At Radnor High, the mascot goes, but name and logo stay

Radnor High's Red Raider, last seen in 2011. Officials decided this week to banish the mascot from campus events.
Radnor High's Red Raider, last seen in 2011. Officials decided this week to banish the mascot from campus events. (Aspenphoto)
Posted: June 22, 2013

Has the Radnor Red Raider, the high school mascot with the oversize Native American feather headdress, really roamed the gridiron for the last time?

Radnor school officials insist they've buried the divisive issue of cultural sensitivity for good with a vote Tuesday making the Indian mascot persona non grata - "graduated," as principal Mark Schellenger diplomatically put it - at campus events.

But Villanova University sociology professor and parent Rick Eckstein countered that officials should do more - dropping the Red part of the name, the Indian logos that dot the campus, and the occasional war whoops from the band at Friday night football games.

"The school board has been waffling," Eckstein said Thursday.

While he said Radnor Middle School has become "an Indian-free zone" thanks to its principal, the school board will not issue a clear policy on the Native American motif.

"Principals and teachers have been operating under their own moral code because the official school code has not been dealt with," he said.

School officials insist that their policy is clear - but that the Red Raider nickname isn't changing, nor will they take down any of the "tasteful caricatures" of Indians at the school, district spokesman Michael Petitti said.

"The Red Raider name remains, the logos remain, the only thing that is being retired - said goodbye to - is the physical costumed mascot that rarely over the past few years was present at athletic events to begin with," he said.

This is the latest skirmish in a decade-old controversy that has now lasted longer than the French and Indian War - and with a less decisive outcome.

Much of the impetus has come from Eckstein, who teaches the sociology of sports. He has a daughter in eighth grade and another who graduated from Radnor High last week. A drum major in the marching band, she was offended and had to leave over the Indian tribal beats and war whoops in the third quarter of football games, he said.

Eckstein began lobbying the school board to ditch the Red Raider about 10 years ago, but his efforts intensified this year after an incident at the middle school in which a coach ordered shirts with an Indian logo, he said.

As a result, Eckstein spoke at a school board policy meeting in February and made a presentation to ninth graders.

"The theme of my presentation is, raiders is a negative word," Eckstein said. "If you want to be plunderers and killers, that's fine, but when you start associating that with specific cultural groups, that's when you get in trouble."

He even threw in a dig at Radnor's status as one of the state's most affluent districts. "I told them they should be Corporate Raiders, and the logo could be money sticking out of a suitcase."

Members on the policy committee aren't talking after speaking up for the school nickname at their meeting Tuesday, with board president Eric Zajac saying Radnor celebrated American Indians' respect for land and natural resources, as well as their character and strength.

For Eckstein, that doesn't come across in the cartoonish Indian painted on the football stadium.

The Radnor dispute comes as a national debate over Indian mascots is intensifying, touching one of the NFL's most iconic franchises, the Washington Redskins.

Last month, 10 members of Congress wrote to Redskins owner Dan Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calling the name offensive and demanding a change. Snyder rebuffed the letter and Goodell agreed, writing that the Redskins' name was "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect."

Just this year, several high schools banished their Indian-themed mascots and team names, but in Upstate New York and Idaho, school boards reversed course in the face of protests from angry parents and alumni who cited community tradition and accused administrators of political correctness run amok.

Locally, parent Donna Finn-Boyle, who said she is part Cherokee-Choctaw, has lobbied the Neshaminy district to drop its Redskins name with no success, while in recent years Ridley's Green Raiders stopped using an Indian logo in favor of a big green R. The logo for the Unionville High School Indians is a U with feathers through it.

In Radnor, district officials have strove to walk a tightrope between activists such as Eckstein and more tradition-minded alums.

"There's strong support within the school community . . . that we are the Raiders," said Pattie Booker, a school board member not on the policy committee. "It's not intended to be offensive to anybody, but it is our identity."

Petitti, the district spokesman, said the last time the Red Raider mascot showed up was at a November 2011 football game. That appearance was a manifestation of "student spirit" and not sanctioned by school officials, he said.

It was also students who came up with the new recommendation to retire the mascot.

"This was their decision," he said, adding, "We're sensitive to all cultures."


Contact Kathy Boccella at kboccella@phillynews.com, 610-313-8232, or follow on Twitter @kathyboccella.

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