GOSHEN — For the past several decades there has been a nationwide push to eliminate Native American-related nicknames and mascots for high school, college and professional sports teams. The latest battle revolves around the Washington (D.C.) Redskins, a storied professional franchise of the National Football League.
Just last month the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission urged owner Dan Snyder to change the “archaic and racially stereotyped name of the Washington XXXskins football team.” Just last week a Washington D.C. City Councilman did the same.
In Michigan, the state’s Department of Civil Rights has filed a complaint against 35 schools to prohibit the use of Native American nicknames.
So, what does all this mean for communities such as Goshen, where the term “Redskins” has been used for nearly 90 years as the nickname for high school athletic teams?
“I don’t think you’re going to see local politicians get out in front of the issue,” said Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, a 1967 graduate of GHS. “If there’s a community effort that causes the (Goshen Community School) corporation to change the name, fine. But it isn’t going to be me.”
The issue has been addressed before by a previous Goshen Community Schools administration, but it was determined by a special committee that the “Redskins” nickname would remain.
Newspaper archives show that Goshen High School athletic teams were once called “The Red Menace” in the mid-1920s and often “The Crimson” or “The Crimson and White” before that. According to a 1963 GHS student handbook, the name, “Redskins,” came into use in the late 1920s when Goshen had some of its best athletic teams in school history.
Other nicknames for Goshen High School teams found in Goshen Daily News-Times archives include “Red Ramblers” for track and even the “Palefaces,” for junior varsity teams.
As national pleas for change grow louder and legal action initiated by Native American groups against school districts keep popping up, the Redskin nickname issue is becoming harder for communities tucked away in their own culture to ignore, even if the topic isn’t exactly welcome conversation at Goshen Community Schools.
Coaches who were contacted regarding this article indicated they were directed not to comment on the nickname topic and funneled inquiries to GHS Principal Barry Younghans and Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth.
“We treat (the name) Redskins with respect,” said GHS Athletic Director Larry Kissinger, “and will deal with any changes that need to be made (if it comes up).”
Kissinger declined further comment on the matter.
Younghans, who is completing his first school year as GHS’s principal, has been with the corporation for 21 years, the past seven as an administrator. He said the nickname issue has been brought up several times that he can remember, usually from an outside group. In recent years, Younghans pointed out, school officials have taken steps to de-emphasize the Redskins nickname. Athletic uniforms, for example, identify the teams as simply “Goshen,” and an Indian head logo was removed from the main gym floor, he added.
That Indian head logo, however, has been framed and now hangs on the gym wall. The high school gymnasium also includes the word “Redskins” painted along the baseline, the phrase, “Redskin Country” painted on the west wall under the scoreboard and a wooden Indian chief statue chained to the wall on the second level behind the west goal.
The Goshen football helmet decals used to mirror those of the NFL’s Washington Redskins logo, but were changed last decade. A large “G” replaced the Indian chief head. Recently the helmet logos were changed to depict a spear.
“We try to be sensitive to concerns,” Younghans said, “while understanding the place the name ‘Redskins’ has in our school’s history.”
Goshen has had its brightest athletic success on the football field, qualifying for four state championship games, winning titles in 1978 and 1988.