BELMONT — The Belmont High School student council has asked the public — particularly alumni of the school — to attend its meeting Wednesday to discuss whether the school should no longer have the Red Raiders as the mascot for athletic teams.
A national movement called American Indian Sports Team Mascots has a chapter, the New England Anti-Mascot coalition, which lists 16 Granite State schools, including Belmont High, with American Indian-related names.
"The ridicule, mockery and utter racism Native Americans are subject to because of the use of Indian mascots are intolerable," the organization states.
School officials say the students are running the 7 p.m. meeting in the school cafeteria.
Students and teachers at Belmont High in the school's hallways on Monday said some students want to drop the word "red" from Red Raiders.
"As long as we get rid of the Indian head (on the school teams' logo)," one female student said.
Superintendent Maria Dreyer said the issue has been brought up twice before. About 12 years ago, the school debated changing the name, but settled instead on changing the logo, replacing a Native American face with "more of a contemporary face, a figure of a face."
Dreyer said the idea of changing it further came from several student council members.
"It should be a very interesting discussion; these are very thoughtful and active students," Dreyer said.
Dreyer said Belmont High School students, alumni, and teachers are not being purposely disrespectful to Native Americans.
"Of course we want to be respectful to our ancestors, and the teams love and are very respectful of the mascot," she said. "I think we were being respectful when we changed the face on the logo."
Brett Sottaks, a member of the Belmont High Class of 1988 and the coach of the school's baseball team from 1999-2010, said the founders of the school named the mascot with complete respect to local American Indians.
"This is an area with names like Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam; they were obviously being respectful," Sottaks said. "When I think of a Red Raider, I think of a fierce warrior. A Red Raider is something you want to be."
Sottaks said he understands that some may be offended by the mascot.
"I'm proud to be a Red Raider," he said. "I am completely against a name change."
Marc Forgione Sr. is a board member of Friends of Belmont Football, an organization devoted to finding a place for student athletes attending Belmont High School to play football. He agrees with Sottaks.
Forgione, who is from Laconia, saw Laconia High School debate the mascot name "Sachem" about 10 years ago, but the school decided to keep the name.
"Being from Laconia, my opinion is that it's ridiculous to be offended by something that's meant to honor the local heritage, whether it's a 'Red Raider' or a 'Sachem.' We should be focusing on bigger issues, like getting a football team in Belmont," he said.