PV faces similar mascot situation to Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School

(Editor’s Note: Before the decision in June to retire the Pascack Valley mascot and nickname, the Indians, the district found itself in a strange position. PV had been utilizing the PV block letters as the school logo, rather than the image of an Indian head. Although the district began phasing out the Indian head logo, it continued to be occasionally used by community members. Like PV, Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey also went through a period of uncertainty after it retired its Native American inspired logo, but kept its nickname, the Raiders.)

In 2017, Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School student Matthew Skolar noticed clothing at his school’s sporting events that he disagreed with. 

“There were a bunch of folks who showed up to the sporting event wearing indigenous outfits, like cultural outfits, and they didn’t really know the history,” Skolar said. “They were not really representing the culture well and I found it to be inappropriate.”

The Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School logo from 2004 to 2018. The logo depicts a man holding an axe and shield with the letter “R.” (contributed by Ryan Miller)

At the time, the school’s logo depicted a man holding an axe and shield, and its nickname was the Raiders. However, some community members continued to use the old Indian head logo, which had been retired in 2004, and wear indigenous inspired clothing.

“Most of the students agreed that [the 2004 logo] was a pretty bad logo,” Skolar said. “Nobody liked it, so nobody was using it.”

Skolar, a sophomore at the time, helped create a petition advocating for the removal of the logo, but not the “Raiders” nickname. The petition received 436 signatures and was addressed to Principal David Heisey. 

“The fact that derogatory logos are still being used, indigenous headdresses are still being culturally appropriated, and Raider Nation doesn’t want to change it is concerning,” the petition read. “My goal is to keep the raider name, but remove its ties from indigenous people all together. Almost all indigenous people are not raiders, so the logo does not make sense, and it is just a racial stereotype.”

The Scotch Plains logo from the 1960s to 2004. The logo was changed following a 2003 NJ Department of Education mandate which urged schools that used Native American inspired images to change their logos. (contributed by Ryan Miller)

An opposing petition pushing to bring back the old Indian inspired mascot was created on the same day and was signed by 300 more people than the first, according to mycentraljersey.com. The petition was created by an individual under the name JC whose connection to the school is unclear.

“This petition is to bring back the arrowheads and chiefs used as the logo in Scotch Plains Fanwood for generations,” the petition read. “There is no hate for Native Americans, we all know the struggles and injustice they face, and faced for the past 100 years. These logos praising the culture and supporting diversity are NOT presenting hate. It is ignorant to outcast a logo because it shows cultural differences.” 

The community was divided over the topic; many felt that changing the mascot was overdue, while others felt that doing so was “disrespectful to the school tradition,” according to an email from Ryan Miller, Scotch Plains assistant principal and athletics director.

In response to the controversy, a committee of parents, students, student athletes, teachers, coaches, administrators, central office personnel, and Board of Education members was created to choose a new mascot and logo. However, the BOE had the final decision in approving the committee’s selection for a new mascot.

The current logo of Scotch Plains. The high school still goes by the nickname “Raiders,” but is now represented by a knight. (contributed by Ryan Miller)

“Three or four people fervently opposed [the decision] and tried to petition, [but failed],” Miller wrote in an email. “That same group tried [and failed] to create and sell new T-shirts with the old logo. A small portion of the senior class at that time was against a change, citing that they had a tradition of the old logo. Most of the students were supportive [of the change] or ambivalent.”

Brock Hor, Matawan Regional High School digital art teacher and Scotch Plains girls volleyball coach, was asked to design the new logo. Hor created several different mascot designs before the current logo of a knight was decided on. 

“They took a student survey, they had some staff members and I think some other administration [come] up with some possible mascot ideas,” Hor said. “It was a group collaboration, not just one individual person. I would design something, they would throw their input in and then we redesign and then they throw their input in [again].”

In June 2018, the logo design of a knight earned BOE approval and began to be integrated throughout the school’s campus and on athletic uniforms.

Variations of the knight logo created by Brock Hor. The process to design the current logo took around a year. (contributed by Ryan Miller)

“I was given the honor of trying to redesign an identity for a school that I’m associated with—I take pride in where I coach and my team and everything like that,” Hor said. “I understand the need to hold up to certain traditions, but at the same time, as I look at it, we need to progress. You always are looking to move forward.”

Miller said that although the creation of the newest logo only took a year, the process to change the mascot took 14 years. 

The school nickname was originally the Plainsmen; however, in 1937, the nickname Blue Raiders was adopted after a student poll was conducted. 

In the early 1990s, the “Blue” part of the nickname was dropped, and “Raiders” became the school’s official nickname, according to a presentation created by Miller for the rebranding of Scotch Plains. At the time, the logo consisted of an Indian head.

The Scotch Plains logos from 1937 to the 1960s. The schools nickname was the “Blue Raiders,” until it was changed to “Raiders” in the 1990s. (contributed by Ryan Miller)

In 2004, the school changed its logo following a 2003 NJ Department of Education mandate which urged schools that used “a combination of a Native American logo and negative name (Raiders, Redskins, etc.)” to alter their logos, according to Miller. 

The school and community weren’t entirely on board, but changes were made after state funding was threatened. The new logo depicted a man holding an axe and a shield. 

Now, Skolar still supports the decision to replace the mascot and logo. 

“It’s time for indigenous people to be respected, fairly represented, and given the dignity that they deserve,” Skolar said. “For a lot of us in our communities, that starts with changing mascots and addressing the anti-indigenous roots of many of our communities.”