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Akron lacrosse team considers boycotting Lancaster game over mascot issue

As Lancaster debates whether the school district’s sports teams should continue to remain the “Redskins,” the lacrosse team at a neighboring school – where one out of 10 students is Native American – is considering boycotting an upcoming game between the schools.

“Just as the conversation is happening in Lancaster right now, we’re having the same conversation,” Akron Superintendent Kevin Shanley said Thursday. “The situation in Lancaster has raised an issue here.”

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Update: Akron school officials decided Friday to boycott the March 31 lacrosse game against Lancaster.

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The Akron school campus on Bloomingdale Avenue is just a few miles down the road from the Tonawanda Creek Reservation, home to the Tonawanda Band of Senecas. The district of about 1,500 students is 11 percent Native American and the majority of the members of the varsity boys lacrosse squad are Native American. Lancaster, with a student population of nearly 6,000, has about a dozen Native American students.

On Thursday, the members of the Akron Tigers lacrosse team met with Shanley and Stephen Dimitroff, the district’s athletic director and assistant high school principal, to discuss the possibility of boycotting a nonleague game against Lancaster scheduled for March 31, which was to be hosted by Akron.

The move comes two days after a heated community forum at Lancaster High School over the “Redskins” name and the use of a Native American mascot. Lancaster district officials have been trying to quietly phase out the use of the nickname, which some consider a racial slur while supporters say it is part of the community’s tradition and is not meant to be offensive.

Following Tuesday night’s forum in Lancaster, which attracted wide interest, a few concerned parents of Akron students contacted the Akron school administration about the issue, and school administrators spoke with Native American leaders.

In an interview with The Buffalo News, Shanley said the parents’ concern was: “If we play the game, does that mean we condone the name?”

“We’re happy being the little, quiet place out here,” but at the same time, there is a concern about the nickname issue, he said. “We’re very proud that 11 percent of our student population is Native American.”

Lancaster School Superintendent Michael J. Vallely said he’s not surprised by the conversations in Akron. “We’ve been trying to educate ourselves on both sides of the issue, and with that understanding, we respect and honor their decision, whatever that would be,” Vallely said of the upcoming boys’ lacrosse game. “I’m not surprised it rippled into Akron. A lot of Native Americans feel very passionate about this. These are things that Lancaster has to understand – that these are examples of repercussions.”

It’s not the first time there’s been an issue between the two districts over the Lancaster nickname. Within the last couple years, Native Americans in the Akron district took offense when a Redskins cheer was done to celebrate a victory by the Lancaster girls’ lacrosse team.

Shanley said the Akron administration and School Board are looking at the nickname issue now that it has become known nationally and locally. “Our district is forced to make a decision whether to show support for that name, or take a stance against it,” he said.

Akron administrators may make a decision about the March lacrosse game as soon as Friday. Shanley said the School Board would be informed at the same time. “Everybody will be involved in this process,” he said.

Lancaster school officials have not said when they will make a decision about whether to keep or drop their nearly 70-year-old nickname.

Al Parker, designated as the spokesperson for the Tonawanda Senecas on the mascot issue, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com