreed the mascot image of a Native American in full headdress was not a culturally appropriate image.
“Even people on that side have been opposed to what we have, which is why I will support getting rid of the current image,” said Guizar.
Board member Max Kroell said it was a difficult decision, but he wanted the district to move forward.
“I don’t see any benefit in keeping the imagery and that was a tough decision to come to because you had people on both sides and you don’t know what to do. So, I am going to vote affirmative on this motion. If we don’t vote in favor, this will continue and just keep hurting students. We need to put the issue to rest and focus again on what is best for our students,” said Kroell.
Board member Rodney Musser said he would like the education that the board has received about the issue to become part of district-wide education.
This is not the first time the Bellefonte Area School District has discussed the Red Raiders mascot. According to the school website on the history of the Red Raiders, the name was given to the school by a local sports writer in 1930.
According to LaBelle yearbook staff, the name Red Raiders was first known to appear in a school document in 1936, when Bellefonte High School sophomore Bob Hoffer wrote an article about the football season.
In 2015, the chief logo was moved to be the secondary symbol of the school; a red and white letter “B” became the primary logo.
Next up for the district is a discussion and vote about the Red Raiders name, and whether it remains the same or gets changed or modified. That meeting is scheduled for April 27.
This story appears in the April 15-21 edition of The Centre County Gazette.