BELDING — Belding’s longtime mascot is about to become a piece of history.
After months of conversation at school board meetings and special community forums, the Belding Area Schools board voted unanimously to change the mascot from the Redskins and to do away with any Native American associated imagery on Monday evening.
Superintendent Brent Noskey said he understands there are those in the community who are “diehard Redskins” and that “they were never meaning to be offensive with that mascot.”
“As other things in our history of this country have changed, so too has how a mascot of Redskins might be looked at,” Noskey said. “Because of that, the distraction surrounding that, I congratulate the board for making this decision. Whether you’re a Redskins fan or not, I hope that you will stay wholeheartedly with this community.”
Noskey went on to say that the community isn’t proud “because we’re the Redskins.”
“We’re proud of the relationships we built while we were the Redskins,” he emphasized.
Noskey related a story regarding Lowell Public Schools and how they were once called the Lowell Red Devils. He said when the district was asked to move away from that mascot, the district didn’t hesitate. He said the district and community are proud to be the Red Arrows today.
“I know moving forward this community will support and be proud of whatever we call ourselves,” he said. “I know this town will move forward and we will continue to be a strong district as we move forward.”
Noskey recognized that people will be upset about the mascot change, but he pointed out that many people who might express discontent weren’t present at any of the several community forums the board recently held.
“We asked them over and over to please show up, please give your feedback,” he said. “Unfortunately, with who came and the information and the education that was shared, the board really had no choice but to vote the way they did.”
The next steps for making a change are undecided at this point, but Noskey assured the audience it will be a decision made by community members and students. He said the board and the district haven’t had discussions about what the next steps would be in changing the mascot because they “didn’t want to jump the gun” on the decision.
“There’s not a lot to do. We’ve already kind of adopted the Old English B currently,” he said. “We will have a lot of decisions to make in terms of how we transition to a new mascot.”
Board Member Doug Lamborne said he hopes this decision will be a unifying thing for the community.
“Sometimes we get real carried away about being politically correct,” he said. “… I’m about doing what’s right. We did what’s right.”
Dr. Chuck Barker Jr. said at the beginning of the meeting he wanted to thank the board for “doing due diligence” and reaching out to the community on this issue.
“This board did a nice job of making sure both sides were able to be heard,” he said.
Barker is the husband of Carmin Barker, who originally started the mascot conversation with the board and the community last March when she had shirts made with the Belding Redskins name and Native American imagery on them, and was asked not to wear them. At that time, she said she’d like to see the board bring back the Redskins and begin putting the logo on things in the district again.
Over the past nine months, Barker did research and had conversations with Native Americans and community members. She set out to give her children an identity and hopefully save the mascot. But after her research, she decided she would like to see a new mascot and to unite the community around that new mascot.
“I’m relieved (the board has made a decision),” she said. “I’m excited to hear what the students have to say.”
She said she has four students in Belding middle and high school and that they don’t want to see the mascot change. Her son, who is in college at Western Michigan as a freshman, doesn’t care as much about the issue as he did when he was still attending Belding schools.
Melanie Fish, a Belding resident, said she’s elated about the board’s decision.
“I’m very excited. I hope moving forward that they listen to the students. I know they have a lot of neat ideas,” she said. “We expect it will be a process. We don’t expect it to change overnight.”
Fish said the Redskins mascot was something not just Native Americans found offensive, but people from other cultures as well.
“We all live in our bubble. I’m really excited that the community chose to educate. I’m really excited about Mr. Noskey and the way the board handled this,” she said. “I really appreciate Mr. Noskey’s leadership on this.”