Recently, the Avon Board of Education, along with all public schools in New York State, received a memorandum issued from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) related to the use of Indigenous (Native American) names, imagery, and mascots. Specifically, the communication conveyed that by July 1, 2023, public schools are to establish a clear timeline to discontinue this practice of using these Native American references. The BOE continues to review related information and consider an appropriate process to move the district forward.
From NYSED Memo 11/17/22
Additional information about a proposed regulatory action from the Board of Regents was conveyed on December 1, 2022.
From NYSED Memo 12/1/22
Also within the December memo is an anticipated timeline that communicates that the rule will become permanent in early May, 2023. This will officially establish the obligation to present a plan by July 1, 2023.
NYSED Memo 12/1/22
This position taken on the part of the NYSED is consistent with the position of representatives of the Seneca Nation. President of the Seneca Nation, Mr. Rickey Armstrong, Sr., has commented on the Department of Education’s directive, saying that “While individuals in different communities may not associate their team names with the horrors that Native people have faced throughout history, the fact remains that many team names and images further longstanding anti-Native biases.” Mr. Armstrong’s comments on behalf of the Seneca Nation have appeared in recent articles in various papers.
This will be an important conversation for the Avon community.
The Avon School District believes the term "Brave" traditionally represents positivity, courage, and honor. However, we are also aware of the sensitivities and various perspectives surrounding Indigenous names and images.
As we consider the importance of this directive, it is important to clarify some of the terms being discussed as there can be confusion. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably and that is not entirely accurate or helpful. Specifically, it is important to understand the differences between names (nicknames), imagery (logos), and mascots.
Names or “Nicknames”- For decades, the Avon Central School District has been known as the “Braves.”
Imagery or Logos- In this context, imagery is a picture/logo that is traditionally used by the organization for recognition and branding. Through the years, Avon has incorporated multiple images to represent the district. One commonly used image has been that of a Native American or Indigenous person. Several versions of this type of image have been used. Additionally, Avon has also used other images in its operations. These varied images have appeared in newsletters, on letterhead, on display in various signs, as part of clothing or apparel, or noticeable within various web tools.
Mascot- A mascot is typically considered to be an active, three dimensional character who is dressed in a costume of sorts. It is a form of imagery that can be associated with the organization's name (nickname) and brand. It is most commonly associated with athletic competitions and sports-related organizations.
It is also worth noting that not every school or athletic team has a mascot. While the Rochester Red Wings have Spikes and Mittsy, the New York Yankees do not have a character-based mascot. They have a name - “The Yankees.” They also have recognizable images in terms of the pinstriped uniforms and the famous “NY.”
Some may think of “Sparty,” the oversized character of a Spartan soldier for Michigan State as a familiar mascot. Yet, most may not pause to consider that the NY Giants and NY Jets football teams have only names while neither team has a mascot. The same is true of the Green Bay Packers. Name, but no mascot.
Regionally, Syracuse University is an interesting organization to consider. Up until the early 80s, the mascot was “The Saltine Warrior.” This mascot was in the image of a Indigenous person. SU moved to replace the mascot with “Otto the Orange.” Syracuse University also transitioned its nickname. For a period of time, they were known as the “Orangemen.” That was replaced with just the Syracuse “Orange,” recognizing the importance of traditionally female athletic teams. St. Bonaventure also transitioned its name and mascots. In the early 1990s the University moved from being known as “The Brown Indians” to the “Bonnies” and transitioned to its current mascot, a wolf.
Additionally, and to add context to the unpredictable relationships between names and mascots, in some cases the team name and mascot are not necessarily aligned or connected. For example, The University of North Carolina has a nickname of the “Tar Heels.” However, its mascot is an animal, a ram more specifically, who goes by the name of “Rameses.” Another example that adds to this lack of predictability between the names and mascots is the Philadelphia hockey team known as the Flyers. The team recently adopted an official mascot, yet the mascot is not a plane or helicopter as one might expect with “Flyers.” Instead, it is simply an orange creature called “Gritty.”
It is important to keep these terms clarified and understand the role that each plays as we develop plans and a process for moving forward. This clarity will be important.
A Brief Overview of Avon’s History
As it relates to Avon’s history with its name or nickname, it is noteworthy that the first use of the “Braves” name appears to be traced to an Avon Yearbook in the early 1950s. The name developed from the yearbook’s dedication and theme, a dedication clearly intended to honor the Seneca Nation.
Native imagery then became more frequently used after that. This was a societal trend at the time, as numerous schools adopted variations of Native American names and images. Some of the images used in Avon are similar to images used in other schools who also made use of Native American imagery to support their names.
It does not appear that the Avon School District ever formally adopted via a BOE resolution the official name of “Braves,” nor was any one image ever approved as the district’s official image. Instead, a variety of images have been used. This includes various images of a Native American person (all appear to be traditionally male figures) and the use of a block letter “A.” Sometimes this block A has appeared with "Braves” written in cursive beneath the letter. More recently the letter A is ringed with a circle with two feathers hanging to the left. The more recent image was discussed by the BOE and incorporated in conjunction with an update to the district’s web page in 2021.
ACS has not pursued a trademark for these items. Public UPK-12 schools have not traditionally pursued trademarks. This is a newer action some schools may be considering.
At this time, the BOE will continue its efforts to inform itself and to clarify its responsibilities. In the near future, the district will post a ThoughtExchange to gather additional perspectives. It will also continue to seek additional clarifying information. This information will be used by the BOE to create a plan to move forward.
The district will continue to share related information as it develops. Please be on the lookout for the ThoughtExchange, the district’s established avenue for capturing community insights and ideas.
Please direct questions for the Board of Education to our District Clerk, email@example.com.