EAST MARLBOROUGH—For the past 66 years, Unionville High School's mascot has been the Indian, a reference to the Lenni-Lenape Indians who occupied the Philadelphia area almost 10,000 years before Europeans came to the region.
Now, that logo is in jeopardy in a time when sports teams across the nation which have logos depicting Native American Indians are considering eliminating the logos or renaming their teams.
Earlier this week, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board voted unanimously to conduct a review of the mascot and logo, engage in a community conversation set for July 30, and vote on the issue in August.
"This is a slice of a much larger conversation around racism and equity in our community," Patrick Crater, director of Athletics at Unionville High School told the board. "We are listening, and asking questions. This conversation and use and appropriateness of our mascot has been alive for many years."
The issue in Unionville is not new but has been resurrected following the death of George Floyd and the nationwide racial unrest that followed. Two years ago, school directors discussed the merits of the mascot, and a coalition called "Save The Indian" was organized.
School officials have taken some action to eliminate what some call disrespectful depictions of Native American Indians. Gone are Indian caricatures. Songs and chants that refer to Indians are no longer permitted and gym banners have been updated. But the Indian logo remains.
"Our mascot has caused social unrest," Crater said. "I and people in our community believe we are at a crossroads and it's time to renew our conversation followed by discussion to keep the mascot or make a change."
A petition at change.org, (https://www.change.org/p/unionville-high-school-administration-change-unionville-high-school-s-mascot-ea8fa02d-691f-42d5-bf79-0a4efa2b94a2) signed by 2,353 people is urging school directors to eliminate the Unionville High School Indian logo and name. However, there is another petition at change.org (https://www.change.org/p/10000-keep-unionville-mascot) that is calling for Unionville to keeps its current mascot. It is signed by 178 people.
"In a mostly white and affluent district, the mascot is irrefutably offensive, and tradition alone is not a valid reason to keep a celebration of the stolen land and culture that Unionville rests on," the petition states. "During pep rallies, students are encouraged to let out an animalistic, guttural scream like an Indian on a warpath and are admonished for resisting."
A ruling to eliminate the Unionville Indians logo is likely to be challenged in court, said Scott Cousins, a district resident.
Cousins said the board two years ago promised to engage all stakeholders, including students, alumni, staff, parents and community residents a discussion on the mascot, but instread delegated the review to the administration. Cousins said that if a Citizen Advisory Committee is formed and properly represents all segments of the community and school, he would abide by whatever decision was made.
For years the Unionville Indian logo featured a stylized Indian head in a full bonnet, but was changed recently to the letter U with a feather on the upper left.
"On the July 30 call, I intend to voice my support for a Citizen Advisory Committee during the one-hour time slot for the Conversation for Community Members," Cousins said. "I fear that absent such a committee that the fight is lost and the 'conversation; will be over—indeed, in my view, the decision has already been made to change the UHS mascot and cancel culture will have won."
The times for virtual conversation on the topic on July 30: 1 p.m. for staff, 2:30 p.m. for community members, and 3:30 p.m. for alumni. Residents who want to provide feedback on the mascot but cannot attend the virtual conversation can email email@example.com.
Battle lines on the mascot controversy have already been drawn. On one side there's those who say keeping the mascot honors the Lenape Indians, and it's a tradition at the school and if eliminated, history will be forgotten. On the other, some argue the Indian log is offensive, misrepresents the people who come from India and is disrespectful to the native American Indian.
"All of my children attended UHS and the Indians logo never meant disparagement to them - only that they were honoring the natives of the area as so eloquently put by their teacher, Helen Martin, a reminder that this whole area became ours by peaceful dialogue between the Indians, William Penn and our Quaker ancestors," said Barbara Hartnett of Lancaster. "Should we remove the name Lenape from everything? It is hard to watch the fabric of our past being frayed, if not torn."
In nearby Delaware County, The Radnor School Board and Superintendent Kenneth E. Batchelor have called a special meeting Aug. 4 to listen to the community debate the use of “Raiders” as a Radnor High School nickname and mascot going forward.
The meeting comes in the wake of pressure applied by various activists including the student-led Radnor For Reform (https://www.instagram.com/radnorforreform/) initiative dedicated to “removing any cultural references from the Radnor mascot with the goal of fostering an inclusive environment.”
John Sanville, Unionville-Chadds Ford superintendent, said in a statement: " “In our efforts to respond to the petition we reached back into our memories and into our files. Since at least 2011 the mascot has been a topic of discussion internally and in the community. We have had conversations with tribal elders of the Lenni Lenape Tribe - who reside in Oklahoma. These talks resulted in UCF eliminating the offensive stereotypical iconography and the tomahawk chop cheer. The UHS logo was changed to a U with a single feather. Symbols that carry negative connotations about a particular group are unwelcome in UCF. We are listening, thinking, reading, and talking. We are using this as a starting point for asking what we can do better, what we can change, and how to implement new practices. We are educators and know that there is always more to learn."
Other sports teams in Chester County area also under assault, but so far there's been no organized effort to eliminate those logos. Some of the teams include the Coatesville Red Raiders, the Ocotrara Braves, and the Henderson High Warriors.
The issue comes at a time when national teams like the Washington NFL Redskins franchise decided to retire its nickname and logo and the Cleveland Indians baseball team is considering a similar action.