- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—GOSHEN — The Goshen Redskins mascot that has represented the community for nearly 90 years will be retired on Jan. 1, 2016.

The school board voted 5-2 in favor of changing the name, which many argued is offensive and derogatory to Native Americans, at its regular meeting Monday, July 27.

Goshen Community Schools board members Jim Ramer and Jane Troup voted against the change, while Catherine Cripe, Bob Duell, Roger Nafziger, Jose Ortiz and Jane DeVoe voted to retire the mascot.

“This has really been a hard one for me,” Cripe, the board’s president, said moments before the vote. “I’m overwhelmed. If you could have been in any of our hearts since this was brought to us, you would understand.”

The decision came after more than two hours of arguments from the public at Monday’s board meeting in the Goshen High School auditorium, with more than 50 speakers delivering passionate pleas to the board on both side of the issue.

Those in favor of the change asked the board to take an important step to become a more welcoming community. Redskins supporters asked the school board to take a stand against “political correctness” and continue a longstanding community tradition.

It is unclear what the next step will be in replacing the mascot, but the student body and larger Goshen community have asked to be a part of the process.

A COMMUNITY DIVIDED

The debate about the Redskins name — about whether it is a way to honor Native Americans or if it is an offensive and derogatory term — has surfaced in Goshen every few years.

Even 20 years ago, small groups approached the school board and asked for a change — but members never thought the timing was right.

Something changed this summer, when the debate resurfaced at the board’s June 8 meeting after two individuals asked the board to consider retiring the mascot.

Proud Redskins attended the next board meeting to defend their mascot, but so did more community members who felt the time has come to find a new mascot to better represent Goshen.

Phone calls filled board members’ answering machines and emails flooded their inboxes.

Even more individuals on both side of the debate attended the July 13 meeting, delivering passionate pleas to the board.

On the night of the vote, the central arguments were repeated by both sides.

Clad in red “SAVE OUR MASCOT” T-shirts, Goshen graduates and current students told the board that the Redskins mascot honors Native Americans rather than disparages them.

“We use the name to show we have strength and pride each time we go out on the field or the ball diamond or the pool,” student Jesse Rhodes said.

But several Native Americans told the board that despite the good intentions, the name hurts.

“Please don’t tell us how to feel or argue we are being too sensitive,” Rochelle Hershberger, who is of Native American descent, told the board. “Don’t use the R-word to my face. I am not your mascot, my family is not your mascot and my children are not your mascot. I have a name. I am worthy of being seen as a person.”

MASCOT MAKEOVER

Although several speakers criticized the retirement date, pointing out that the change would happen in the middle of the basketball season, Duell, who made the original motion for the vote, defended the decision.

He said the people who have contacted him made it clear the change should be effective immediately, but with the start of the 2015-16 school year just a few weeks ago it would be impossible.

But the Jan. 1 change does give the school board a few months to find a mascot that can reunite the community after the Redskins debate divided it.

Although it’s a new process to Goshen, about 30 schools throughout the country have moved away from their own Redskins monikers in the past 25 years, according to research by Capital News Service.

At Lancaster Central School District near Buffalo, N.Y., the school board voted unanimously in March to retire its Redskins mascot of nearly 70 years. On June 3 — just a week before the issue resurfaced in Goshen — the Lancaster Redskins became the Lancaster Legends, with a knight in a suit of armor as their mascot.

The New York school board took the lead in voting out the mascot for ethnic and racial concerns, but they handed the reins to the students from there.

The transition there did not come without its hurdles, however. Community members used school board elections to show their disappointment with the decision, and other organized efforts to “change it back.”

Some individuals in Goshen have suggested that the district and community work with Native Americans to develop a new mascot that honors the local population, but without the derogatory word. Suggestions like “Goshen Indians” or “Goshen Warriors” have been tossed around.

But Albert Running Wolf, chairman of the Indiana and Kentucky chapter of the American Indian Movement, said the group would prefer if Goshen stays away from a Native American mascot entirely.

He said most schools do not make the effort to accurately depict their local nations. Instead, the mascots wear only “Plains Tribe” regalia and perform gymnastics routines rather than traditional dance.

“No matter what name is used or what mascot is portrayed it seems to always be used in an incorrect way,” Running Wolf said.

Follow education reporter Michelle Sokol on Twitter at @michelle_sokol.

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(c)2015 The Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Ind).

Visit The Elkhart Truth (Elkhart, Ind). at www.elkharttruth.com

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