The Cooperstown Board of Education made no decision about the school’s mascot at its meeting Wednesday, but board President David Borgstrom did make it clear that it is the board that will ultimately decide.
“These people up here are elected officials. We answer to the voters, and it is our job to make this decision,” he said.
Superintendent C.J. Hebert read to the board a list of the most popular replacement names, which were voted on by the Cooperstown middle and high school students Monday. The names that got the most votes, read in alphabetical order, were Coyotes, Deerslayers, Hawkeyes, Pathfinders and Wolves. The number of votes each name received was not disclosed. Hebert said that he wanted to let the board know that the name Redskins, which was not on the ballot, did receive a number of write-in votes.
“The board will take these names to heart and make the final decision,” Borgstrom said.
More than 100 people attended the meeting, including more than a dozen students. Many alumni also attended, and several spoke out against the name change. Some alumni said they felt like they had not been consulted on the issue.
“This needs to be a discussion,” Cooperstown alumni association president Ryan Miosek said. “Speaking for the alumni association, we feel this has not been discussed with us, but this has been dictated to us.”
Impassioned speeches were made on both sides of the issue, and the public comment section of the meeting lasted nearly two hours.
Rebecca Burk-Sciallo read a letter to the board from Native American writer Doug George. “Let no one believe that the mascot is somehow an honor to the Mohawk people,” the letter read in part. In fact, George wrote, the use of the term Redskin was tied to genocide and terrorism, and was one of the most offensive words used to describe aboriginal people.
Several alumni and parents took the opposite view.
“I want to show you this,” Kate Evans said as she walked around to the board members while holding a Redskin flag and showing them buttons from Cooperstown sports teams that featured pictures of her sons Ryan, Grant and Jay Davine. “These are my Redskins. My pride in being a Redskin is intact, and my pride in my children is intact.”
The only current students to speak all spoke in favor of changing the name, as did several other alumni and residents. “I find the name offensive,” Cooperstown junior Catherine Borgstrom said. “It is not okay with me to be called the Redskins.”
“I just want to clarify something,” board member Teresa Russo said. “The students brought it to the board. That’s how it came up. Several students brought it up to the superintendent and to the board president, not the other way around.”
Although the meeting sometimes got contentious, many speakers also asked for the debate to be respectful. “I feel like some of the comments I have read online and some of the comments I have heard in this room tonight have been a little too accusatory,” Cooperstown alumni association Vice President Chad Welsh said. “I would ask that we keep it respectful and that we keep it fair.”