20 years later, Redskins still special for many Central grads
By Bob Chiarito ~ For The Sun July 26, 2012 10:42PM
Monogram Madness sales associate Becca Shireman shows off one of the Naperville Redskin T-shirt they sell at the 5th Avenue store in Naperville on Thursday, July 26, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
A few schools still use Redskins
Along with many high schools in the state that use nicknames such as Indians, Warriors and Braves, there are still five high schools in Illinois that use the controversial Redskins name.
The remaining schools using the nickname are:
Momence High School in Momence
Morris High School in Morris
Nokomis High School in Nokomis
Shawnee High School in Wolf Lake
Sullivan High School in Sullivan
Updated: August 28, 2012 6:10AM
A quick trip into the Monogram Madness T-shirt store in Naperville is all you need to realize that the controversy over changing Naperville Central High School’s nickname from Redskins to Redhawks 20 years ago is still alive today.
The store at 190 E. Fifth Ave. started selling Naperville Redskins shirts a few weeks ago in response to customer inquiries, said owner Cinnamon Bergeron. The shirts have become a hit, with alums from all over the country expressing interest in them.
“A ton of people were bugging me for them. I have people from the Class of 1974 buying them now for their 40th reunion in 2014,” Bergeron said.
The shirts bring back memories for many Naperville Central alumni, and also put the spotlight on the decision made 20 years ago this summer to get rid of the Redskins nickname.
A long history
Throughout its 73-year history, Naperville Central High School alumni have gathered for many 20-year reunions. It’s a time-honored tradition, where old classmates reconnect, tell old stories and relive their glory days, if only for one night.
In that respect, this year’s reunion for the Naperville Central Class of 1992 which will take place Saturday will be similar to all the reunions of previous classes. It will be different from all future 20-year reunions, however, because it will be the last time a “Redskins” class gathers for a 20th reunion, as this year marks 20 years since School District 203 changed the nickname of the school’s teams from Redskins to Redhawks.
In looking back, most involved or affected by the name change say their feelings, be it pro or con, haven’t changed over the years.
Naperville Central’s nickname was the Redskins from 1939 to 1992, when District 203 voted to change it, prompting protests and a failed lawsuit but ultimately acceptance of the new name by students who entered the school after 1992.
The issue was first brought up in 1991, after a letter from a non-Native American Naperville resident who found the name offensive, according to former Principal Tom Paulsen. At the time, Paulsen said he was in favor of keeping the name, but slowly changed his opinion over time.
“Looking back, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes who said it offends me, how can you refute it?” Paulsen said.
Jim Kreamer was a School Board member in 1991 and School Board president in 1992. Kreamer, who was against the name change, said District 203 Superintendent James Clark brought it up again in April 1992 and told the board that after speaking to his minister, he felt it should be addressed and changed.
Now retired and living in Colorado, Clark confirmed that his minister was in favor of the name change, but said that he brought it up again because he felt it was the right thing to do, not because anyone urged him.
Ginny Lacy, who served on the School Board from 1982 to 1994 agreed with Clark, saying “it was an issue all over the country.”
Board member Rudy Carl, who served from 1985 to 1997, said he believed there was additional pressure from the state.
“I voted for the change after hearing arguments for both sides, but in the back of my mind I had the feeling the state would penalize us if we kept it, perhaps financially,” Carl said.
After a series of packed meetings with residents and Native Americans both in favor and against the Redskins name, the board voted 5-2 in favor of changing the name June 15, 1992. Technically, the board voted to eliminate the use of mascot names “Redskins,” “Indians” and “Warriors,” which also stripped the Washington Junior High Warriors of its mascot, as well.
The fact that the vote was called in Clark’s last meeting was noted by both Kreamer and Paulsen. Clark responded by saying “it was something I wanted to get done before I left.”
Lacy added that “had it not been a wise decision, it would have come up again.”
In Illinois, Redskins was also the nickname of teams at Marist High School in Chicago and Huntley High School in Huntley. Marist became the RedHawks in 1997 and Huntley became the Red Raiders in 2002.
Kreamer, who was against changing the name, said he actually voted in favor of the change when he knew it would pass because of parliamentary procedure.
“The board was governed by Roberts Rules, which states you cannot bring something up for rebuttal if you voted on the losing side,” Kreamer said. “Of course, when I brought it back up, it didn’t go far.”
Osie Davenport, who served on the board from 1990 to 2003 and was in favor of the name change, said the issue was emotional but not the biggest thing the board tackled during her tenure.
“Boundary issues that came up from time to time were probably bigger, but cultural issues are difficult because they are based purely on emotion,” Davenport said.
While the board was meeting with residents and Native American groups from April until June 1992, the student body wasn’t included, according to Julie Schultz-Grecian, 1992 NCHS student body president.
“The students and Student Council were never really involved. I think our class was respectful of Native Americans. The Redskin stood for fighting battles, bravery and courage,” Schultz-Grecian said.
Despite the fact the students voted 10-1 in favor of keeping the Redskin mascot in an unofficial vote, Schultz-Grecian said the biggest way the students expressed their frustration was by buying and wearing T-shirts designed by fellow classmate Jon Feucht that featured an Indian bringing a tomahawk down on the Redskin name.
“The artwork was fitting. It wasn’t a passive mascot,” she said.
Brian Grady, a 1992 graduate who played varsity football, said the school band’s fight song during the football games instilled a lot of pride and got him and his teammates pumped up.
“It was awesome. We probably didn’t realize the level of pride we had in being Redskins at the time, but it we never thought of it as negative,” he said. “I think being the last of the Redskins, it has absolutely created an even tighter bond with my classmates.”
Board member Joann Richter, who served from 1983 to 1993, echoed Grady’s sentiment.
“I voted in favor of keeping the name because I felt I represented people who went to Naperville Central and were respectful of the name,” she said.
Although figures for the cost of the change were not kept, it was a concern that some in favor of keeping the name brought up during the meetings, Clark said. To offset a huge financial cost, a lot of the changes were phased in over time, such as changing gym uniforms. Also, the school colors remained the same, helping to keep costs low.
Some changes took years, according to 1992 graduate Amy Zerante. Zerante, who was captain of the cheerleading team in 1992, returned to NCHS to coach cheerleading from 1997 to 2005.
“Some of the cheers were the same but just substituted the word Redhawks for Redskins. I would always automatically yell out ‘Redskins,” Zerante said.
“There are still people today in Naperville who answer their phones ‘Redskins forever,’” said Mary Ann Bobosky, who worked as director of Community Relations for District 203 in 1992.
“(In 1992) my job was to keep everything calm,” Bobosky said, referring to the increase in public attendance at the school board meetings.
Several meetings had to be held at Kennedy Junior High because of overflow crowds, according to Bobosky. Despite the emotion, Bobosky said Naperville residents handled things well.
“Once it was over it was over and there was peace. No one ever defaced the Redhawk logo or anything like that,” Bobosky said.
In 1993, remaining students returned to a school without a mascot and while some in the class of 1992 might have felt left out during the Redskin debate, Paulsen relied solely on the returning students to choose the new mascot from a short list shortly after school resumed.
“Principal Paulsen did a good job including the students in picking a new name. He reached out to the student body and Student Council,” Lacy said.
While old Naperville Central graduates may tease the younger generations for not being Redskins and wonder, like Grady said he does, if the Redhawk fight song includes the lyrics “chirp, chirp, chirp,” Paulsen and Bobosky said the Redhawks have built their own legacy.
“I don’t think the kids talk about it anymore or even really know,” Bobosky said.
Paulsen agreed, saying “if we wanted to change it back to Redskins there would probably be uproar about changing the Redhawk name. I think Naperville is better off without a name that can be construed as offensive. Looking back, it was the right thing to do,” Paulsen said.