Thursday, August 14, 2003

Student, school at odds on mascot

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Stacey Stahl
ANDERSON TWP. - An Anderson High School senior says her dream of becoming the school's next Native American mascot were dashed when she learned the position has been eliminated.

Sixteen-year-old Stacey Stahl, who says her parents are Inca Indians, plans to appeal to the Forest Hills School Board Monday because she said she was promised the job.

"I want to speak in favor of keeping the mascot ... I feel my civil rights have been violated, and that leaves room for me to file litigation," Stahl said.

District administrators, however, said she was never promised the position.

It's yet another chapter in the controversy surrounding the name of the high school's athletic team - the Anderson Redskins. In 1999, several Native American groups asked the school board to eliminate the name, saying it was offensive. The board voted unanimously to keep the name.

Stahl, who is involved in the athletic program as a team manager and scorekeeper, said she's longed for the job for years while watching the mascot in an Indian costume rev up the crowds.

Knowing the former mascot would graduate in 2003, she said she approached Anderson High School Principal Mike Hall, who is retiring Aug. 29, and Athletic Director Mike Morgan about the job last September. "I was told that I could be the mascot," she said.

That never happened, Hall said. "We would never do that without having tryouts. We've got 1,500 students. There are probably 25 students who would like to have that job."

When Stahl went to pick up the costume at the end of the school year, she was told the mascot was eliminated. The decision, she said, conflicts with a diversity study committee's vote to keep the logo/mascot. "Somebody undermined the system and called for the mascot to be abolished," Stahl said.

The district had continued to hear from American Indian groups following the hotly debated decision to keep the Redskins name four years ago. The board and administration established a diversity study committee to research the issue in a more calm environment.

The 21-member committee, made up of parents, students, coaches, administrators and community members, began meeting last fall to study the question: "Does the Anderson community feel that Anderson High School's use of Redskins as a logo/mascot is disrespectful and/or offensive to Native Americans?"

A majority of committee members decided to keep the logo/mascot, which has been part of the school for 60 years. The mascot in costume has been around about 25 years. However, Hall said, the committee suggested some changes in the school's practices regarding the use of the logo/mascot:

• Add to the curriculum Native American studies in social studies.

• Rethink the mascot costume/headdress currently being used at athletic events.

• Avoid Indian dancing.

• Eliminate the peace pipe as a school symbol.

The committee's majority and minority reports were presented at a March 17 school board meeting.

"Not one word was said," Hall said. "I assumed everything was OK. The school board didn't say they were opposed to it."

So, he threw the Native American costume away because it was worn out. And, he added, if it's not around, then it's not an issue. He also set in motion plans to change the logo, removing the peace pipe.

Where the confusion comes in, Superintendent John Patzwald said, is the committee's report makes references to these changes, but the final line of the report reads, "The study committee does not recommend any change in the logo/mascot used at Anderson High School."

"This student has challenged that decision," Patzwald said. "It's challenged on the basis of her interpretation of the report and whatever she feels is the commitment made to her ... She's a very, very conscientious person who cares deeply about her role and heritage. It's just the position doesn't exist any longer."

Hall said the wording of the report simply means that the logo/mascot would not change to something entirely different from Redskins. However, the committee did agree to tweak the use of the mascot because of Native American concerns over non-Indians performing Indian dances and use of the peace pipe in the logo because they represent their spirituality.

"We listened to a number of Native Americans," Hall said. "The committee really decided to ... maybe take away some things that were really offensive to Native Americans that were related to the mascot. They weren't satisfied with the fact we didn't get rid of the Redskins. They expressed strong feelings about the spiritual things of being an American Indian."

While the Redskins name, mascot and logo have been controversial, Stahl doesn't find them derogatory toward Native Americans. As the mascot, she believes she could prove that it's not derogatory.

"As a woman, I don't need the tomahawk, pipe or headdress," she said. "I don't think I need to imitate cartoon antics. Based on my background, I have the right and privilege of educating the people around me on Native American history. It's a very rich history, and I'm so proud of it."


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