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Superintendents respond to Prescott T-shirt protest

Osceola's school logo. Photo from hudl.com1 / 2
Baldwin-Woodville's school logo. Photo from B-W's school website.2 / 2

The Osceola and Baldwin-Woodville school districts defended their school mascots in response to Prescott's student-run T-shirt protest that contested Osceola's "Chieftains" and B-W's "Blackhawks" Native-based team names.

The T-shirt protest, which was featured in the Jan. 17 issue of the Herald, consisted of Prescott students wearing T-shirts that read ""'INDIAN' LOGOS PROMOTE RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND STEREOTYPING" to the Prescott girls basketball team's home game against Osceola on Jan. 5 and to the boys team's game versus B-W on Jan. 19.

Earlier this year, members of the Prescott High School student council voted 16-0 on a resolution to go through with the T-shirt protest and to reach out to Osceola and B-W to talk about possible steps they could take to change their mascots.

With the 16-0 vote, a letter was sent to both schools' superintendents, principals and athletic directors. The letter alerted both schools that the Prescott students would be wearing their T-shirts at upcoming games, and asked the schools if they would be interested in opening up a dialogue to discuss how tribes feel about logo behavior.

The Herald reached out to Osceola and B-W's superintendents for their comments on their districts' mascots being challenged.

"The name and logo of the Osceola Chieftains is well respected in our community and honors the legacy and honor of Chief Osceola," Osceola Superintendent Mark Luebker told the Herald.

"The Osceola School District does not use a 'race-based' mascot."

According to Luebker, the settlement of Osceola was named after Chief Osceola of the Seminole Tribe in the mid 1800's.

"Chief Osceola led his warriors in the Second Seminole War ... Many towns and counties in various states are named after him as a symbol of respect and honor," Luebker said.

Luebker also shared that in 1947 the Osceola School Board adopted the name Chieftains to be part of the Osceola School District. In May 1996, a senior at Osceola High School contacted the Creek Indian Council in Panama City, Florida requesting permission and assistance in developing a logo. Chief Bobby "Bearheart" Johns, the "Certifying artisan" for the Council, designed the current logo used today out of respect and honor for Chief Osceola.

Luebker said he shared the history of Osceola's Chieftains mascot with Prescott's Superintendent Rick Spicuzza who told Luebker he intended on sharing the historical data with members of the Prescott Student Council directly.

Eric Russell, B-W's superintendent, told the Herald that he believes his district has eliminated all race-based mascots and logos in its schools.

Russell said he hadn't spoken with the Prescott students, but that like Luebker, he had discussed the matter with Spicuzza.

"Where we left it is that the high school principals would talk and potentially arrange some sort of discussion, but we need to know what they're really after," Russell said, "because otherwise, what's the point of the discussion?

"We feel that we've eliminated everything [race-based]."

Russell told the Herald the Blackhawks' mascot has evolved over the years.

"We use a black bird as our mascot at the elementary school level," Russell said. "It's literally a big black bird in a costume."

Russell said he has seen the T-shirts created and worn by the Prescott students, and when asked how the B-W basketball teams responded to the silent protests, he said, "From my understanding, the games went on as usual."

After speaking with both Luebker and Russell, Spicuzza said Prescott staff recognizes their students' free speech rights and appreciates their attempt at a non-confrontational action to express their perspective on the mascot issue.

"Although this is not a district initiated event or initiative, I am assisting in providing the student council to see this as a learning opportunity for all sides," Spicuzza said. "We also respect the schools the Prescott students identified on this issue and the superintendents leading their respective organizations. I appreciate their time and willingness to share their history, perspective, and views with our students. I also appreciate the options to engage in student conversation. We feel all perspectives surrounding an issue are important to understanding the issues at hand on a broader scale."