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Old 04-02-2004, 03:48 PM   #1
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West Mecklenburg High to Dump Mascot in Charlotte

West Meck casts off Indian mascot, images
Native Americans urged new nickname, but change irks some

CLIFF MEHRTENS
http://www.charlotte.com/mld/observe...8335616.htm?1c
Staff Writer

With encouragement from Native American groups, West Mecklenburg High School will banish its decades-old Indian mascot, gratifying many while disappointing some students and alumni.

The 53-year-old school will move the sign in front, which includes a Native American in headdress, to another part of campus. The school will replace athletic uniforms and logos. Other changes will include the gym floor, decorated with a spear and dangling feather, the newspaper (Bow & Arrow) and the yearbook (Tomahawk).

"I think this will be able to open some eyes," said Letha Strickland, executive director of the Metrolina Native American Association. "I know people sometimes think there was honor in those type of nicknames, but Native American students often don't like the way it is displayed."

Some students and alumni said West Meck should keep the Indian nickname.

"This is just political correctness run amok," said Spencer Grigg, 42, a fitness equipment salesman who graduated from the school in 1980. "Most Native Americans probably wouldn't be affected by the nickname. They've gone way too far changing it."

Students will vote for a new name Wednesday among five choices -- Aviators, Jets, Hawks, Flyers and Rockets.

The search for a new mascot has been a collaborative effort among students, faculty, athletic boosters, alumni and administrators. It came from a 2002 push from the Advisory Council on Indian Education, a state agency that advises the N.C. Board of Education.

"People are passionate on both sides," said Craig Witherspoon, West Mecklenburg's principal. "I was the facilitator, and everyone had a say. This issue got people thinking. We tried to be as inclusive as possible."

Witherspoon estimated the cost will be at least $30,000.

Native American advocates say Indian mascots reinforce the notion of violence and savagery. It also can lead to ridicule for Native American students.

Of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' 113,865 students, one-half of 1 percent (649) are Native American. Four of West Meck's 1,500 students are Native American.

Senior Lisa Driver, 18, said the Indian has been a mascot for many teams for years.

"Why now all of a sudden a change? When we come back next year to a football game, we want to see our mascot. It'll feel like we're leaving something behind," she said.

Keely Riggins, a senior, said the mascot was "an honorary thing."

"We're on Tuckaseegee Road, on the Catawba River," said Riggins, 18. "All these things are named after Indian tribes."

Two CMS middle schools recently changed nicknames. Coulwood Middle dropped Braves for Catamounts, and Wilson Middle replaced Warriors with Wolverines.

In February, Guilford County schools banned American Indian nicknames at Southern Guilford (Indians) and Andrews (Red Raiders). Twenty-one of the 350 schools in the N.C. High School Athletic Association have nicknames related to Native Americans, along with 15 of the 195 members of the S.C. High School League.

Since 1969, more than 600 schools and minor-league teams nationwide have dropped Indian-related nicknames, according to a Sports Illustrated study.

Universities that have changed nicknames include Marquette (from Warriors to Golden Eagles), Stanford (Indians to Cardinal), St. John's (Redmen to Red Storm), Dartmouth (Indians to Big Green) and Miami, Ohio (Redskins to RedHawks).

Rick Goodman, a 1985 graduate, said the change will raise awareness.

"I'm sure it's a touchy situation, but I don't know how really offensive it is," said Goodman, 35, a Muzak operations specialist. "Indians has been there a long time and they're known for that."

Longevity doesn't make it right, said Monroe Gilmour, a Charlotte native and community activist from Black Mountain.

"The reality is Native Americans, when told a mascot is to honor them, feel their spiritual beliefs are being trivialized," he said. "The drum, the feather, the paint. They're also tired of being stereotyped as violent. The bottom line is it's not really an honor.

"The change speaks well for CMS. I see it as a real positive conclusion to a school system with a real sense of getting to the core of asking what is it's curriculum. Anything a student is exposed to, including a mascot, is curriculum."

Native Monikers

Seven Observer-area schools are among the 21 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association with nicknames pertaining to Native Americans.

Indians: West Mecklenburg

and Hickory's St.

Stephens

Warriors: West Caldwell,

East Gaston, Weddington

and West Iredell

Red Raiders: Belmont South

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