Soaring into a new era

Thursday, July 1, 2004

One Southeast Missouri State University coach who is part Native American and another who has been affected in at least a small way by the school's Indian and Otahkian nicknames gave a thumbs up after hearing that those monikers would be retired.

Southeast's board of regents on Wednesday unanimously adopted the nickname of Redhawks for all Southeast sports teams, although university officials said it would be spring 2005 before any new mascot and logo could be put into use.

Women's basketball coach B.J. Smith, who is one-quarter Native American and was raised in a household that followed many Native American traditions, is probably more sensitive to the topic than any other Southeast coach.

While Smith said he personally never felt offended by Southeast's use of the Indian and Otahkian nicknames, that didn't make it right.

"My opinion has always been, if someone is offended then it is offensive to them," Smith said. "There is evidence out there to show that there are Native Americans offended by this, and it's not my place to tell them they're not.

"I think it's a great decision by our university, and I think it's the right thing to do."

Smith also agreed with the many who believe that the lack of a mascot has hampered the school's ability to market its sports teams. Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman said the school's licensing partner, Licensing Resource Group, claims revenue could quadruple from the current figure of approximately $20,000 in the first year.

"I think it was a disadvantage for marketing, for sales, for just a whole variety of things," Smith said. "Now we can go out and market our programs like other schools do."

Of the change to Redhawks, Smith said, "I like it. I think it's the kind of mascot people can embrace."

Scheduling the Otahkians

Women's softball coach Lana Richmond has had to alter her schedule after another school refused to play her team because of its Otahkians nickname.

Richmond said that, about three years ago, she met the University of Wisconsin coach at a tournament in California and the two decided to schedule a game for the following season, in March.

But, said Richmond, "She called me in February and was really embarrassed, but she said Wisconsin was prohibited from playing a school that had an Indian nickname.

"I asked what they do in their Big 10 Conference, with Illinois being the Illini, and she said they can't do anything about that, but for non-conference games, their teams don't play teams with Indian nicknames."

Added Richmond: "I'm looking forward to having a mascot again. I think we've all looked forward to having a mascot that can be marketed, that people can relate to. Being from Kentucky, I'm always a Wildcat. When I talk to people and they know I'm from Kentucky, they say 'Oh, you're a Wildcat.' It's something you can identify with."

Richmond, however, never thought Southeast disrespected Native Americans.

"I always thought we were honoring the culture," she said.

Former AD opposed

Marvin Rosengarten, now retired and living in St. Louis, spent about 35 years at Southeast, first as a student, then as a coach and later as athletic director.

Like many of Southeast's old guard, Rosengarten hates to see the Indians and Otahkians nicknames go by the wayside. But he also realizes that things change with time and he actually likes the fact that Southeast will finally have a mascot again.

"I don't agree with dropping it. I don't think they were slandering Indians," Rosengarten said. "I kind of liked it. I liked being an Indian. It meant something to me.

"I think the whole thing is ridiculous. It was never meant to slander Indians, it's just something we grew up with. But I guess 30 years from now, Redhawks will mean a lot to somebody else. I guess Redhawks is all right."

Of the mascot issue, Rosengarten said: "It was always nice when they had guys dress up like Indians. I always thought that was important. I think it's important to have a mascot. I hate to see Indians go, but things change over time."

Southeast had not had anyone dress up as Indian mascot since the mid-1980s.

Football players ambivolent

At Houck Stadium, about 50 sweat-soaked Southeast football players were taking part in a summer conditioning workout late Wednesday afternoon when word of the new nickname began to spread.

Although the Southeast football team will still be known as the Indians this fall -- the Redhawks nickname won't be in use yet -- several players discussed the change. Most didn't seem to care one way or the other, including offensive line standouts Dan Bieg and Dan Connolly.

"I don't think it really matters to me," Bieg said. "I didn't have a problem with Indians, but we didn't have a mascot running around and I think that held the spirit back. I think it will be good to have a mascot.

"But really, it doesn't bother me what we are. I just want to win."

Said Connolly: "I haven't followed the whole thing closely, but I knew it was going to change eventually. I don't think it matters much, but the way we've been, not having a mascot ... I think it's a lot better for promotions to have a mascot."

Caleb Daniel, another lineman, voiced his displeasure with the change primarily because he's played for teams known as Indians for a long time, dating back to his days as a standout at Jackson High School.

"I don't really like it," Daniel said. "I've been an Indian since I've been playing football and I just wanted to stay an Indian."

Daniel will at least get his wish because, as a senior this fall -- along with Bieg and Connolly -- he'll be able to conclude his Southeast football career as an Indian.

But not that many of the school's other athletes will be able to do the same. For most of them, they'll end their careers as Redhawks.

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