The students who started the petition didn’t think it would make it this far. But when they started the conversation about changing the Cooperstown Central School mascot to something other than the Redskins, the administration and the community listened. The school is currently in transition to becoming the Hawkeyes and the Oneida Indian Nation has stepped in to help with the cost of that transition.
Before the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, May 15 Oneida Nation Representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, Ray Halbritter explained to the board and assembled students and attendants how important this change is before presenting the school with a check for $10,000. The money is to help defray the cost of purchasing new uniforms with the changed mascot.
Halbritter feels as though the students at Cooperstown could teach owners of major league team owners a thing or two. “I think these kids are showing, I think it can be argued, a great deal more wisdom than some of the major league team owners in recognizing the significance of what language and respect means to people,” he said at the meeting. “It’s very thoughtful, very inclusive and we at the nation certainly worked hard to be a part of the community and work together with the community and not just be mascots.”
It’s ironic that this small upstate New York school was rewarded for moving away from the offensive moniker just days after Washington Redskins team owner Dan Snyder said this in a May 9 USA Today article: "We will never change the name of the team. It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps." (Related story: “Snyder: We Will NEVER Drop Redskins Name”)
Students who started the petition to change the nickname said they were met with resistance at the beginning. They were criticized, not just in the hallways at school but through social media avenues like Facebook and Twitter.
Catherine Borgstrom, 17, and daughter of Board of Education President Dr. David Borgstrom, described a whole competition for getting likes on Facebook to keep the Redskins mascot. She and Josie Hinrichs, 18, both supported the petition and spoke in favor of changing the nickname at board of education meetings.
“Students against the name change didn’t come to board meetings because they know it’s offensive,” she said.
Two of the students who led the campaign to drop the Redskins mascot were incredibly happy to see this result.
“I didn’t imagine it would get to this point,” said 16-year-old Emily Greenberg after the meeting. She and Hope Dohner, 17, simply hoped to get the conversation started when they circulated the petition and went to the board with their concerns.
All the girls said they were embarrassed any time they would have to tell someone what their mascot was because they knew how offensive it was.
“When several students came forward to Superintendent [C.J.] Hebert and me in December about the Cooperstown Central School nickname I was proud and impressed with their social awareness… The concerns raised by the students were hard to refute and we felt that their voices needed to be heard,” Borgstrom said at the meeting. “I was proud of the students then, I’m proud of them now and I’m proud of our entire community for where we are today.”
The students involved, Borgstrom and Halbritter all expressed a hope that changing from the Redskins mascot in Cooperstown could spread and affect a wider change elsewhere.
“I only hope that what has transpired here tonight resonates somehow in Washington with all the debate that they have there about the name of their football team,” Borgstrom said.
“Some of these people make millions of dollars off of using these stereotypes and they have plenty of money, they don’t need our money, but they sure need these kids’ compassion,” Halbritter told reporters after the meeting.
When asked if he’s disappointed that it doesn’t look like the Washington Redskins are going anywhere anytime soon, he said: “I do know that if they were being hurt they would want that changed. Throughout the ages things have changed. There was a time when women had no rights… But that changed over time. Black people did not have the same amount of rights or equality, but that changed over time. Today, we have an issue that people know that it’s a stereotype. It’s not kind, it’s not compassionate, it’s dehumanizing. We’re not just mascots, we’re real people, we have family, we have children and we just want to be treated like other people with that kind of respect and these kids have done that.”
After seeing how much national attention they received for their efforts and how they can make a difference, the students hope to see their influence grow as well.
“I hope we can inspire something bigger,” Borgstrom said.
The Cooperstown Central School officially becomes the Hawkeyes July 1, but the changes have already started being made. Josie said even the local newspaper has started using the new nickname.