Regents - Go, Redhawks

Thursday, July 1, 2004

The seven-member board of regents unanimously adopted Redhawks as the new nickname for Southeast Missouri State University sports teams on Wednesday, but school officials said it would be spring 2005 before any new mascot and logo could be created and put into use.

The regents' action came after listening to the recommendations of an 18-member campus committee, alumni, athletics officials and president Dr. Ken Dobbins.

A crowd of about 80 alumni, faculty, staff and students gave a standing ovation to the board at the Show Me Center after the regents voted to retire the school's Indian and Otahkian nicknames.

"I think we do need a visible symbol," regent John Tlapek of Cape Girardeau said in supporting the name change.

Regents said they want the Indian and Otahkian nicknames retired with dignity in some type of ceremony.

Regent Edward Matthews III of Sikeston suggested that the ceremony could include the Indian mascot introducing the new mascot.

"I would like to see some transition," he said.

Possible Redhawk logos were shown to the regents. But officials said they were just possibilities.

After the meeting, Dobbins said school officials will seek input from alumni, students, the athletics department and others in deciding on any mascot costume and logo.

It's too late to get a new emblem and nickname in place by the fall football season, he said.

The university's Indian nickname dates back to 1922. The women's sports teams at Southeast had been known as the Otahkians since 1972. The Otahkian nickname referred to a Cherokee woman who died on the Trail of Tears forced march to the Oklahoma territory in the 1800s.

Dr. Ed Leoni, a health and leisure professor and chairman of the university's nickname committee, said he was thrilled and surprised by the unanimous vote.

Leoni told the board that it was a "bittersweet" moment because the move involves the end of a tradition. But he, other members of the nickname committee and representatives of other groups including the alumni association and athletics booster club said it was the right thing to do.

Supporters said the Southeast nicknames offended many American Indians. The university hasn't had a student dress up as an Indian mascot since 1985, and athletics director Don Kaverman said the lack of a mascot has hampered the school's ability to market its sports teams.

"It's really an issue of branding your program," he told the regents.

Kaverman said the issue of American Indian nicknames and mascots has come under increasing scrutiny from the NCAA. Two NCAA committees have recommended schools eliminate the use of Native American nicknames and mascots, he said.

Some universities, he said, no longer will compete against schools that have American Indian nicknames or mascots.

Kaverman said the Cape Girardeau school could significantly increase its revenue from the sale of T-shirts and other merchandise with a new mascot name and logo.

The Southeast emblem just didn't sell.

"A shirt with a SE on it just doesn't have a lot of appeal," Kaverman said.

Regents board president Don Dickerson of Cape Girardeau agreed. "It hits us right in the pocketbook."

Dickerson said the name change had the backing of two key groups: the school's alumni association and the athletics boosters club.

Student leaders also voiced support for the change. "Students don't identify themselves with the Indian nickname," said Dane Huxel, president of student government. He said the new nickname and mascot would foster more school pride on the part of current and future students.

Glinda Seabaugh, president of the Cape Girardeau-based American Indian Center of the Heartland, said her group has heard from hundreds of Native Americans who wanted the university to drop the Indian nicknames.

"We are human beings, not mascots," she said.

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