BELDING — There are three mascots left in the running for Belding Area Schools, but there can only be one winner.
A committee of high school students aiding in the process of narrowing down the list of possible mascots agreed Thursday on the top three choices: The Bruins, the Black Knights and the Bengals.
Also attending Thursday’s gathering were two community members, Carmin Barker and Gary Slosser, and Athletic Director Joel Wilker. Principal Michael Ostrander led the discussion with students and gave them time to have discussion amongst themselves.
The next step is to put the choices to the community via a survey. Students in the district will also get the chance to vote for their favorite choice. Along with the choices for a mascot, the survey will have some examples of what the mascot imagery could look like, but Ostrander stressed those graphics will not be the final image to go along with the new mascot.
Discussion about the issue continued for nearly an hour Thursday as students talked about which choices should be in the top three. Ostrander began the discussion by writing the top seven choices on the white board. Eliminated from the running were the Lumberjacks, the Black Hawks, Pride and the Black Bears.
Ostrander pointed to the danger of possibly having to go through the same ordeal with a mascot such as the Black Hawks as they have the Redskins based on ties to Native American history even though the intention was always to tie the mascot to the bird. He also mentioned receiving calls about the idea of Pride being the mascot because of the possibility of negative interpretations.
“When you talk about what people will say … people are going to do that. I think you need to try to … as students think about these things more than community members … think about what could possibly be any ramifications of what you pick,” Slosser said. “People will pick apart what you put in there if they can.”
Slosser urged students to think about how they would be perceived by other schools at extracurricular events, but not to only be concerned about what others will say.
There was some question about how involved community members should be in helping choose the next mascot and how those votes should be weighed against the votes of the students. Barker and Slosser both believed the opinion of community members should be taken into account.
“For me, I still have kids in the school but we have grandkids coming up too,” Barker said. “It’s not just about what the mascot is right now but what it is forever. We will forever have kids in this district whether they’re our kids or our grandkids or their kids and so on and so on.”
Ostrander said the schools are the hub of Belding.
“That’s where the community comes together,” he said. “This is important. We can’t really separate school and community in a town like ours. They’re intertwined.”
Also discussed was the fate of the stone monuments that say “Belding Redskins” and depict Native American imagery in front of the high school and Rudness Field. The monuments were donated to the district, so Ostrander said the first step is to approach the family who donated them to see if they would like them back.
Other ideas included having the monuments donated to the Belrockton Museum in Belding as a piece of the city’s history, or displayed at the high school.
The problem with displaying them in a school building, Ostrander said, is that the school doesn’t move away from the Redskins name. However, he doesn’t want to see it hidden away somewhere either.
Ostrander said there have been numerous offers from people to help with relocating the stone monuments and he’s been grateful for the community support.
Student members of the committee were chosen based on essays they submitted about why they wanted to be a part of making the change from the Redskins mascot.
Jeffrey Puehler, 15, said he was “iffy about changing” the mascot at the beginning of this process, but education about the origins of the word and Native American history made him change his mind.
“The racial side of it … I felt that was something we needed to stray away from,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t want to be considered racist or anything.”
Puehler said if it were up to him, the next mascot would be the Black Knights.
Dominic Francisco, 18, a high school senior got involved with the process of changing the mascot because he had been a Redskin his whole life and he wanted to take the initiative to have his say in what would be next.
“I really like being involved in that kind of thing,” he said. “I just thought since I had been able to represent the Redskin name, why couldn’t I be able to choose a different one.”
Francisco said he was proud to be part of the the Belding Redskins, but he’s not bothered about having to change the name.