When Patrick Crater started as athletics supervisor for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District a few years ago, the issue of its icon and sports team name was not on his radar.
“I was kinda indifferent, it was never on my agenda,” Crater said.
Since 1954, it’s been the Unionville High School Indians, in a district straddling Chester and Delaware counties. Though officials did away with the mascot at sports events, the team name had remained, along with a prominent icon of feathers affixed to a “U.”
“The conversation regarding the mascot has been alive for many years,” Crater said, but it picked up urgency this summer amid nationwide demonstrations for racial justice and an ongoing reckoning with legacies of systemic racism.
From the realm of professional sports all the way to local school districts, many Americans are changing their attitudes about what is acceptable in iconography and representations appropriated from Indigenous groups. Washington’s NFL franchise announced this summer it will search for a new name. The Cleveland Indians are assessing a potential name change. This week, the Kansas City Chiefs announced they will ban fans from wearing headdresses and face paint at home games.
Over the course of this summer, Crater, along with Unionville-Chadds Ford Superintendent John Sanville, began assessing a potential move away from the current name. It involved soliciting input from students and alumni, but also a meeting with leadership from the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware, which Crater described as “life-changing.”
“Once I learned and I became educated and I had these conversations, it was like, ‘Wow, now I get it,’” he said.
Crater laid out his case to the school board at a work session earlier this week, concluding that the overwhelming majority of Native American organizations and tribes find appropriated iconography, mascots and team names offensive.
“The weight of the evidence tells us that it’s wise to retire, and we also believe it’s the right thing to do,” Crater said in his remarks about the name.
Resistance to the potential name change has not been as contentious and vituperative as in other districts. So far, Crater said, things had been “relatively smooth.”
Online, there’s a petition by a group called Silent Majority of Unionville dedicated to keeping the name, with signatories disputing there’s anything offensive about it. So far, the effort has over 400 signatures.
“This is a HUGE mistake!!” wrote a Facebook user in response to a local news story about the issue. “As a graduate of UHS back in the 70s, we were proud to be the Unionville Indians — it was never used in a negative nor defamatory way.”
“Stop erasing history for the sake of so-called sensitivity outrage and ‘progression.’ How crazy are we getting!?” wrote another angry Facebook user.
A competing petition started by a former Unionville High School student demands that the icon and name be scrapped all together. “In a mostly white and affluent district, the mascot is irrefutably offensive,” the petition reads. As of Friday, it had close to 3,000 signatures.
The district’s recommendation to retire the name will go before the school board for approval at a meeting on Monday, Aug. 24.
Crater said costs associated with dropping the name will be minimal. There is already money budgeted for replacing uniforms and sports equipment, and the feathered icon will be removed from the gym floor when its next re-sanded. The icon may linger in some places for a while, during what Crater described as a phased shift away from it.
“Our goal isn’t to breathlessly change things overnight,” he said.
During the coming semester, he will consult with students, alumni and other community members on a new team name, to be decided upon in 2021.
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