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Despite new names on Lancaster board, no interest in refighting war over mascot

Will the Redskins return to Lancaster?

Not if newly elected School Board member Brenda Christopher has anything to say about it.

“To even entertain the idea of bringing the name back is not anywhere on my radar,” she said a day after she and running mate Kelly Depczynski defeated two incumbents who had voted to retire the mascot. “We’re so past that.”

The issue of the Redskins mascot and Native American logo has captivated and divided the district for much of the school year, and was the issue that brought a near-record turnout of 5,300 voters to the polls Tuesday.

Christopher, who for months had been a leader of the faction pushing to keep the Redskins mascot, said Wednesday that she hopes that by adopting a different attitude, she can help the district heal.

“Our community has been through hell and back,” she said. “We can’t go through this again.”

The School Board voted unanimously to retire the mascot March 16. Students are poised to vote on a new mascot later this month, and the board, with its existing members, plans to select the name and logo June 8.

Many have not forgiven the board for eliminating the 68-year-old mascot they cherish, and protests erupted inside and outside board meetings this year.

But once the mascot was retired, Christopher said, it was not about bringing it back. “It’s process, not the name,” she said.

Voter Kevin McHale said what angered many was “the style and approach” of how the mascot issue was handled. “It was very Stalinesque. Their minds were made up,” he said of the administration and board. “I think the incumbents … will get hung whether they should or not.”

But the board did not get a chance to finish the process, Superintendent Michael J. Vallely said.

“I fundamentally disagree it was a process. That is the furthest thing from the truth,” he said, adding that the board’s goal was to educate the community over a two- to three-year period.

“That got derailed by people throwing gas on the fire along the way,” he said.

The district also was dealing with three high school teams boycotting lacrosse games with Lancaster over the mascot, complaints made under the Dignity for All Students Act and threats of lawsuits, Vallely said. “We wanted to go on an educational journey that definitely was shorter than we hoped,” he said.

Board members withstood taunts, shouting and even threats in the months leading up to and after the name change came in March. The entire board was recognized for its courage in an emotional tribute by the Western New York Service Educational Council.

The Friends of Lancaster Redskins, which endorsed Depczynski and Christopher, said on its website that its goals are to bring more community involvement to board decisions and to educate the community on “why the Indian history we all share should be embraced.”

“Ultimately, going back to a mascot that by many is perceived as disparaging, derogatory and hurtful, is not an option,” Vallely said. “We’re hoping that over time, people come to that understanding – that it’s not appropriate for an educational organization.”

The mission of the Friends of Lancaster Redskins also states, “We need to replace seven school board members and a superintendent who misread history and created a divide in a community they were supposed to be serving.”

Christopher said that while the group endorsed her, she is not part of the website or its mission statement.

Board President Kenneth Graber said he extended a hand of friendship to the winning candidates, and they accepted it.

“This is the only issue I’m aware of where there was a difference of opinion,” he said about the mascot.

Christopher and Vallely noted that voters overwhelmingly approved the budget and capital project. They also agreed on one thing that is needed to help heal the divide in the district: time.

News Staff Reporter Karen Robinson contributed to this report. email: bobrien@buffnews.com