By Mary Jo Monnin
News Sports Reporter
I’ve sat back long enough reading stories in my hometown newspaper calling for Lancaster to drop Redskins. Ridiculous.
Lost in the empty, media-driven hysteria over a simple nickname is the fact the townspeople who should be the most offended are actually the least.
As someone who lives and graduated from Lancaster, I can assure you the streets are still safe at night. If Lancaster were to make such a reckless move, shouldn’t it be something the community, taxpayers and alumni are demanding? Lancaster’s Native American population is 0.26 percent.
Onalee Laraiso graduated from Lancaster in 1951 and she’s lived in the Village ever since. Onalee is an Indian name meaning Day of Dawn. Asked how she feels about the nickname, and the emotions go into overdrive.
“I’m proud of my Native America name and I’d proud of the Redskin name,” she said. “I love the Redskins, I like the name, and if I can say anything for the alumni, I don’t know why they would change it.”
Recently retired Superintendent of Schools Ed Myszka said he received one phone call of inquiry during his seven-year tenure.
Another retired superintendent, Dr. Joseph Girardi, took an exit poll during the 2001 budget vote. The state education department had asked schools with Indian-related nicknames to leave it up to their communities on whether to keep their nicknames.
“All I can tell you is it was a clear vote not to change it,” said Girardi. “We did our due diligence. The state wanted it to be community driven. The vote was overwhelming to keep it, so we kept it.”
In August of this year Lancaster’s weekly newspaper did a survey asking if Lancaster should drop the name and 82 percent said no. Should Lancaster drop a name that has been a part of its history for 60 years when it can’t even identify the people who are offended?
People are quick to run to the dictionary for a definition of Redskins that suits them. In Lancaster, the definition of Redskin is: Native American. As someone who wore the colors in the 1980s (OK, it was the 1970s), I can say the school has always used the name as a form of tribute.
And why just pile on the Redskins? The Crusaders massacred countless Muslims during the Middle Ages. How ’bout it, Canisius? And aren’t Marauders men who raped and pillaged?
Does anyone think of the literal meaning of Redskins when representing their school on its athletic fields? Is anyone stopping to break it down during a 50-year class reunion? The name is part of Lancaster’s identity and who takes that lightly? That football player from 1954 is just as much a Redskin as the one from 2004. Should they all feel shame now because a few self-important people suddenly find everything offensive? How about letting common sense drive a decision for a change?
Lancaster was christened Redskins in 1953, according to the Cayugan yearbook. The sports teams in the 1930s and 1940s had been named the Maroon and Black after the school colors. The name Redskins first appeared in print in The Lancaster Enterprise following the first game of the 1953 football season.
John J. Java Sr. was the Athletic Director and Bill Kling the football coach at the time. One has the gymnasium named after him, the other the football field. Both went into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame with the first class. Do we dare ask how those two legends could they have been so insensitive?
Well, we live in a more educated society. Oh really? Based on what? Trillion-dollar deficits, cyber-bullying, texting-while-driving, identity theft and hit reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?
Lancaster has always embraced its Native American roots. Before it became Lancaster in 1833, it was known as the Cayuga Creek Settlement, named for the Cayuga tribe, one of the constituent members of the Iroquois. Harris Hill Road, north of the Village, was once an old Indian trail. An article published in the Buffalo Courier-Express in 1961 reported that Indian artifacts were discovered near Ellicott Creek.
When I go to a Lancaster football game and see the Redskin mascot, I feel a genuine sense of pride. It may just be a teenager dressed in feathers, but he represents years of tradition and is a walking symbol of school pride.
The Lancaster school board and its administration needs to continue to listen to the majority of its citizens. And schools known as Crusaders, Marauders, Chiefs, Indians, and Warriors, take note, because sadly you could be next.