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Bellefonte school board votes to drop ‘Red,’ keep ‘Raiders’

The Red Raider “Rock” at Bellefonte Area High School has always been a popular location for both current and future students to get their photos taken. The rock will need to be removed as the district begins to phase out all Native American imagery. PHOTO PROVIDED

BELLEFONTE — Say farewell to the Bellefonte Red Raiders. They are Red no more.

At Wednesday night’s special meeting, the Bellefonte Area School District board voted 6-3 to drop the word “Red” and retain the word “Raiders” as its future nickname or moniker, beginning with the 2021-22 school year.

Voting for the change were: Mark Badger, Kristen Bruckner, Julie Fitzgerald, Max Kroell, Rodney Musser and Donna Smith. Voting against the change were board president Jon Guizar, Jeff Steiner and Kimberly Weaver.

The board also voted for the district to create a committee that will seek public input on a new graphical representation of the nickname that is not centered on any one group’s race, ethnicity or national origin. A recommendation by that committee will be brought to the board by the first board meeting in November of 2021.

The decision to drop “Red” from the nickname came on the heels of a special meeting on April 13, when the board voted 8-1 to retire the Red Raiders logo. All Native American imagery will be removed from all schools in the district over the course of the next year.

PHOTOS PROVIDED There is a plethora of Native American imagery inside all schools in the Bellefonte Area School District. In the gymnasium alone, a Native American appears on the scoreboard, the basketball court, on wall hangings and on folding chairs. All of those items will need to be replaced over the next year as the school board voted to “retire” the Red Raider logo and all Native American imagery.

Before the board decided to drop the “Red” from the nickname, there was a motion that would have saved the name Red Raiders. However, it got voted down, 6-3. Again, Badger, Bruckner, Fitzgerald, Kroell, Musser and Smith voted against retaining the name. Guizar, Steiner and Weaver voted to keep it.

“I don’t see Red Raider as a Native American,” Guizar said.

Musser, who spearheaded the change, said that he didn’t believe the nickname Red Raiders could be salvaged. He addressed the board about the motion to keep Red Raiders.

“It looks to me — and to others who have read it — that it is an attempt to create an image that people think is appropriate for our area. All of the testimony that we heard yesterday and in previous meetings would indicate that’s just not possible. If you put ‘Red Raider’ with an image of a Native American, it is still problematic,” Musser said.

Board member Donna Smith was the first on the board to suggest removing Red from the nickname.

PHOTOS PROVIDED There is a plethora of Native American imagery inside all schools in the Bellefonte Area School District. In the gymnasium alone, a Native American appears on the scoreboard, the basketball court, on wall hangings and on folding chairs. All of those items will need to be replaced over the next year as the school board voted to “retire” the Red Raider logo and all Native American imagery.

“My thoughts are that we retain ‘Raider,’ eliminate the ‘Red’ and re-imagine what a Raider is,” Smith said. “Be known as the ‘Bellefonte Raiders,’ keeping the color red and for now the block ‘B’ until, perhaps, there’s more input of what type of Raider are we? As long as we’re not stereotyping another race … not using another race as our mascot. Bellefonte Raiders. I think that’s a good compromise.”

Kroell, a graduate of Bellefonte Area High School’s Class of 2019 and the youngest board member, said he liked the idea of being the Raiders.

“I think the ‘Red’ in front of ‘Raider’ is probably the most problematic. We’ve discussed compromise for the entirety of this process … I think this is a good compromise. Keep ‘Raider,’ eliminate ‘Red’ because I think that ‘Red’ in there allows it to be interpreted as a racial term,” Kroell said.

Wednesday night’s meeting was the first that board members had a chance to voice their opinions. On Tuesday night, a special meeting resulted in five hours of public comment. Each member of the public had three minutes to voice their opinions. More than 100 people spoke, with the overwhelming majority in favor of keeping the name Red Raiders.

Fitzgerald, who voted in favor of the change, said the last 10 months have been a learning experience.

PHOTOS PROVIDED There is a plethora of Native American imagery inside all schools in the Bellefonte Area School District. In the gymnasium alone, a Native American appears on the scoreboard, the basketball court, on wall hangings and on folding chairs. All of those items will need to be replaced over the next year as the school board voted to “retire” the Red Raider logo and all Native American imagery.

“I think that understanding that there are different lived experiences than our own lived experiences is a big step,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been at sporting events, cheering my children on with ‘Red Raider’ gear and garb. I mean, I have pictures of my children from preschool at the rock outside of the high school and I cherish those. I didn’t think about it from a different perspective before. It didn’t cross my mind because my experience was mine.”

Steiner, the lone board member who voted to keep both the imagery and the Red Raider nickname, said that he “cautioned the board about heading down this path last year.”

He said that the discussion of the school’s mascot, logo and nickname was ill-timed during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No matter the outcome … this wasn’t a high point for the board,” Steiner said.

The name became an issue last June, when a group of concerned citizens brought the issue to the board. It began as a petition which stated that the name and imagery are offensive to Native Americans. After that, a counter-group organized to save the Red Raider mascot. Last summer, yard signs began popping up in the Bellefonte community to “Save the Mascot.” A “Keep the Bellefonte Logo” Facebook group has continued to grow throughout the process.

PHOTOS PROVIDED There is a plethora of Native American imagery inside all schools in the Bellefonte Area School District. In the gymnasium alone, a Native American appears on the scoreboard, the basketball court, on wall hangings and on folding chairs. All of those items will need to be replaced over the next year as the school board voted to “retire” the Red Raider logo and all Native American imagery.

Weaver, who voted to keep the Red Raider nickname, spoke out against a change.

“Our colors are red and white and while I appreciate everyone’s opinion, I do not feel that Red Raiders together has anything to do with anything racist or comes across as white supremacy or anything of that. I believe red is a color, you choose to make it about race that’s on you,” Weaver said.

Prior to the vote, Guizar addressed those watching the board meeting — and those who took part in the process.

“The courage, the participation level, the civic engagement of all who participated in our meeting (Tuesday) night, it’s not to be taken lightly,” Guizar said. “It should be commended regardless of what side of the story you are on.”

Superintendent Tammie Burnaford spoke to The Express about the board’s decision.

“The board has made their decision and we are moving on,” Burnaford said. “It’s going to be difficult and it’s going to take some time, but we’ve already had some people reach out about the re-branding.”

The Bellefonte school board will have a regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 11. That meeting is closed to the public, but available through the district’s website. Those wishing to speak must register in advance.

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