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JPS Board Of Education Discusses ‘Red Raider’ Issue

The Jamestown Public Schools Board of Education discussed the formation of a committee to review the district’s current mascot — the ‘Red Raider’ — during a special meeting held on Tuesday night via teleconference.

Dr. Kevin Whitaker, the district’s superintendent, thanked athletic director, Ben Drake, for reconvening a committee that had been formed in 2017 to discuss the mascot.

“He was communicative and helpful as far as getting folks in the right direction in terms of collaboration,” Whitaker said. “We’ve got a series of steps, a series of next steps to move forward. He has a really good handle on this process.”

Whitaker did note that he has reached out to the Seneca Nation, whose president, Rickey L. Armstrong Sr. voiced his support for a movement to change the nickname and mascot that began last month, in a June 19 edition of The Post-Journal.

“I’m hoping that we would get some representation,” Whitaker said. “I’m willing to give them as much time as they need to, as much space as they need and whatever capacity they wish to communicate, we’ll accept. I do hope we’ll get some feedback from them.”

Drake explained during his comments that the review of the nickname and mascot is not new.

“The process has been happening for years now,” he said. “Right around 2014 or so is when we started to phase out the ‘Red Raider’ Indian. At that point, that’s when we stopped putting it on uniforms or anything else really that we were ordering … (In 2017,) it was still around a little bit, mostly because it was at sporting good stores, so we reached out to local vendors and asked them to stop putting the Indian on any gear that they put out on their shelves.”

“That was also the year where we took the ‘Red Raider’ Indian off of the football helmets. That was our most public display of the old Indian and that was 2017 when we took that off the helmets.”

He added, “The committee felt strongly in the nickname ‘Red Raiders.’ We wanted to keep that and that the official logo would become the ‘J’ with the feathers logo and that was something that we had talked quite a bit about. It was pretty unanimous at the time that everyone felt pretty strongly that the ‘J’ with the feather was not offensive and racist in any way and were comfortable moving forward with that.”

A new mascot was discussed, but Drake said no consensus was made on one.

“We felt at the time that we should move on without a mascot, that we could brand the ‘J’ with the feathers and we didn’t need at the time to come up with a new mascot,” he said. “We tabled that to come back to it at a later time.”

Images of different Native American portrayals do exist within the high school building — notably a large mural in the McElrath Gymnasium as well as a sign for the high school’s wrestling team in the ‘Old Gym’ — but Drake explained that, “At no point were we told that the Indian was banned, that it was something that we completely needed to rid ourselves of.”

“I just want it to be clear: it wasn’t a case where we didn’t finish the job or we looked the other way,” he said. “At that point, we didn’t say that we were going to replace those things. We certainly can if that’s the direction we want to go in. It is. But at that point, we didn’t say that from here on out we were going to replace those things, that we weren’t going to put that on anything.”

Drake also noted that his research turned up another important fact — while the nickname has been “Red Raiders” for approximately a century, old yearbooks have shown that no Native American imagery was used until the 1960s. Rather, a jaguar or big cat appeared to be the district’s mascot in the late 1940s with the same name.

“We have a picture from the yearbook in 1947 where that image shows up in a mural in the ‘Old Gym’ and we have a picture from the 1948 track team, taken outside behind the school and they have the Jamestown Red Raider track team with a panther on their chest,” Drake said. “We’re not sure exactly the year that it moved from a panther to an Indian, but we think sometime in the 1960s they started using Native American imagery.”

Added board vice president, Patrick Slagle, “I think it’s important the discussion that we can show that the name ‘Red Raiders’ wasn’t associated with any Native American imagery, that there was a panther and it was a name that existed for a long time before that. Unfortunately, you see some things out in the media that assume that the term ‘Red Raiders’ is a racial slur or some sort. I do think it’s wonderful that Dr. Whitaker and Mr. Drake have put together a committee with different voices for everyone to sit down at the table and put everything out to move forward as a community and adopt a new logo and mascot.”

Drake, in response to Slagle’s comment, said, “When we discussed that in prior years, too. It certainly helps our cause, if you want to make an argument to keep our ‘Red Raiders’ that if we never had any other imagery besides a Native American, that could be a more of an argument to make. But the fact that the original ‘Red Raider’ had nothing to do with a Native American, I think, is important for people to know. At this point, most people aren’t aware of that.”

Whitaker explained that there should be three phases to the process.

“First, we have to look at the imagery and do an audit of the buildings and grounds, see what we have out there,” he said. “The second task, once that’s accomplished and decisions are made around that, is looking at music chants, fan behavior, those sorts of references and Native American culture, working on education with students around how it’s important to begin to put an end to that. The third phase is moving into the name issue and the name question. All of that leads into the mascot discussion and what it could be, what might it be and what’s most appropriate.”

District clerk Jaunita Walter also read a comment submitted by Bemus Point resident Steve Hayes.

“The district was advised nearly 20 years ago to address the matter and chose to make a partial change, likely to appease a majority of vocal and non-native audience,” wrote Hayes, who attached a proposed resolution for the district to use modeled after Colgate University’s decision to change from the “Red Raiders” to the “Raiders.”

“Please be an example to your students that while a majority of non-Native population sees no harm in referring to a team with racial-color attributes, addressing that issue means making an unpopular decision,” he added.

Whitaker and school board president, Paul Abbott, in response to the letter, clarified the steps ahead.

“It’s a committee recommendation, this is not heavy-handed, ‘We’re going to change this next week’ kind of thing,” said Whitaker. “This is listening to communities’ voices and trying to make the best decision we can make given the circumstances that we have and the opinions that our community has.”

“We’ve already been heading in this direction … I don’t think we need to talk about the conclusion of things while we’re still amidst the discussion, while we’re still listening to people in the community and soliciting input from people,” said Abbott, who explained that finances will also play a role.

“Unfortunately, these things don’t happen in a vacuum,” he said. “Money is involved and we can’t just buy all new uniforms and change everything overnight and especially considering the times we’re in now, I think it is fortunate that we were in front of this five or six years ago and we’ve walked this path already.”

He added, “We are in a great position to finish this conversation. As we’re being pressed to action, I would remind everyone that it is more important that we do the right thing than the quick thing, but also that a good deal of what is being demanded of us is already done… We are listening and we are moving forward and I think those are the two most important things we can do and tell people we are going to do.”

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