Bellefonte votes to remove Red Raider logo
24 residents speak out in favor of change, four against action
BELLEFONTE — A debate that began last summer in the Bellefonte Area School District is heading toward its final act.
On Tuesday night, the Bellefonte School Board voted by an 8-1 margin to remove the Red Raider logo that currently populates the district. The vote came following around 90 minutes of public comment, followed by 30 minutes of board discussion.
Removal of the imagery must occur within one year unless an image requires costly replacement or maintenance.
Voting in favor of removing all Native American imagery were board members Mark Badger, Kristen Bruckner, board vice president Julie Fitzgerald, board president Jon Guizar, Max Kroell, Rodney Musser, Donna Smith and Kimberly Weaver. The lone vote against the measure came from Jeff Steiner.
A total of 28 residents of the Bellefonte Area School District spoke during public comment. An overwhelming majority — 24 speakers — were in favor of removing all Native American imagery from the district, while four were against it. Public comment was limited to three minutes. The meeting was closed to the public, so all comments were made via Zoom.
The public speakers were from all walks of life. Current students, former students, parents, educators and residents took turns speaking on Zoom.
Cecilia Stanton, a current Bellefonte student, is in favor of a change.
“Native American people are not Raiders. The Red Raider is a caricature of indigenous people that perpetuates negative stigma and it needs to change,” Stanton said. “The imagery of our mascot is one-sided and false stereotype of indigenous people and it can and will lead to bigotry and discrimination.”
Brenda Reichert, a resident of Bellefonte Borough, said that the Red Raider logo is not disposable.
“Being called the Red Raiders is showing pride and honor for the Native Americans,” Reichert said. “I have Native American blood in my family. My grandmother said, ‘always be proud, that is your heritage.’ I never once thought that Bellefonte being called the Red Raiders was racist.”
Approximately one hour into the meeting, Bellefonte resident James Pringle questioned the board’s motivation.
“Your focus is on a mascot, your focus is on a logo … my gosh, there are such bigger fish to fry,” Pringle said. “When we look at a graduation? Do we have a plan for graduation? Are we having kids graduate at the stadium? Do we have a plan? Do we have a plan on education? Do we have a plan to make up for the last half of the year of kids missing math? The logo … I don’t see how that takes the forefront. It’s very divisive.”
Bellefonte resident Jack Bechdel, who is on the ballot for the school board in May, was the final speaker during public comment. He was very passionate about keeping the Red Raider logo.
“I don’t think anybody from Bald Eagle is descended from eagles, anybody from State College is descended from the Little Lions or Penns Valley are descended from Rams,” Bechdel said. “I think replacing the mascot is in itself a racist act because you’re saying that the Native American cannot represent any organization.”
The moniker “Red Raider” has a long history in the school district. According to the BASD website, the nickname was first introduced in 1936, when a sportswriter for a local newspaper referred to the team as the Red Raiders. Chief Okocho was introduced as the school’s mascot in 1984, but was later removed in the early 1990s. The Native American logo became the school’s secondary logo in 2015 and a Bellefonte block letter “B” became the primary logo. The “B” adorns Bellefonte sports uniforms and is on the 50-yard line at Rogers Stadium, which was renovated in recent years.
Over the course of the past several months, the board has heard presentations about the history of the mascot. Next up for the board will be the nickname “Red Raiders,” which will be up for discussion and a likely vote at a special meeting on Tuesday, April 27.
The Bellefonte school board will hold a regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20. That meeting is closed to the public but accessible through the district’s website and C-NET.