(I wrote this in 2001. We won that round. But the state is back at it, with the help of an interim superintendent. On Monday night, 70 people crowded the Canisteo school board meeting to push back against current efforts to change the mascot name. PS -- Vacation is almost over. The column will be back steady by the end of the week.)
Once a Redskin, always a Redskin.
And I guess that’s what angers me so much about this. This dictate out of Albany about high school mascots.
Richard P. Mills, the education commissar of the state of New York, sent out an order last week that will change life for scores of schools and hundreds of thousands of people.
He declared our lives and our heritage politically incorrect and socially unacceptable.
I doubt he’s ever been to Canisteo. Or Canaseraga or Irondequoit or Penfield or Hornell. Or the lion’s share of the other communities across New York he decided last week were too stupid to run their own affairs.
Too ignorant and benighted to be trusted with the complex task of naming their own high school sports teams.
And that’s funny.
Because New York isn’t all socialist. Not by a long shot. The cities are, especially the big cities, but out in the country it’s a different state. A hardscrabble state of Yankee individualists. The kind of people who feel capable of leading their own lives and who resent outsiders who want to help.
Like this Mills idiot. A Republican appointed by a Republican, kneeling before the god of political correctness as no New York Democrat ever has. The steady march to fettered thought and mandated orthodoxy takes a giant leap forward at the hands of the party of Lincoln.
And it’s one more proof that freedom of thought and speech have fallen victim to the spread of government power at every level.
We were the Canisteo Redskins. And our town, valley and river took their name from the Seneca word for “head of navigation.” That meant that if you wanted to go farther north on these waters that flowed eventually into the Chesapeake you were going to have to carry your canoe.
It had been a Seneca city of refuge, a walled village where drifters of every race collected and were left alone. Until the French came in and burned them out. Until Sullivan came through and made it America.
And we were proud of that history and so the high school teams took the name “Redskin.” Just like some schools became the Chiefs or the Braves, the Red Raiders or the Warriors.
Our parents did it, or our grandparents, and by the time it was our turn to play for the varsity it was an honor to be a Redskin. It was the high point of a high school career. We did it with pride.
And it became a special and sacred part of our memories and of our lives. A piece of heritage we inherited from our parents and bequeathed to our children. Full of the innocence of youth and the full-throated roar of a Sectional basketball win.
And now he’s made it dirty.
He’s made us dirty.
He’s said they have to change. Because they’re insensitive. Because we’re insensitive. Because we need to be led to an enlightened understanding.
Because it doesn’t matter how it’s intended, it matters how it’s interpreted.
And that makes us all hostages of whomever the latest bellyacher happens to be. If one pretends to be uncomfortable, the rest must be discomfited.
And the notion of representative government is turned on its head. The voters and taxpayers of New York’s school districts overwhelmingly oppose this lunacy. They think it is ridiculous. And the crooks in Albany are telling them to screw off.
Mills the milquetoast ordered superintendents and school board presidents to convince communities of the need for this statewide ban. Instead of the citizens telling government what they want, the official position of the New York State Department of Education is to have the government tell the citizens what it wants.
Under force and penalty of law.
Over the name of a high school mascot.
Over the will of the local electorate.
It seems that a community of Americans ought to be allowed to decide for itself what its sports teams will be called. It seems like, but it isn’t.
Local parents and taxpayers can’t decide what’s taught in their schools. They can’t decide what’s appropriate for classrooms. They can’t set goals and expectations for staff or students. And now they can’t keep decades-old mascots.
All it seems they can do is pay the taxes.
Which are among the highest in the nation, in a state with the worst credit rating in the nation, and the highest burden of state regulation, and a Republican governor.
Seems kind of out of whack.
But it’s not. Freedom is dead in the Empire State. All we have left is six months of winter and the privilege of kowtowing to the social and cultural elite.
All of which makes a Redskin a little hot under the collar.