The Bellefonte Area School Board voted 6-3 on April 27 to change the district’s long-time name “Red Raider,” removing the “Red” out of fears of “racial insensitivity.” The move came just two weeks after a nearly unanimous decision was made by the Board to eliminate Native American imagery from the district, and nearly one year after a petition circled online, requesting a mascot change and spurring a major discussion within the community.
Of the nine Board members, Kristen Bruckner, Rodney Musser, Mark Badger, Max Kroell, and Donna Smith voted for the change, while Jeff Steiner, Jon Guizar, and Kimberly Weaver voted against.
“There’s been a lot of bad things inflicted on the indigenous people and other minorities of this land,” Mark Badger said at the April 27 meeting. “The name ‘Red Raiders’ is a racial epithet, a racial stereotype born out of the white supremacist ideology.”
Others agreed, though Smith and Kroell voiced a desire for compromise, suggesting the term “Raider” be kept, while “Red” be dropped.
“It’s the middle ground, and I think that it’s the best thing for the district to do moving forward,” Kroell said. “Most of the time, people use ‘Raiders’ anyway.”
Fellow member Kimberly Weaver disagreed, however, adding, “I do not feel that ‘Red Raider’ together has anything to do with anything racist or comes across as white supremacy or anything of that.”
Weaver was not alone on her stance, with Steiner, recounting his experience as a Bellefonte resident, saying, “It just doesn’t get there for me … part of what makes this a lifelong job for me is being a part of something, and part of that is being a ‘Red Raider.’”
The name and mascot came into public view last summer when a group of Bellefonte alumni began circulating petitions, one having nearly 6,000 signatures, labeling the “Red Raider” as racist and offensive to Native Americans. Since then, counter-petitions and yard signs have sprung up, asking to “Save our Mascot,” and “Keep the Bellefonte logo.”
The energy was reflected in the April 27 meeting, which consisted of nearly five hours of public comment, with over 100 speakers voicing their opinions on the hot topic. The majority of those in attendance came in support of the retention of “Red Raider.” Though of the current students attending BASD who spoke, all but three supported change.
Board President Jon Guizar praised the community involvement, saying “the courage, the participation level, the civic engagement of all who participated in our meeting tonight [April 27], it’s not to be taken lightly. It should be commended regardless of what side of the story you are on.”
According to Zoom statistics, over 210 individuals attended the divisive meeting. Member Kristen Bruckner hopes “this number of people will continue to stay involved in the district as it continues other projects.”
Many of those in favor of keeping the “Red Raider” voiced their concerns for the Board’s priority, arguing other projects should take precedence over Bellefonte’s mascot and name.
Bruckner also added, “I think everyone in the community would like to see something regardless of their point of view.”
As such, members introduced a motion recommending “the district create a committee that will solicit public input…the committee shall include representatives from the student body, community, teachers, and administration.”
Such a committee was set to offer potential mascot ideas to the Board by July of 2021. The date, however, was pushed to November of this year after several Board members protested.
“We need a break,” Weaver said, adding that the final month of school is “chaotic” and it would be “ridiculous to have a decision made by the end of the [school] year.”
Ultimately, the motion to drop the “Red” from “Red Raider” passed, with the decision made to find a new mascot by the first Board meeting of November 2021.
In an excerpt to the Lock Haven Express, Superintendent Tammie Burnaford said, “The Board has made their decision and we are moving forward. It’s going to be difficult and it’s going to take some time, but we’ve already had some people reach out about the re-branding.”