A suburban school district in Buffalo, N.Y., with numerous Native American students on Friday cancelled a boys’ lacrosse game against a district that’s debating whether to do away with its Redskins nickname.
Akron School Superintendent Kevin Shanley said the decision to cancel the Akron Tigers’ March 31 varsity game against the Lancaster Redskins was made in support of Native Americans who view the rival team’s nickname as offensive.
Akron’s campus is near the Tonawanda Band of Senecas’ reservation. About 11 percent of students and the majority of the team’s lacrosse players are Native American, the superintendent said.
He said he heard from several community members on the issue following a Monday public forum in Lancaster that drew large numbers of speakers divided over whether that district should replace the Redskins mascot and nickname after more than 60 years.
“Over the past few days, we’ve been having some productive and enlightening conversations within our district,” Shanley said, leading to the decision to cancel the non-league lacrosse game.
A similar debate is ongoing surrounding the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. Opponents of the Redskins name say it’s a slur that mocks Native American culture, and they have protested at games. Redskins owner Dan Snyder has vowed to never change the name, saying it honors Native Americans.
Supporters of the Lancaster Redskins mascot say it was not meant to be malicious and should be preserved as a source of pride in Lancaster sports teams.
“Lancaster Central School District certainly respects the diverse views of others,” Lancaster Superintendent Michael Vallely said. “Specifically, students in a neighboring school district who have decided to take a stand against a mascot they, themselves, find to be offensive and derogatory in nature.”
In a statement, Vallely said Lancaster, about 15 miles from Akron, “is not a hurtful community” and never intended the mascot to be offensive.
“However, we know that the world is a very different place than it was back in 1952 when our school first adopted the Redskin name as its new mascot,” he said.
The district has been proactive in making students aware of the conflicting perceptions, he said.
“I hope the Native American community understands that while the mascot is still in place at Lancaster High School, we have worked diligently to treat it with respect and honor, removing any stereotypical behaviors and images,” his statement said, “and I would implore their patience and understanding as we continue to educate our students and our community.”
Shanley said the lacrosse game is the only scheduled contest between the schools, which are in different classifications.