COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — On Fall Friday nights, students at Belding High School in Michigan flock to the school’s stadium to cheer on the Black Knights football team.
On the way in, they pass by a granite slab with “Home of the Redskins” and a Native American themed logo engraved in the stone.
Though the school dropped Redskins as their official mascot a year ago, the school district lacks the funds to re-engrave the small stone monument. School officials told Capital News Service that they’re waiting on funds from the state and a Native American group to make the change, along with other necessary alterations in the school district.
“We’re frustrated,” said Michael Ostrander, principal of Belding High School. “We made a commitment to our community that we were not going to spend any general funds on this change, and we haven’t. But we are really hopeful that that group will come through in the way that they said they would.”
At some of the 13 high schools that have dropped the name over the last four years, the moniker and Native American imagery lingers on uniforms, gym floors and in hallways, forcing schools to find the funds to make changes.
- At Port Townsend High School in Washington, a donation from a local Native American tribe helped the school transition to the Redhawks.
- A state law that mandated four California schools drop the name also made it possible for the state to reimburse the schools for any necessary changes.
- At Lamar High School in Houston, Texas, the school district covered the cost of making the switch.
Belding officially dropped the name in December 2016. But it began phasing out the term a decade prior in a conscious effort to separate the school from what some consider a racially insensitive mascot.
When it replaced athletic uniforms, it replaced a Native American logo with the letter “B.” And when they renovated parts of the building, they no longer used the name on school structures.
In March 2016, a group of parents voiced concern over a T-shirt with a Native American headdress and a skull worn by students at a school wrestling match. They asked the administration to either embrace the current name or select a new one, kicking off a nine-month community dialogue.
“A group of parents approached the school board and their concern was we either need to use it on uniforms, use it all over the place or move on and have a different mascot,” Ostrander said.
After dropping the name, the public chose the Black Knights as its new mascot in March 2017.
In addition to re-engraving two granite fixtures, the school district still needs to replace several athletic and band uniforms, as well as some permanent signage throughout the district. The entire district — which includes two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school — used the mascot in some manner.
According to Belding Area Schools Superintendent Brent Noskey, Belding needs between $150,000 and $175,000 to make required changes at the schools. They hope to pay for it using a pool of state funds set aside by the state and a Michigan-based Native American group.
“I have said we are not going to use tax dollars,” Noskey said. “To me it’s imperative that dollars go towards our students’ education and I don’t want to see money taken away from the kids to fix a logo thing.”
In January 2017, the Michigan state government and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi announced that they had jointly agreed to set aside up to $500,000 each year to provide “Michigan schools, colleges and universities with the funds needed to improve curricula and resources related to Native American issues and mascot revisions,” according to a press release.
Belding still expects to receive a grant from the fund, called the Michigan Native American Heritage Fund, but the process is taking longer than anticipated. The fund is waiting to fill vacant board member positions before distributing money, said Jamie Stuck, Tribal Chairman of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.
According to the January press release, the board will consist of two people appointed by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, two people appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder and the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights or a designee.
But until Belding receives third-party funding, the removal or alteration of symbols associated with the old name will not happen, Noskey said.
“Whether I’m depending on (the Michigan Native American Heritage Fund) grant or some other grant, it would still take outside dollars to make that happen,” Noskey said.
While schools like Belding await compensation for making the name change, others had no issue getting financial assistance.
For Port Townsend high school, the cost of the changing the name from Redskins to Redhawks in mid-2013 totaled $94,235, which included new uniforms, gym floor graphics and other revisions.
The school paid $7,694, and the district added $61,541 to make the change. The local Jamestown Tribe of S’Klallam, which supported the name change, kicked in the remaining $25,000.
“We just extended an open hand to anything we could do to encourage (them) to make that decision,” W. Ron Allen, travel chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’klallam Tribe, said. “We knew that it was going to require a cost.”
Port Townsend was happy to accept the contribution.
“That was solely based on their decision and not any kind of negotiated amount from or by the district,” Port Townsend Principal Carrie Ehrhardt said. “They said that they wanted to put something towards the mascot change, and we appreciated that.”
Although the tribe provided assistance with the funding, Port Townsend was ready to undergo the name change regardless. It took the school a calendar year to complete the transition.
The changes transformed the look of the school, said Athletic Director Lysa Falge.
Sanding the basketball court, painting a new logo, redoing the bleachers and replacing the gym scoreboard were the most expensive changes the school needed to make, about $52,000 in total, Falge said.
“There was also the decision to have anything with the Redskin name on it be removed from the school, so older artifacts that had been hanging around, all of those were removed,” she said.