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History lesson

Effort to keep Red Raider nickname picks up steam

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS At Bellefonte Area High School, a stone with the words “Home of the Red Raiders” sits at the school’s entrance. The Red Raider mascot has been under fire in recent weeks, but a campaign to save the mascot has picked up a lot of steam ahead of Tuesday’s school board meeting.

BELLEFONTE — According to the Bellefonte yearbook LaBelle, the first record of the nickname “Red Raiders” took place in 1936, when Bellefonte Area High School sophomore Bob Hoffer used the term in a football preview article.

Almost 85 years later, a group of alumni want the name changed. At the last school board meeting, which was held on June 16, a total of six people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Two said they want the name changed.

There may be a lot more at this week’s meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow, June 30, at Bellefonte Area Middle School cafeteria.

Shortly after a group of Bellefonte alumni started an online petition to remove the school’s nickname and logo, Red Raiders, a counter-petition entered the fray. A Facebook group entitled, “Keep the Bellefonte Mascot,” has nearly 3,000 members.

Historian Harry Breon, author of 34 books — many about the history of Centre County — created the Facebook group. Breon, a 1981 graduate of Bellefonte Area High School, believes that the nickname Red Raiders should stay.

“I think we should keep the mascot, I don’t see it as racist but an honor. However, I respect those who want to change it and their views,” Breon said. “We honor the Native Americans in this area in many ways … Bald Eagle Creek, Bald Eagle Valley, Logan Branch, Mingoville, Mount Nittany. Valley View Road was once a trail that went all the way to Pittsburgh used by the Native Americans. We found ways to honor them.”

Breon explained how the Red Raider mascot came to be.

“The Red Raider mascot came into being actually in the year 1935 when doing a writeup of the BHS-Mill Hall football game the phrase Red Raiders was first used,” Breon explained, “then in 1936 some students decided it should be the mascot to honor the Native Americans who roamed the area.”

Prior to that, Breon said, Bellefonte’s uniform was red and white.

“They became known as the Red and White until Red Raiders became official. After that, the reporters would use Raiders, or Red Raiders or just Bellefonte High. It wasn’t until 1975 that the name Red Raiders appeared on the front of the football jerseys and it was 1980 when the logo first appeared on the helmet, although at times the logo became the letter B instead,” Breon said.

Breon said that the Red Raider nickname wasn’t picked out of a hat. There’s a rich tradition of Native American history here, he said.

“Many people don’t understand the land we now live in was purchased in the treaties of 1754 and 1768. There was a dispute between the state and the Six Nations as to the boundaries in 1768 but it was agreed two surveyors would scout the land and with their recommendations on the lines of the boundaries, both parties were satisfied with the results and agreed to it,” Breon said.

While the school board is focused on safely reopening the district’s buildings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and balancing the 2020-21 budget, now the mascot issue has come to the forefront. Breon said that he’s surprised by the timing of it all.

“I really wasn’t expecting this come up at this time, but I knew it would eventually. And I don’t see anything wrong in having an open discussion on it. That is the foundation of our country, solving issues by talking and working together,” he said.

He believes the board has bigger tasks at hand right now, though.

“They have to get the schools ready for the fall, approve the sports guidelines and many other important issues that need addressed,” Breon said.

The “Save the Mascot” campaign has taken off, he said. In recent weeks, yard signs printed by Grove Printing began popping up throughout the community.

“As for the movement, I am surprised at how big it has grown to keep the mascot. The most amazing thing is the makeup of this group; we have people of different heritages, different political backgrounds and we have discussed and shared ideas and how each feels about keeping the mascot. We have proven by this group that if we can find common ground here to solve problems, then we can do it in our schools, communities, county, state and country. We proved that people of different diversities, different political backgrounds can work together if they really want to,” Breon said.

Breon said that he expects a large turnout for Tuesday’s meeting, even though it’s likely little will be decided.

“I can’t answer for the school board, but they have been receptive and wanting to hear more about the history of the area and the mascot before any decision is made one way or the other and I appreciate their willingness to learn about local history,” he said. “That is all we can ask. I don’t see it coming up for vote for some time.”

In the interim, Breon said that he will try to inform and educate the school board, as well as the community.

“I will continue to send any info I find on the mascot or anything related to the history of the area to the board to help them in their endeavors to figure out what to do,” Breon said. “Who knows? I might learn some more as well. That is the beauty of researching, finding something new to share.”

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Bellefonte Area Middle School cafeteria. Seating is limited and masks are required.

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