Supporters of the Lancaster Redskins name and mascot quickly left the school after the results of the School Board election were announced in the high school gym Tuesday night.
Those who remained broke into chants of “Let’s go Legends, let’s go!”
It was a pivotal moment in the district that had been thrown into near chaos over the retiring of the mascot that many considered racist, and whose supporters still believe shows respect and admiration for Native Americans.
“I think it was a seminal moment, a watershed moment for this community,” said Superintendent Michael J. Vallely, who led the district during the name change last year.
Was the strong showing by Lancaster candidates dedicated to preserving the name of the new mascot, the Legends, a bucket of cold water thrown on the flames that have burned in the district over the Redskins?
No one knows.
The winners, who support the administration, had a stronger showing than last year’s pro-Redskins winners. Incumbent William Gallagher and Sue Metz won more votes than the two pro-Redskins candidates elected last year, and there were fewer voters this year. They beat their challengers by more than 800 votes apiece. The candidates with the backing of pro-Redskins residents, Brian Osika and MaryJo DiGiullio-Schaefer, received 1,655 and 1,656 votes, respectively, which may indicate they were successful in publicizing their slate, but could not get enough residents out to vote.
“I’m hopeful that what it means is we’re back to focusing on the education of students and not the many other things that divided us in the past,” Gallagher said. “I’m hopeful as a board, the seven of us can do a better job of working together.”
DiGiullio-Schaefer and Osika did not return telephone calls seeking a comment. But on their Facebook page, they thanked supporters and blamed the media for the results: “Brian and MaryJo want to thank all of supporters who came out. While they did not gain the majority of the votes, they ran an honest campaign focused on what’s best for the children, teachers, and community. It’s unfortunate the media worked against them over the past year and due to this, many people were misinformed.”
There is still great hurt and disappointment that the decision to change the name was not put up for a public vote. The School Board made the decision sooner than expected after three high school lacrosse teams announced boycotts of Lancaster games.
A lot of people are upset, and “that’s not going to go away,” said Dick Young, a 1948 Lancaster graduate and former football player who owns Performance Advantage Co.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said.
Board meetings in the last year since the name change and the election of two candidates who had fought against it have been marked by sniping, yelling, and a police presence.
This spring, pro-Redskins residents who elected two supporters last year were looking forward to winning two more seats – and a majority on the board. “Want your voice back?” asked signs supporting Osika and DiGiullio-Schaefer, referring to the change in public comments at board meetings.
But the board will remain in a five-to-two split.
Vallely said last year’s vote showed people were angry about the name change, and this year’s results show there still are some who feel that way.
“There are still people hurting and angry and disappointed about the change,” he said. Some of the recent rhetoric also involved ousting the superintendent.
“As leaders of this school district, we have to help heal and come together.”
He sees the two sides working together in the future, and the energy from all producing great things for the district.
“I think, in the next couple months, you’re going to see a real attempt to really come together and extend the olive branch in both directions,” Vallely said.
There may be some areas for agreement.
“The job that the school is doing in teaching the students is just outstanding,” Young said. “The graduation rate is unbelievable, and everyone has to be proud of that.”
Yet, sour feelings linger. Some Redskins supporters continue to have feelings of discontent, sadness, and a certain bewilderment at Tuesday’s results.
But there’s always next year, when there will be three seats up for grabs on the board.
History was made in other school districts Tuesday, with the election of two University at Buffalo college students – Gunnar Haberl, 18, in East Aurora, and Dwight Eagan, 20, in Orchard Park. Both were top vote getters in their races.
Incumbents lost in Williamsville and Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda, where candidates endorsed by the teachers’ union swept into office. Williamsville incumbent Anthony J. Lafornara III, a teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools, lost re-election to a second term. Former Board President Robert Dana, a retired high school teacher, was seeking his third term in Ken-Ton.
In North Collins, Michelle DeCarlo, who had been appointed to the board last August, lost her bid in her first election.