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Stafford High gets real with Indian mascot

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For more than 30 years, Stafford High School’s Indian mascot seemed to walk straight out of a John Wayne Western—with a full-feathered headdress.

When the new Stafford High opens next year, the mascot will be more understated, resembling the Native Americans in “Last of the Mohicans.”

That mascot will also be more in line with local history, sporting a look similar to that of the Patawomeck tribe, which used to have villages in Stafford and King George counties.

“It is really the more Eastern Indian look, instead of the Plains Indian look, which you would find in the Midwest,” principal Joseph Lewis said.

The new mascot and Indian logo are slowly being unveiled this year, ahead of the new building’s opening and in time for Stafford County’s 350th anniversary. But the timing is coincidental.

The issue of changing mascots began several years ago when use of Native American names started getting second looks.

In 2005, the NCAA banned the use of American Indian mascots or nicknames deemed “hostile or abusive” during postseason tournaments. But it left decisions about team names in all other competitions up to individual universities.

That same year, the National Education Association urged schools with Native American-based mascots to change their team names.

Many universities, including Marquette and St. John’s, have since changed their team names. Others, such as Florida State, received the blessing of the tribe for which their teams are named, and kept the nicknames with a waiver from the NCAA.

Several years ago in Stafford, then-Assistant Superintendent Andre Nougaret asked Stafford High’s administration to consider a name change. Officials met with leaders of the local Patawomeck tribe, who overwhelmingly supported keeping the team name “Indians,” said current Chief John Lightner.

But tribal leaders mentioned that the mascot wasn’t historically accurate.

“I don’t know that anybody had a problem with it,” Lightner said. “But they wanted it to be more historically correct.”

On the East Coast, a Native American was unlikely to wear the war bonnet depicted in the Stafford High logo. Instead, he would most likely wear a beaded headband with one or two feathers.

The Stafford Indians were named for the Patawomeck tribe, which had villages along the Potomac River and its tributaries. The tribe now has about 1,500 members, Lightner said.

When Stafford High School had its first football teams in the 1930s and ’40s, many of the players were descended from the tribe, he said. They felt the name paid homage to the Patawomeck heritage.

School officials have repeatedly met with tribal leaders as the mascot got a makeover. They learned more about the tribe and its past.

“This has been one of the greatest history lessons I’ve ever been involved in,” said assistant principal Wes Bergazzi.

Stafford High art teacher Nick Candela created the new mascot, which has been shown to the Parent–Teacher Organization, student council leaders, sports booster groups and rising freshmen. Most people support the change, Lewis said.

The changeover will come gradually, as the school runs out of its stationery. Eventually, the new mascot will feature prominently in the school’s letterhead, newsletters and website. It will also have a small spot on the outdoor marquee of the new Stafford High, said Scott Horan, assistant superintendent for facilities.

The new logo is now being copyrighted, so it hasn’t had a formal introduction yet.

But Lewis remains confident that most people will like the new look.

Tribal leaders approved the new mascot, and will continue to cheer for the Stafford High Indians.

“The name has a long history with many of Stafford’s residents,” said Bonny Newton, secretary of the tribe. “And we see the continuation as a significant tribute to the memory of our Patawomeck ancestors, which once roamed all over the lands of Stafford County.”

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