Keep the Red Raider and the Indian head logo. That was the blunt message Tuesday night from a handful of former Fulton athletes, coaches and supporters to members of the Fulton Board of Education.
The district, under pressure several years ago from the state Education Department, stopped using a logo showing a Native American head in a traditional headdress. The district kept the name “Red Raiders” and began using what a search of school records shows is the only official logo the school’s ever had — a red block “F”.
But the men who played years ago for Fulton, including a bank CEO and a city Alderman, said that whether the Indian head logo was official or the product of clothing sellers was not relevant. The symbol has been associated with Fulton athletics for decades and should stay.
“To me, this is like a common law marriage,” said Steve Janas. “It’s not sanctioned, but there’s 40 years of history. To say it doesn’t mean anything…”
“No one’s saying it doesn’t mean anything,” said Robbin Griffin, the only member of the current board who was on the board when the controversy first arose 8 years ago. “It’s not that people were trying to do away with history.”
She said the district stopped using an unofficial logo that offended some Native Americans but left the Red Raider name intact — a step Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch called “moderate” — before the state Education Commissioner could step in and order wholesale change.
“We don’t have to cow down to the Commisioner or anyone else,” said retired coach Don Smith.
Fulton Savings Bank President and CEO Mike Pollock noted that the city has lost much of its industry, its hospital and even some of its churches. “How many more things are going to be taken away from us,” he asked. “Maybe we should rally around this symbol, and say, ‘This is us, and you’re not going to take it away from us’.”
Frank Castiglia noted that other schools have resisted the state’s demand for change. “Why is it that Fulton has to back down?”
Griffin noted that at the time, the district heard from several members of Native American tribes who said the headdresses were religious symbols to them and their use was offensive.
But Janas said he had recently spoken with local Native Americans who were not offended by the use of the Indian head logo. Some, he said, felt it was done out of respect.
“Not everyone feels it’s not an honor,” said Fulton Alderman and former athlete Daryl Hayden, who showed the board a patch from his high school days that featured a Native American face in full headdress. “You’re always gonna get a small group that doesn’t like something,” said Janas. Castiglia called those people “radicals”.
Lynch told the men that the district was in the process of setting up a committee to look at the issue and make a recommendation. He urged anyone interested in the issue to contact him and said the group’s meetings would be publicized.
At the end of the meeting, during the part of the agenda where board members can say whatever is on their minds, two board members voiced support for using the Native American logo. Both were Fulton athletes during their school days.
“This community could use some morale,” said Brian Hotaling, agreeing with Pollock. He made it a point to thank the men for bringing their concerns to the board before a decision had to be made.
“I am certainly a Red Raider,” said board member and former wrestling captain Dan Pawlewicz, who noted that while some schools have made changes — Central Square went from being the Redmen to the Redhawks — other schools, like Weedsport, not only kept their Native American logo, they plaster it on school vehicle doors and elsewhere.