After 112 years as the Orientals, East High School’s sports teams will be called the Eagles in 2015-16.
The change was made official by the Rochester school board in response to a unanimous vote by the school’s own internal planning team, which includes staff and parents.
When the name was first adopted, it had a nice symmetry to it. There were two high schools in the city, the East Orientals and the West Occidentals.
Since then, West High was renamed as Wilson and the term Orientals has fallen decidedly out of fashion.
The incidence of racial or ethic team names has been in decline at all levels across the country. Lancaster High School near Buffalo recently banished its old name, the Redskins, after a heated public debate.
Principal Anibal Soler Jr., who played sports at East in the early 1990s, called it “a positive change.”
Shaun Nelms, the incoming deputy superintendent hired by the University of Rochester, said it was important to the new team that the Orientals be retired.
“We’re just trying to model for our students what we expect from them,” he said. “Changing the name to reflect our community’s values is important.”
The name change has come up before at East but has faced alumni opposition at times. The school has been using an eagle logo for several years, so the change should be relatively seamless, Soler said.
Justin Noye played football at East High and is now a sophomore at Old Dominion University, where he plays safety.
“I knew it was kind of a racist term,” he said. “I began to notice that other teams didn’t call us the Orientals at games, they called us the Eagles. … At the end of the day, we don’t need negative attention over a name that’s been there a long time. It’s time for something new anyway at East High.”