The Northfield High School Student Council wants to change the school mascot, an image it sees as racially insensitive, and school officials seem ready to consider changing the decades-old design.
Nicky Osterman, representing the Northfield High School Student Council told the School Board Monday that he had spoken with NHS Athletic Director Joel Olson about the current mascot and how it doesn’t represent the James-Younger Gang’s 1876 robbery of the First National Bank.
Since its introduction in 1956, the Raider symbol has seen controversy. Between its connection to violence in the image of the sword, and the racial ties with the image’s Asian-appearing facial features, questions have been raised to the school and its administrators. The mascot is observable at any field, court or rink the Raiders use.
“Other schools have tended to call it ‘the racist Raider’ over the years,” Osterman told the board. “Very recently I went to Owatonna and I asked them that, and they said, ‘Yeah, we call it that.’ If we want to value our history, me and the Student Council believe we should change it back to the original idea.”
To Osterman, changing the mascot would help fulfill the Student Council’s mission to build a better, safer community.
Other schools have dealt with similar issues regarding their mascots. Owatonna High School, a fellow Big Nine school, changed its mascot from the Indians to the Huskies. On the professional athletics level, the Washington Redskins National Football League team and Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball squad have faced backlash from their mascots over the decades for perceived racially insensitive mascots.
“The kids have been talking about the mascot for the better part of a year,” Olson said on Wednesday. To him, the caricature of an Asian person suggests racially insensitivity. He added the mascot needs to be about the community protecting itself against the 1876 raid if that was the original intent.
Olson said he hasn’t discussed the matter with Superintendent Matt Hillmann, adding the process is in the information-gathering phase.
Northfield School Board Chairwoman Julie Pritchard said she wants to receive input from students and the Greater community during the process. To her, it’s important school officials have respect for Northfield’s history while balancing that with the need for an updated look.
“It’s not unprecedented that we take a look at modernizing something,” she said.
She said to her, the thought behind the logo was of a fierce fighter. She added Board member Ellen Iverson met with the District Youth Council Wednesday and discussed the matter.
Northfield School Board member Noel Stratmoen expressed concern about the mascot on Wednesday.
“For years I’ve thought that it’s an inappropriate logo for our school,” he said, adding that the mascot doesn’t reflect the district and isn’t what the Raiders want to represent.
“I can’t imagine Northfield being anything but the Raiders, and it is difficult to put a positive image on a Raider, but we’ll work on it,” he said.
A Change.org petition set up to support keeping the mascot had garnered nearly 1,900 signatures as of Tuesday morning.