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Mascot Battle in Schoharie

Written By Editor on 6/29/20 | 6/29/20



By David Avitabile
As statues of historical figures are being defaced and toppled throughout the United States, a battle is raging in the Schoharie Valley on whether to change the Schoharie Central School mascot and alma mater.
Rival groups have taken to social media to defend their positions. One group, Change it from Mascot to Mentor and Keep it Schoharie Indians, is fiercely defending the decades-old mascot while another group, Schoharie Central New Alma Mater and Mascot Collaboration, is fighting to change the mascot and the school song.
Apparently the pro-change group surfaced first, but was quickly shut down after several business owners received threats. The pro-Indian group page is still active and has quickly gained 979 members and is preparing a petition to give to the school board.
The question on whether to change the SCS mascot has been brought up several times, most recently about 20 years ago. After hearing arguments from both sides, school board members at that time decided to leave everything as is.
Rachel Golden, a spokeswoman for the pro-change group, said it was started with “the understanding that American Indian mascots are an outdated concept that perpetuate stereotype and perpetuate harm among the American Indian population, particularly young people.”
The current climate may be the right time to make the change in Schoharie, wrote Ms. Golden, who is from Schoharie but currently lives in Washington D.C., according to her Facebook page.
“This is currently a unique time in correcting past civil rights errors in the United States and the hope was to brainstorm a mascot alternative that would actively welcome all children to the Schoharie Central Schools while celebrating the strong, rich, and vibrant history of the Schoharie Valley without caricature or stereotype.
“The hope was to collect ideas for alternative mascots to be voted on by the community at large and fundraise to help the school district slowly change, understanding this is an era with diminished resources for the schools.”
It never got to that point.
“There were threats made to the most active administrators of the group. Family members and children were named in ways that were inappropriate. In the hysterics even the wrong small businesses were attributed to group leadership.”
The page was eventually shut down.
“There was a group of community members who were clearly very offended by the thought of change and didn’t understand that this wasn’t a group to discuss the idea of if the mascot was a problem. As anger built members looking for change didn’t feel safe and safety was the biggest concern.”
The members of the group do not expect to bring any possible changes to the school board.
The Facebook page to keep the Indian quickly sprang up.
“We started the group because there was another group on Facebook that was trying to change our beloved mascot, the Indians,” said spokeswoman Tammy Coluccio.
“The Indian mascot has been a part of Schoharie for over 70 to 80 years. It is in all our blood if you grew up in Schoharie and went to Schoharie School. I have aunts, uncle, cousins, my mom, and my children who went to Schoharie School from K-12 and have such pride in the Schoharie Indians.”
The mascot honors the Indians that once occupied this Valley, she added.
“The Schoharie name comes from the The Mohawk Tribe and there is a lot of history of Native Americans in this county. There was a Indian tribe known as Schoharie Indians. I looked up the history of Schoharie. The Indian mascot is very beautiful and there is a lot of pride in this community for it.”
Members of the group are fighting to keep the Indian, now and forever.
My hope is that it will never get changed. We don't want what was important to us to be erased from Schoharie School. We want our grandchildren and future Schoharie school students and graduates to be able to say they are Schoharie Indians. We want the history of it to be around and not be thrown away because of how people are thinking these days. A lot of people in this group are so proud to be a Schoharie Indian and wear with pride. It's in their blood and hearts.
The group started small but the membership quickly grew, Ms. Coluccio said.
“When I started this group I only started with 54 members (but) by midnight that same day I was up to 625. And the amount of support to keep the Indian has been great
“They all have different reasons to keep it and have talked about memories of being a Schoharie Indian. Its all very emotional, happy and beautiful memories. We are now up to 949 members which is why i love this community. The support and love for this has been great and wonderful.
Ms. Coluccio also feels the alma mater should not be changed.
“I feel the same way about the alma mater. They changed the one word white man to wise man already a while ago. That is the one that they were trying to change. When you sing that you feel the joy and pride in your heart.”
The alma mater, in part, states, “how the white men won the warfare on the Indian trail.” Apparently, “white” has been changed to “wise.”
“I remember watching my son playing basketball and people standing up and singing that song and smiling the whole time,” Ms. Coluccio recalled. “The whole gym would light up and you just would feel it in your heart the love for the school. We sang that song all through my years at Schoharie which was K-12. But the greatest joy of singing it was at your graduation. You still sing the words when you are out of school. And it blows me away with happiness about the people who still sing it.”
The mascot and song are part of Schoharie pride, she added.
“This community loves Schoharie school and everything about it. The history of the county of Schoharie school is in the alma mater so no we do not need to change it. Why people want to change history is unknown to me? Be proud of Schoharie and the history of it. Let's not change anything...Let's keep it the Indians and keep the Alma Mater. It's in our hearts and soul and we want our future generation to be a part of that too.”
Their petition has more than 1,400 signatures, according to Ms. Coluccio.
The Facebook contains dozens of testimonials on why to keep the Indian and the school song.
I’ve been sitting here and reading how they want to take the Indian away, well it’s BS,” wrote Shawn Kendle Sr.. “I have been in Schoharie school since kindergarten until 12th grade... If you get rid of the Indian you might as well tear the school down.”
William Benninger wrote, “I'm a Schoharie Indian from now until I die. Why take away from the heritage of the Valley? To remove 'Indian' from Schoharie is like dismissing their existence. Being a Schoharie Indian was always something to be proud of and still is.”
Vicki Piotrowski-Echtner offered some advice as a member of a school district that went through the change of a school mascot.
“I was not born or raised in Schoharie but my children have been,” she wrote. “I grew up in Woodstock and went to Onteora, we were the Indians. A few years back we had the same thing happen. A few people thought it would be a good idea to change our mascot. There were two people on the School Board who were opposed but ultimately the Onteora Indians were changed to Onteora Eagles. I for one will always be an Onteora Indian.”
Not all comments on the site were as supportive.
“It's my understanding that the other group has decided to close down discussions after members and their families were threatened,” wrote Carrie Wick. “While there are some that think changing the mascot and alma mater are wrong, threatening anyone over it is worse and in my opinion a very weak show of who we are as a collective. Don't dumb yourself down by making threats. Have discussions and come to a solution. I'm disappointed that any adult would resort to such childish actions. Shame on you.”

SCS Superintendent David Blanchard said, “the board has not received anything. I have not received anything either. I have heard there are two different sides on Facebook.  I have not seen anything myself, just heard rumors.

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