Mechanicville to revisit Red Raiders mascot, symbols

Broader reckoning of Native American-themed mascots could be in store for state’s school districts
Mechanicville Superintendent Bruce Potter in January and two Mechanicville football players (inset)
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Mechanicville Superintendent Bruce Potter in January and two Mechanicville football players (inset)

Categories: News, Saratoga County

Mechanicville City School District officials are in the beginning stages of reconsidering the district’s “Red Raiders” mascot and Native American-themed imagery, Superintendent Bruce Potter said Thursday.

Potter said some teachers in recent weeks questioned the mascot and symbols used on uniforms.

While the discussions are in an early phase – Potter has yet to raise the matter with the school board or broader community – Potter said it may be possible to keep the name but eliminate symbols and imagery that explicitly tie the name to Native Americans. The high school’s football helmets, for example, consists of “Raiders” emblazoned across a tomahawk.

“It’s one of those things I would want to have a broader conversation with community members and have the board weigh in,” Potter said. “It brings up a lot of relevant discussion points that are really prevalent today … The conversation is only going to continue, we aren’t going to shy away from anything.”

Mechanicville may not be the only area school district soon reconsidering their mascot names and symbols as the use of Native American imagery — some of it derogatory — has gained more attention nationwide. The Washington Redskins recently promised to drop Native American imagery from its apparel as it started a review of its long-contentious name, and the Cleveland Indians are also rethinking their name. 

Scores of high schools use mascot names like the “Indians,” “Braves” or “Warriors,” often accompanied by Native American imagery. From the Niskayuna Silver Warriors to the Schoharie Indians to the Fonda-Fultonville Braves, Native American-themed mascots and symbols still grace the uniforms of many Capital Region student athletes.

State Sen. Peter Harckham, a Democrat representing parts of the Hudson Valley, on Thursday put all school districts with Native American-themed mascots and imagery on notice with a new bill proposing to withhold state funding from any schools using mascots “derived from a specific race or ethnicity.”

“Any school district within the state that has adopted a race-based mascot and where such mascot is used to represent such school district publicly or privately, shall be excluded” from any state funding, according to the legislative proposal.

The law would take effect three years after passed into law, giving school districts plenty of time to phase out old mascots and come up with new ones. It’s not clear where the legislation would ultimately draw the line on school mascots. Many districts, like Niskayuna, over the years have removed various Native American symbols and imagery on uniforms and in schools, but tomahawks and other images are still common on athletic uniforms.

In Mechanicville, Potter said one option may be for the school to keep the mascot name but eliminate all Native American symbols and establish a new image for the school’s mascot. He said the plan to open  discussions on the district’s mascot emerged in recent conversations with teacher leaders tasked with leading efforts to strengthen equity and cultural responsiveness within the district.

Native American-themed, and at times offensive, mascot names have a long history in New York and the Capital Region. When Mont Pleasant Middle School in Schenectady was Mont Pleasant High School, the school’s mascot was the “Red Raiders.” Canajoharie stirred backlash over 20 years ago when it dropped its old mascot, the Redskins. The state’s education commissioner raised the issue of Native American-themed mascots in a memo urging districts to “end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical” — in 2001.

“After careful thought and consideration, I have concluded that the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students,” then-commissioner Richard Mills wrote in the April 2001 memo to school boards and superintendents.

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