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Red Raiders return; BASD rescinds mascot motion

TIM WEIGHT/FOR THE EXPRESS The Bellefonte Red Raider wrestling mat, shown here in the gymnasium at Bellefonte Area High School, will now remain as a result of the school board’s 6-2 vote to rescind the motions of 2020.

BELLEFONTE — The Red Raiders are back.

A discussion that began nearly two years ago finally reached a conclusion on Tuesday night, when toward the end of a nearly four-hour meeting, the Bellefonte school board voted to rescind last year’s controversial motions to rid the district of Native American imagery. Additionally, the nickname Red Raiders will return, effective immediately.

The board rescinded the motion to remove Native American imagery, 6-2. Board members Julie Fitzgerald and Donna Smith were the lone no votes. Voting yes were Jeff Steiner, Jon Guizar, Marie Perini, Kimberly Weaver, Jack Bechdel and Andrea Royer.

The board also rescinded the motion to remove the word “Red” from Red Raiders. That vote was also 6-2. Voting against the motion were Perini and Fitzgerald. Voting yes were Steiner, Guizar, Smith, Weaver, Bechdel and Royer.

Following the meeting, Steiner talked about the board’s decision to rescind the 2020 motions, which took place last April.

“Particularly during these contentious times, we hope that everyone can find grace in their hearts. For those who are unhappy about what we have done, try to be open to the idea that this is not what you want to think it is,” Steiner said. “And, for those who are happy about what we have done, show them and everyone else what it means to be a Red Raider. Now it is time to turn our focus to where it should be — the needs of our students.”

Tuesday night’s meeting was one of the longest since the discussion began in 2020. The vote didn’t take place until the meeting was nearly three-and-half hours old and was one of the last items on the agenda.

Smith attempted to have the new motions taken off the agenda at the start of the meeting. However, her motion did not get a second and it was denied. There was also a long public comment period, much of which involved Red Raider talk. Former board member Rodney Musser, who spearheaded the campaign to rid the district of the Red Raider nickname, spoke, as did former Red Raider mascot Jordan Emely. Both ran in the general election and were defeated by the “Win4Bellefonte” ticket of Steiner, Guizar, Royer and Bechdel.

Current board members engaged in a lengthy discussion before voting.

Smith kicked off the discussion by asking, “What would be the argument for rescinding it?”

Bechdel, who joined the board in December, was the first to respond.

“This whole thing has been about people tearing down parts of our society … they’re trying to connect dots and the dots aren’t there,” he said.

Fitzgerald pointed out that the Native American image that the district uses is not “geographically accurate.”

“What comes next after rescinding this? That’s what I don’t see. I can’t vote for this the way that it is right now,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s not going to surprise anybody. I heard a lot about compromise. I don’t see any compromise by rescinding these two motions.”

Royer pointed out that the majority of those in the community never wanted the Red Raiders to change to begin with.

“I hear from the public that they don’t want us to talk about it anymore. They want it to go back to the way it was … end of conversation,” Royer said. “We’ll have some time (now), instead of force-feeding it to a community that isn’t necessarily on board with it. But we have the opportunity to do it in the right way and do it in a way that the community comes along with us.”

She added that the community “is willing to compromise.”

“The previous board was not willing to compromise with the community,” Royer said.

Weaver, who also voted to rescind last year’s actions, said that she never wanted the district to stop being the Red Raiders.

“I’m still a Red Raider,” Weaver said. “There was someone who said ‘how do I define a Red Raider?’ I define a Red Raider as kind, responsible, compassionate, loving, courageous, steadfast, a person who steps to their own beat. A Red Raider is a teacher, a nurse, a mechanic, a baseball player, a police officer, a welder, a grocery store manager and the list goes on. My definition of a Red Raider is not based on race. It’s based on the person.”

Weaver said that the board had no choice but to rescind.

“We do have to rescind. We do have to go back, so we can go back to the drawing board because it was forced. It was forced on us,” Weaver said.

Steiner agreed.

“We allowed ourselves to get sucked into a cultural issue,” he said matter-of-factly.

The vote to rescind the actions will likely save the district more than $100,000 — the cost of replacing a pair of gym floors, wrestling mats, signage and re-painting.

In other business Tuesday night, the board selected a new board member. Nate Campbell was selected unanimously, 8-0. There were a total of seven candidates who applied for the post: Patrick Buck, Campbell, Timothy Gardner, Holly Hopkins, Sandra Stewart, Joseph Woodward and Joseph Yech. Campbell was sworn in toward the conclusion of the meeting.

The Bellefonte school board will meet again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at the Bellefonte Area Middle School cafeteria. The meeting is open to the public, but will also be streamed live via Zoom through the district’s website. Those wishing to speak on Zoom must pre-register.

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