1 school agrees, 1 doesn't when told their teams' logos should go

Native American mascots might offend, officials say

May 19, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

C. Anthony Thompson had been principal at Woodlawn High for a few days, not enough time to unpack, when he was visited in July by an official from the State Department of Education.

Woodlawn's longtime nickname -- the Warriors -- took the shape of a Native American in full-feathered regalia. The state school board had passed a resolution encouraging the 26 schools across Maryland with Indian mascots to choose less offensive logos and names. Woodlawn was being strongly urged to follow suit.

"I really believe that if you don't use the name in a negative form, we're paying homage to the name," he said. "But if it's perceived to be a problem, I'm going to have to go with that."

With little fanfare, the Indian head is disappearing from Woodlawn High. Thompson is trying to find the $13,000 he will need to pay for uniforms without the symbol. The giant stone Indian chief that stood watch over the front entrance to the school has been moved and soon, the sign welcoming visitors to Woodlawn will be refinished to remove the last vestige of the logo.

Thirteen miles away, Franklin High School in Reisterstown has its Indians. The mascot has been around since the school decided decades ago to abandon its clunky old mascot, the not-exactly-feared elephant. Franklin is the only school remaining in Baltimore County with a Native American reference in its mascot. For the better part of this school year, the Franklin community discussed whether to change the nickname.

The answer is no.

"It was almost a universal opinion that we keep it," said Dean P. Terry, the principal of Franklin High for six years. "It very definitely honors Native Americans, and no one saw any reason to change it."

The mascot issue bubbled to the state level a year ago. The state school board, endorsing a resolution from the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs and the state's minority achievement steering committee, asked schools to stop using mascots with stereotypical references but did not forbid them outright.

The result: Half of the state's 26 schools with Indian mascots have abandoned them, opting for new names such as Wolverines or Falcons, according to a state report. Of the other half, 11 have decided not to change their names and two have not decided.

Last week, a committee of the California Legislature passed a bill that would force nearly all of the state's public schools to drop mascot names such as Braves and Redskins. It would be the first state in the nation to enact such a ban.

"It puts people in the same category as animals," said Richard Regan, a member of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs and the most vocal on the mascot issue. "Those are the type of names that predominate in the mascot world. We're the only group of people who are objectified in this manner."

This was not the first time the mascot question was raised for Woodlawn's Thompson. Several years ago, he was principal of Potomac High School in Prince George's County, home of the Braves. He was interested in getting rid of the name but decided the cost -- more than $90,000 -- would be prohibitive.

He decided that, in terms of dollars, a change at Woodlawn would be easier, primarily because the name itself would not have to change. A warrior, he said, does not have to be an Indian. He noted other warriors: Zulus, samurais, vikings.

Thompson started speaking of a "warrior spirit" that doesn't change even if the mascot does. He got a positive response, primarily, he and others believe, because he is the leader of a school whose population is 96 percent minority.

"We just said OK," recalled Van Ross, president of the Woodlawn High PTA and a community activist. "Being that we are minorities, we understand where they're coming from -- that it's offensive to them.

"We can relate to it," she said.

Not that all Woodlawn students completely understand it. Some wonder why they were forced to change an image that has been in place for decades.

"I think they make it more of an issue than it is," said Toni Williams, a Woodlawn senior and president of the school's student government. "If we change the name to bumblebees, people who are against bumblebees would be against that, too."

Junior Dominique Vaughn sees it differently: "The name doesn't make a school. The mascot doesn't make the school. It's the people in the school that make a school. We're doing a good thing. We can't be selfish."

Barbara Dezmon, the county's equity coordinator and chairwoman of the state minority achievement committee that originated the state resolution on Indian names, has spoken to the Woodlawn and Franklin communities about the issue. The county has no plans to ban the mascots. When that was done in Montgomery County, she said, it created a furor that was disruptive to students.

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