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Man calls mascots offensive

February 21, 2002

Man calls mascots offensive



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


The Kensington, Md., man who persuaded the Montgomery County Board of Education to stop using American Indian nicknames and mascots for schools is asking the Washington County Board of Education to do the same, but the School Board has not made a decision.

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Richard Regan, a Lumbee Indian, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the use of American Indian mascots and names mocks American Indian people, demeans the culture, "tramples upon American Indian tradition" and "equates American Indians to animal species."

Regan is a member of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs but is acting on his own, bureau spokesman Ed McDonough said.

The county has two schools that have American Indian names and mascots - Boonsboro "Warriors" and Conococheague "Indians."

Conococheague Principal Sue Gordon could not be reached for comment.

Boonsboro High School Principal Richard Akers said the "Warriors" nickname and mascot was not intended to be offensive and that students and the local community look up to the name and symbol.

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"I know that the kids are very proud of the mascot," he said. "It's something that is revered here. The community, kids and coaches take a lot of pride in that symbol."

A totem pole with the words "Warrior Country" stands in front of the school and the face of a warrior decorates a gym wall and the school's Web site.

The "Warriors" name has been used since 1959, beginning with the school's first football team, said Dwight Scott, a former athletic director at Boonsboro. A combined school and community group chose the name as a symbol of "courage, dignity and strength."

Regan said he thinks any use of American Indian names and mascots are offensive. He called Washington County "the poster child for racism" for using the references.

"I think that's pretty inflammatory," School Board President Edward Forrest said. "I don't think that that's an accurate statement."

Regan said he has lodged complaints in 13 school systems in Maryland. He's had some luck with some schools, but said he's facing difficulty in others, particularly in Western Maryland.

He said that may be because Western Maryland tends to be "conservative, rural and nonprogressive in its thinking."

"Diversity has not taken root," Regan said.

In August, Regan convinced Montgomery County, Md., to ban American Indian nicknames and mascots. The school system gave Poolesville High School a year to change its "Indians" nickname.

The Harford County Board of Education rejected Regan's attempts to have an American Indian name removed, School Board President Edward Chandler said. He said the school system created a group of community members that included students and American Indians to decide the fate of the "Warriors" name at Havre de Grace schools. The group "didn't see anything wrong with it," he said.

"We're keeping our mascot," Chandler said.

Regan said if the Washington County School Board chooses to keep the American Indian names and mascots, he will appeal to the Maryland State Board of Education, where he thinks he'll be successful.

The state Board of Education passed a resolution in July that encourages school systems to stop using the nicknames and mascots, but it is not mandatory. The Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs and the Maryland State Teachers Association supported the resolution.

If the state were to reject his claims, Regan said he would have the option of filing a complaint with the federal government.

Up until this school year, Pleasant Valley Elementary School in Washington County used the "Braves" nickname. Principal Robin Handler said she removed the name to be sensitive to different cultures. She said a new name and mascot would be designed by the students to give them a sense of ownership of the school.

Handler said she wasn't under any pressure from groups to change the name but wanted to be proactive. School staff began discussing the idea in August.

Forrest said the School Board probably wouldn't object to discussing Regan's complaints.

John Hull, the board's ombudsman, stated in a memo to board administrators that the school system had several options with regard to American Indian names and mascots. Those options are to keep the names and symbols but also provide American Indian education, curricula or special programs for students; change the names; ask the community if they'd like to change the names; or keep the names and symbols as they are.

As for the "Warriors" nickname, school officials said the name has a lot of support from the Boonsboro community.

"It's been part of the community for a long time, and it's certainly something that is going to take a lot of consideration," Forrest said.

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